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New York Times Does It Again
All the copaganda that's fit to print.
I wasn’t planning on writing my second post in this newsletter until next Friday, but I had to address an article in today’s New York Times print edition. If you like these breakdowns of media copaganda, please consider subscribing and sharing it.
Today’s New York Times article is one of its most dishonest, biased, and dangerous pro-police news articles that I have ever read. I try my best here to explain why it’s so harmful.
The article’s thesis is that a (supposedly) recent pro-police turn by (centrist) Democrats is the result of the party organically responding to the needs of “communities of color.” According to the article, Democratic support of the profitable carceral bureaucracies that benefit people who own things and destroy poor communities of color is actually just party elites trying to help the most vulnerable people in our society!
As always, when you see articles like this, ask yourself: Why is this news? How did it get to the reporter and who pitched it? What is the goal of the article? How did they choose which voices to quote and which to ignore? Who benefits?
As always, let’s start by looking at the sources quoted by the New York Times in chronological order:
person worried about crime at a centrist political rally (chosen by NYT, presumably, because she is an elderly Black woman)
centrist Democratic candidate
pro-police Democratic mayor
centrist Democratic candidate #2
centrist Democratic candidate #3
centrist Democratic candidate #4
centrist suburban voter at same centrist rally worried about “disorderly and dangerous” young people
state bureaucrat at same centrist rally who had supported Republican governor
centrist Democratic candidate #3
centrist Democratic candidate #2
The NYT does not interview a single person who introduces the reader to an alternative viewpoint. All the “ordinary” people were selected from a political rally for a pro-police, centrist candidate. There is no effort to introduce readers to any of the many candidates, organizers, voters, and crime survivors who are working every day on non-police community safety alternatives that are based in science and led by community, many of whom are also Democrats.
Next, let’s look at how editors chose to market the piece to the far larger number of people who will never actually read the article with the headline and sub-header:
These headlines contain a major factual assertion: that it was “rising fears of violence” that “have led” certain elements in the Democratic Party to recently “change course.” Note that the NYT treats this factual assertion as so obvious that it does not even bother to offer any evidence for it. The unquestioned premises of the piece are: 1) public sentiment is the cause of (vague, unexplained, supposed) recent policy shifts by Democrats; and 2) the causal connection is one of the Democratic Party elites being responsive and accountable to its base of ordinary people, not a massive PR campaign to stoke fear that pushes the other way around. In fact, the NYT’s claim is actually bolder: it was the Democratic Party’s laudable sensitivity to the concerns of “communities of color” that motivated supposed pro-police shifts.
Note right away that the New York Times erases other possible explanations from the public record: Democratic Party elites in major cities want to boost police because of real estate developers, because police unions have a lot of power and donated to these campaigns, because expanding the massive punishment bureaucracy actually serves the interests of people who own things, police surveillance and repression are profitable to certain powerul political interests, there actually hasn’t been a shift but the NYT is manufacturing one by only profiling centrist, pro-police candidates and by portraying establishment Democrats as having had anti-police policies that they never truly had, or perhaps the Democratic elite is choosing candidates of color who are pro police precisely because that is the best way to inocculate them from liberal criticism and to promote its pro-business, pro-police agenda? etc… All of this is ignored by the paper of record.
Instead of exploring the evidence that corporate, establishment Democrats have other reasons than caring about “communities of color” to boost police and ignore root causes of violence and harm, the NYT bases its entire article on this fraud. Take a look at the last line of the piece, which echoes the piece’s earlier assertion that this is driven by “largely people of color”:
By allowing politicians to lie about their true motivations and printing the lies as fact, the New York Times continues its long tradition of allowing powerul people to manipulate the public into not understanding the true drivers of political actions and policies. I’ve shown numerous times before that this tactic is one of the most common and insidious forms of copaganda in the New York Times: stating the asserted motivations of powerful people as their actual motivations. According to the NYT, these politicians are just “listening” to the most vulnerable people.
Adam Johnson has written a fantastic summary of why the New York Times’ use of “communities of color” to justify mass incarceration policies is one of the oldest elite liberal tricks in the book.
But notice three additional things:
1) how naive/deceptive the New York Times’ portrayal of elite politics is. Does anyone actually think that the Democratic Party elites making these supposed shifts actually base their positions on what working class “communities of color” want? The history of elite politics in the Democratic Party has been built on ignoring most of the stated needs and desires of the Black community, except perhaps when those preferences can be expressed in a way that supports what they want to do for other profitable reasons. Maybe there are other powerful interests actually driving this?
2) The article repeatedly refers to “alarming” increases in crime as if were an unquestioned fact and not a hugely controversial claim. But by again focusing not on the real facts but on the “perception” that crime is increasing, it engages in a staggering ignorance of the role of the media in stoking public fears at a time of near historic crime lows. It’s as if the public’s fears are entirely independent of the media deluge of crime stories that manufactured it. As I have explained, the media’s manufacturing of a “crime wave” crisis at a time of near historic lows in crime but its lack of urgent daily attention to existential threats like climate change, air pollution, plastic pollution, growing inequality, and rising fascism is one of the great threats to our survival.
3) What exactly is the major policy shift on which the entire article is based? Can the NYT even articulate what is so different about the positions of centrist Democrats now, 6 months ago, 12 months ago, 3 years ago? It can’t, because there hasn’t been a significant shift in their policies. Another common media tactic is declaring as significant changes only the most modest rhetorical framing. Doing this hides that the consequential architectures of state bureaucracy, budgetary allocations, and policital/economic policy are unchanged. The reality is that police budgets are at record highs and the United States remains by far the world leader in incarceration, and Democrats, as always, have been leading promoters of both.
Consider the picture of reality offered by the New York Times: the media and the powerful have no role manipulating opinion. Policy positions of elites organically spread from the hearts and minds of the most vulnerable people. Then, political party of elites magically adapts itself to the will of the most vulnerable people. Even though scientific and historical evidence demonstrate that a policy doesn’t actually reduce violence, elites do it anyway, not because it produces profit and ensures their power, but because the most powerless people demand it. See New York Times readers, we have a well-functioning Democracy!
Because the problems of violence in poor communities are never solved since elites use articles like this to ignore their root causes in inequality in favor of more cops and cages, the cycle repeats itself every few years, with new articles by new elite reporters in the New York Times using the same tactics the media has used for decades.
Let me state this as clearly as possible. The entire unstated premise of the article—that concerns about safety by vulnerable people lead naturally to more police—is false. In fact, given the overhwhelming state of the empirical evidence, the NYT suggesting that police play some significant role in preventing crime waves is like climate science denial. And “communities of color” understand that—it’s why they have repeatedly been calling for housing, investment in schools, less inequality, access to medical care, better paying jobs, etc. And the actual evidence is that things like inequality, poverty, early childhood education, affordable housing, access to medical and mental health care, school/music/theater/arts for kids, etc. are the things that actually determine whether a society has high levels of violence.
Elite Democrats and the New York Times always ignore: if police, prosecution, and prison made us safe, the U.S. would have the safest society in world history.
The only way to write an article like this is to deliberately exclude the overwhelming preference of “communities of color” for non-carceral investments in health, housing, schools, jobs, etc… If the needs and wants of these communities were actually drivers of Democratic Party elite agendas we'd see an entirely different party. Instead, comfortable white reporters help launder a fundamentally corrupt political system by pretending that it serves the needs of the vulnerable.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s worth noting that, perhaps because the reporter didn’t talk to anyone with alternate views, the New York Times butchers the other side of the story. In a single sentence, the article portrays the views of “left leaning Democrats” but caricatures them as only seeing police departments as “irreparably biased.” This is a very important sleight of hand: the NYT is portraying “left-leaning” people as not caring about safety. As if we must pit safety from violence against bias. This is both absurd and dangerous. Of course given that choice many readers would choose “safety.”
The left-leaning people I know and work with every day like crime survivors, families of victims, vulnerable people, and scientific researchers who study public safety don’t oppose more policing only because it discriminates and crushes families of color. We oppose massive investments in more police and prisons because it doesn’t make anyone safe. They know that investments in the root causes of harm are what communities need. Only by ignoring this scientific consensus can Democratic elites consistently ignore the calls for more equality, housing, health care, and education in favor more and more guns, cages, and cops.
Finally, something must be said about how the piece continues the NYT’s campaign against “progressive prosecutors.” First, the NYT goes after the progressive DA in Baltimore (who is a Black woman). The NYT’s portrayal of Mosby is incredible. First the reporter tells readers that she has been criticized for “sending a permissive signal to criminals” and for her “record of responding to violent crime.” But the only actual actions of hers the article mentions is that “she would no longer prosecute certain misdemeanors like drug possession and trespassing.”
The paper allows her pro-police opponent to falsely portray her positions, but the New York Times never tells readers that Mosby has been ruthlessly prosecuting violent crime just like other U.S. prosecutors and that the available scientific evidence actually shows that her policy of not prosecuting a few low-level non-violent crimes actually reduces future crime. Instead, the paper just reports what “critics” of hers say, without explainig that the critics are either lying or wrong on each criticism. The actual evidence shows these exact policies make these communities safer.
NYT then falsely portrays the situation in San Francisco just days before a highly partisan recall vote for the DA. The paper first allows the corporate-backed SF Mayor with history of lying, at her word that her vicious crackdown was to “counter rampant street crimes” and not to criminalize homelessness and help real estate interests. The reporter doesn’t note that crime is down in San Francisco and in Tenderloin since before the pandemic.
Then, the NYT says that the progressive DA’s “policies have taken much of the blame for what critics say is San Francisco’s passive response to rising crime.”
This sentence belongs in the journalism hall of fame. It constructs a vague, false notion (crime as some vague threat is rising) by not asserting it as a fact but carefully saying that “critics” are “saying” it. Having constructed this false reality, it then passively declares that Boudin’s policies (which the only available evidence shows reduce crime) “have taken the blame.” What? Who?
This is like saying that oil production doesn’t impact climate change but “some critics” are blaming Greenpeace for worldwide anxiety about gas prices without noting that the unnamed critics are PR reps for Exxon.
Then, in a gratuitious, partisan shot, the NYT reporter included a parenthetical joke from a centrist Democratic machine politician about the DA being soft on “nonviolent” crime and then tweeted his article with a quote tweet of this joke mocking the DA’s incredibly effective and scientifically proven pledge to reduce incarceration for non-violent crimes. Actions like this by the reporter to ridicule the progressive DA with false insinuations, just days before the recall vote, say a great deal about his bias, and also about how the NYT permits a select group of its white male employees who have star appeal (this reporter launched to liberal fame in the Trump era with an anti-Trump book and appearances on CNN) to couch political work as news.
None of this should be that surprising from a reporter who was embarrassingly caught recently retweeting a plea by a New York resident to stop focusing on the actual “crime stats” and to focus more on vibes.
A final note: this New York Times article is very similar to the common corporate public relations playbook. Here it a story about how it is used by Amazon. The company was caught in internal emails strategizing how to portray progressive changes as harmful to “Communities of Color.” Amazon and this NYT reporter both understand something: an important way of justifying brutal and unequal policies is to tell liberals that “communities of color” want them.