Brooklyn public defender and civil rights attorney Scott Hechinger criticized reporting by The New York Times and National Public Radio on 2020 FBI Crime Statistics. Hechinger argues that the reporting prioritized sensationalism and not the true nature of the statistics.
Hechinger’s article “A Massive Fail on Crime Reporting by The New York Times, NPR” notes that overall crime rates have declined but news outlets focused on the 30% increase in murder rates. He accused The New York Times, NPR, NBC News, The Hill, The Guardian and The Washington Post of having contributed to the problem. Hechinger says that popular news outlets’ use of fear-mongering articles, highlighting of the rise in murder rates and blaming bail policies can be dangerous and affect policy-making.
“Journalism today continues to ignore these ‘criminological fact[s]’ while instead following the familiar and dangerous patterns from the 1980s and ‘90s that helped drive mass criminalization itself: overly simplistic stories with alarmist headlines and dehumanizing language that rely predominantly on police as sources, neglect nuance, provoke fear in the public, speculate about short term crime data—and posit police, prosecution, and prison as the solution to crime,” Hechinger wrote.
Reporting of only selective statistics will mislead readers and will have detrimental effect on progressive criminal justice legislation, especially bail reform. The Vera Institute of Justice agrees with Hechinger, saying that short-term fluctuations in crime rates make sense only if contextualized by long-term trends. The institute also said that opponents of bail reform policies “… have been hard at work wrongly warning that bail reform endangers public safety … fearmongering should have no role in driving policy.”
“Police and prosecutors immediately started cherry-picking and weaponizing—and the media started publishing—sensational cases and short-term statistics that drove the untrue narrative that releasing people before trial fueled a rise in crime. That fearmongering worked. Bail reform was rolled back in 2020—mere weeks after it was enacted,” Hechinger said.
Today, consumers read headliners to update themselves of the latest news and fearmongering headlines can be problematic to knowing the truth, Hechinger said.