Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Some Say the Earth is Flat

I really hate he said / she said journalism that simply takes statements from “both sides” of an issue and does nothing to set the record straight. Paul Waldman over at Tapped has a great example. It involves stories in the New York Times and Washington Post about an exchange of charges between the Giuliani and Romney campaigns regarding crime rates. The stories chronicle the back and forth but never attempts to get at the truth. So Waldman is left to do it in a blog post:

If I were an editor at one of these fine papers, and my reporters turned in one of these stories, I'd tell them to figure out whether Romney or Giuliani is telling the truth. You won't find it in either story. So which is it?

My curiosity piqued, I did something crazy: I typed "Massachusetts crime statistics" into Google. And you know what I found? This! A page on the state's web site with their crime reports!

So what's the answer? Statistics aren't yet available (at least not there) for 2006, so what we have are data from 2002, the year Romney got elected (which should serve as the baseline), plus 2003 through 2005. And what do we find? In 2003, total crime declined 3.1% from the previous year, and violent crime declined 1.7%. In 2004, total crime declined by 4.5%, and violent crime declined by 3.2%. In 2005, total crime declined by 2.9%, but violent crime increased by 4.75%.

As for the murders Giuliani mentioned, in 2002, before Romney took office, there were 171 murders in Massachusetts. Then there were 139 in 2003, back up to 167 in 2004, and 175 in 2005. Without knowing what happened in 2006, it appears, then, that on the whole we can say that Mitt Romney's tenure saw some decreases in overall crime, but the murder rate was about the same when he left as when he came in.

Was that so hard?

Here's the thing: Politicians lie. The only thing that will keep them from lying is if they know they'll pay a price. And the only ones who can make them pay that price are the reporters whose job it is to tell us what's going on. Unless reporters are willing to step in when candidates are arguing over "facts" and tell you which side is being honest, there is absolutely no incentive for the politicians to tell the truth. Rudy may well now be saying, "Hell, how about next time we just say crime increased on Romney's watch by a thousand percent? Who's going to stop us?"
Right! Do your fucking jobs and quit giving equal credibility to both sides of an argument that has demonstrable facts. I’m happy that blogs are around to take up the slack, but in many cases they shouldn’t have to.

For more on blogs and their influence in Illinois, see Rich Miller’s article in the Illinois Times last week. (Or just regularly read Marie’s blog.)

1 comment:

ThirtyWhat said...

Mr. ThirytWhat and I had a similar conversation just the other night ... his point being that if Hitler were around today, there'd be someone on CNN or Fox saying, "Now, wait a minute ... let's look at it from his side ..."

They're so determined to give credibility to both sides of an arguement that the entire point is lost.