COMMENTS: Much Ado About Minuscule Rise in Murders

Tensions in eastern Europe and violence in the nation's cities led to a split decision on the day's news. ABC and CBS led with FBI statistics for violent crime in 2006. NBC chose the beginning of the President's travels in Europe. Even though the war in Iraq did not make the top of any of the three newscasts, it attracted enough attention to qualify as the Story of the Day with a pair of progress reports, one on the so-called troop surge in Baghdad, the other on the search for the two missing soldiers captured in the countryside south of the capital.

A hike in the incidence of violent crime nationwide sounds scary until the amount of the increase is mentioned--a nominal 1.3%. All three networks assigned a reporter to the statistic but none translated the percentage into actual deaths: how many more people were murdered in 2006 than in 2005 as a result? Furthermore, if homicides are up 6.8% in large cities, a statistic ABC's Dan Harris (subscription required) cited, and the overall murder rate is up by little more than 1%, that means that in most suburbs, small cities and rural areas, the homicide rate must be falling. Nationwide, CBS' Bob Orr pointed out, "rapes, assaults and property crimes are down."

Still the focus was on things that are getting worse. CBS' Orr ticked off cities that saw an annual increase in killing: Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Houston, Orlando, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Oakland. His police sources blamed "gangs, guns, increasingly violent teenagers and budget cuts" for police from the federal government. And Harris' unidentified criminology sources found another way to make the data look gloomy: "If the government does not move quickly, what is now a gradual increase in violent crime could get much worse…we may some day look back at today's numbers and say: 'Those were the good old days.'"


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