The FBI’s report provided a lot of data with a lot of distinctions, including which types of crimes rose and which subsided, and where. But depending on the outlet you read, you’ll get a very different impression of the data because of how it was slanted.
In this analysis, we found that two pairings of outlets slanted their coverage in ways that created two distinct points of view. Both sets cherry-picked their information, so you won’t find certain data in one set that you will in another. The differences in slant are striking, considering all four outlets used the same FBI report.
Fox News and The Daily Caller: selective data + opinion
Most of these outlets’ data showed only how crime has risen. For instance, about 85 percent of Fox News’total information (from headline to final sentence) cited increases in crime, and the 15 percent that cited decreases was placed at the very bottom of the article. The Daily Caller’s ratio was 90 to 10 percent.
Both outlets’ bias established two things: one, the FBI’s data points to a trend that will continue and, two, it proves statements from the Trump administration right (namely, that greater law enforcement is needed to combat rising crime). Fox implied this by only citing Sessions and omitting other points of view, but the Caller spelled it out, beginning with its headline, “The FBI Just Confirmed What Sessions Has Been Saying About Violent Crime.” In this case, the Caller also added its opinion to correlate its partial data with its point of view — Sessions was right!
Finally, Fox also omitted historical data that serves as context to better understand the current data. For instance, it said the violent crime rate is “on the rise” and that statistics showed 2016 had “the largest single-year increase in 25 years.” What it didn’t say is that the FBI also noted the 2016 figure is 12.3 percent lower than it was in 2007, which the Caller did include in its article.
ABC News and The Washington Post: selective sources + opinion
These outlets’ bias established that, one, the FBI’s data is too small a sample to indicate a trend and, two, that Sessions and the administration are wrong. They didn’t so much cherry-pick the FBI’s data the way the other outlets did (they gave data that suggests crime is getting worse in some ways and better in others), but they did cherry-pick their sources.
The Washington Post, for example, said “experts and analysts have disputed” Sessions’ position on the matter, and it cited five specific sources whose data or perspectives could suggest the attorney general is incorrect in his assessment. Similarly, ABC News made three mentions of what “experts” and “criminologists” said, and cited one specific source. Both outlets omitted data or perspectives (other than Sessions’) that might indicate the problem may continue.
And like Fox and the Caller, these two sources used their opinion, but in this case to support the notion that Sessions is wrong. ABC wrote:
“The Trump administration immediately seized on the figures as proof that the nation is in the midst of a dangerous crime wave …” and “Sessions has used the threat of rising violence as an impetus for many of his sweepingpolicy changes.”Here, the dramatic, subjective and imprecise terms in red support the bias — that’s what spin often does.
Who do you believe?
Slant distorts the way we take in information by predisposing how we prioritize it, and by showing us some parts of it but not others. And the added opinion and spin only strengthen the bias, so it’s easy to lose sight of the only consistent element in the equation: the data. In both of these outlet pairings, it’s important to be aware you’re only getting a fraction of the information, rather than the whole picture.
As to which outlet pairing to believe — both at the same time, or neither? Better yet, read our Raw Data or go straight to the source of the information (the FBI in this case) and draw your own conclusions.
Written by Leah Mottishaw and Ivy Nevares
Edited by Ivy Nevares and Jens Erik Gould
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Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News