You could say hate crimes are violent, externalized forms of human bias. They’re an effect of holding a narrow, inflexible perspective deemed “right,” to the point where we dehumanize others and are willing to harm or even kill them. So understanding bias and violence as more generalized processes — regardless of a specific issue or a type of crime — is a valuable resource to address these problems in society.
Media bias plays a role in how we form and further our own perceptual biases because, unless they’re challenged, they’re unlikely to change. Ironically, the coverage we analyzed on the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics report was slanted in different ways — namely by omissions, emphasis and juxtaposition, although we identified other issues as well. Here’s a look at each, and how each can limit the way we examine and approach these subjects.
1. Omitting the limitations in data
Of the four articles we analyzed, Reuters was the most data-based in that it didn’t include opinion (which, by Knife standards, is ideal). However, neither Reuters nor The Daily Caller pointedt out the limitations in the FBI’s report — an element that’s standard in scientific writing. Now, the FBI’s findings are likely valid and accurate within that data set, but there’s other information available that, if considered, might change the way we view the report. For instance, HuffPost notes that more than half of hate crime victims don’t report these incidents to law enforcement. This single data point suggests we may only be looking at half the picture, if gauging hate crimes in the U.S. by the FBI report alone.
2. Emphasizing one group more than others
In its headline, The Daily Caller singles out “anti-white” hate crimes, and Vox does the same, except with Muslims. This may seem trivial, but it could contribute to the problem, in that we might see a particular group as greater victims of hate crimes compared to others (and possibly some groups as greater victimizers than others, depending on our prejudices). From a humanity standpoint, all hate crimes are equally destructive.
3. Omitting the bigger problem
None of the outlets mention that, while group or bias type distinctions are useful, hate and violence transcend issues of race, gender, and creed, etc. Some people believe, for example, that some forms of violence are “race related,” suggesting that race is not just a factor, but a cause. If a causal connection indeed existed, that would mean all people of a given race would be violent towards members of another, but that’s never the case. Hate and violence are human problems that existed before we created distinctions like race, religion and gender identity. Believing hate crimes or any other form of violence is issue-specific may actually limit the way we approach the problem.
4. Political bias
Vox juxtaposes the Trump campaign and presidency with the FBI’s findings, suggesting he’s to blame for the recent rise in hate crimes. As noted in our August op-ed, “hatred and violence exist in America independent of Trump.” It’s useful for the media to report on the Trump administration and its effects. However, shifting blame in this situation distracts from our solving what is essentially a societal problem, and it may encourage faultfinding, rather than self-reflection as to how we all participate in it.
The media can inspire new approaches to the problems of hate and violence. Eliminating bias that promotes divisiveness, showing readers the limitations in data and drawing attention to the root causes, rather than the effects, are a few simple but important steps in that process.
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