Narratives of the Times

Before I get started, let me say that one of the first things my late parents found they had in common 75+ years ago was reading the New York Times.  I grew up reading it and still do.  That’s what’s so appalling about what it’s become;  editorials masquerading as news, and even those slanted to keep the (presumably) liberal readership undisturbed.

On 4 August the front page carried a story titled “Police Stops in New York Drop by 34%”.  The article goes on for 24 paragraphs and occupies a full third of an inside page.  In it we find that the number of police stops, questioning, and frisks dropped by 34% in the second quarter of 2012.  The first 3 months  had some 203,500, the second 3 had 133,934, which was 25% lower than the same quarter a year ago.  Only half the stops resulted in frisks.

We are told that some unnamed civil rights groups and City Council members don’t like stop and frisk, as 85% involve Blacks and Hispanics.  We are told that the ACLU sued the Philly police department about them, and got the cops to put in ‘safeguards’.

There is an interview with Mr. Kelly the police commissioner.

What aren’t we told?  This is practically a lab experiment on the effect of stop and (possibly) frisk on crime rates.  The Times is silent.  The two reporters were certainly not cramped for space.

The same day the New York Post ran an article on the subject (not sure where it appeared).  The headline was rather different “Crime way up after stop and frisk drop.” Here’s the data the Times didn’t give you.  There were 24,751 major crimes reported in the first 3 months of the year and 27,832 in the second quarter, a 12% increase in crime associated with the 34% decline in stop and frisk.  The number of guns seized dropped from 881 to 732.

Most readers of this blog are interested in the science presented and have a scientific background.  So for them, I have a question.  What did the New York Post leave out that you’d want to know?

I think you’d want the number of major crimes reported for each 3 months for 2010 and 2011.  Otherwise what looks like cause and effect could just be statistical fluctuation.  It is my understanding that crime rates go up in the warm months, so the 12% rise might just be a seasonal fluctuation.  We don’t know and we aren’t told.  We should be. The data is clearly available.

The Post’s transgression is relatively minor.  The Times’ is not.  It’s an attempt to keep one of their favorite narratives going.  If this were some brief note on the inside of the paper, it would be one thing.  But this is front page news (except that it isn’t news but a thinly disguised editorial).  Why is the article an editorial?  Because it chooses to ignore facts that don’t suit the acticle’s thrust.  This is perfectly acceptable in an editorial, but not in one masquerading as news.

It is very sad to see this happening in what was  formerly a great paper.  Granted that there has been a decline in readership, advertising and profitability in all print media largely due to the rise of the internet, but these wounds are self-inflicted.

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