Reviews | On crime and the economy, Republicans are dictating the media narrative

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Democrats tend to view Republicans as messaging wizards, capable of creating controversy out of thin air and manipulating the minds of voters. While the GOP’s powers of mesmerism are vastly overstated, there are times when they seem to easily persuade major news outlets to repeat their favorite stories, after which public opinion follows.

This is played out on two important issues: crime and the economy.

Start with delinquency. Whenever something serious happens, like an increase in homicides, the media tells us that it is happening and also how to understand it: why it happened, what it means, who could be blamed.

As you probably know, homicides increased dramatically at the start of the pandemic. Here are some representative numbers: In Jacksonville, Florida, there were 131 murders in 2019, which rose to 144 in 2020, then fell to 109 in 2021. In Fort Worth, there were 71 murders in 2019, which jumped to 115 in 2021. 2020 and 118 in 2021, the highest the city has seen in decades.

I chose these two cities because they have roughly the same population as San Francisco – although Jacksonville and Fort Worth both have Republican mayors and Republican chief prosecutors. Still, they have far more murders than San Francisco, which recorded 41 in 2019, 48 in 2020 and 56 in 2021.

If you don’t remember the national media headlines reading “Crime-tough Republican prosecutors on the defensive in the face of rising crime,” it’s because there hasn’t been such coverage. . However, there have been many stories like this in the Wall Street Journal: “Progressive prosecutors’ move tested by rising crime and angry voters.”

The main subject of this and many others is San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who faces a well-funded recall election on Tuesday. He was elected in 2019 and, like his Republican counterparts, has not lowered homicides.

Watch Chesa Boudin Surf — and Respond to His Critics

San Francisco politics, like that of all major cities, is extremely complex. Boudin has feuded with the city police since before he took office; there are allegations that the police actively tried to sabotage it. And the issues that anger city residents — particularly property crime and homelessness — go back decades.

But in the national media, this story was presented as that of a progressive prosecutor whose liberal political ideas failed and caused a backlash. The fact that there are only a few such prosecutors, and that the increase in crime has been happening all over the country, is buried in the 17th paragraph, if it is mentioned at all.

That means the story that Republican politicians and conservative media want people to believe — crime is out of control, and it’s all Democrats’ fault — is reinforced by the media narrative. This account is not necessarily false in the particular facts it includes, but it adds up to a grossly misleading picture. And if Boudin loses recall, there will be a flurry of stories about how even voters in liberal cities reject a liberal approach to crime prevention.

Joshua Davis: What Chesa Boudin’s recall vote could mean for criminal justice reform

Now let’s move on to economics. In a recent Economist-YouGov poll, 55% of Americans said we were in a recession, which is both bonkers and completely explainable. Among those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020, the number was 74%; even 40% of Biden voters said we were in a recession.

We are most definitely not in recession. The economy has created more than 8 million jobs since Joe Biden took office in January last year, an absolutely breathtaking pace of job creation; unemployment is only 3.6%.

Of course, most people don’t know the technical meaning of the word “recession” (generally defined as a significant contraction in the economy, or a contraction that lasts two or more consecutive quarters). For the average citizen, “recession” simply means “the economy is really bad right now.”

The true state of the economy is complicated. For one thing, there’s hardly ever been a better time in the last half-century to find a job and get a raise. On the other hand, inflation is high, especially gasoline prices.

You might notice that inflation is something people experience in their own lives, and they see gas prices on giant billboards everywhere, which is true. But media narratives tell us how to contextualize and extrapolate the things we see in our lives, how to fit them into a larger picture of the country and the world.

Regular news consumers see about a million stories every day on gas prices, with endless shots of gas station signs and interviews of Joe and Jane American at the pumps, shaking their heads at how much it’s eating away at their budget. This kind of attention communicates that rising gas prices are not only something unfortunate that we hope will soon be alleviated, but that they are causing cataclysmic suffering – a notion that is then reinforced by the constant attacks of Republicans against the President for not solving the problem, when in reality there is little he can do to control prices.

The lesson from these two cases is not that Republicans can simply dictate any scenario to reporters. For every time they manage to do that, there are a few times they try and fail. But on two of the biggest stories of the moment, the media is giving them exactly what they want.

About Deborah Wilson

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