At Real Clear Politics: Media Ignores Facts to Claim a Trump Gotcha

Jul 1, 2020 | Fact Check

Dr. John Lott has another piece at Real Clear Politics on media bias regarding crime rates and Trump.

The media keeps going out of its way to fact check President Trump’s claims as false. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump is one of many journalists who can’t be bothered with considering the most obvious interpretations of what Trump says. Instead, he ventures into the nonsensical. 

Last week, Trump said the 20 most dangerous U.S. cities are run by Democrats; Bump then wrote an article saying Trump erred — by Bump’s count, only 17 of the 20 cities are run by Democrats. Social media mocked Bump’s analysisfor quibbling over whether Trump was exactly right or not, but what they failed to point out is that Bump’s underlying numbers are wrong.

Trump earned Bump’s ire by saying that if you are going to blame anyone for the condition of police departments in American cities, you need to blame the Democrats who have been running them.

“You hear about certain places like Chicago and you hear about what’s going on in Detroit and other — other cities, all Democrat run,” Trump said last Wednesday. “Every one of them is Democrat run. Twenty out of twenty. The 20 worst, the 20 most dangerous are Democrat run.” He has made similar statements many times.

The Post’s headline summarizes Bump’s conclusion: “Trump keeps claiming that the most dangerous cities in America are all run by Democrats. They aren’t.”

According to Bump, 17 of the 20 most dangerous cities are run by Democrats, and one is Republican run. Bump first evaluates how dangerous cities are based on the total number of violent crimes in a city, not the per capita rate. But it doesn’t make sense to compare the number of violent crimes in New York City with the total in Washington, D.C. New York, after all, has a much larger population.

By looking at total violent crimes, Bump is able to find only one city with a Republican mayor — Jacksonville, Fla. But while Jacksonville ranks 17th in violent crime, it ranks 13th in total population. On a per capita basis, it isn’t in the top 30 most violent cities even among the 50 most populous cities in the U.S.

The other two cities – San Antonio, Texas, and Las Vegas – have non-partisan or independent mayors. But that is misleading. City elections in San Antonio are non-partisan, but the city is heavily Democrat. Even if the politicians who run the city are non-partisan, everyone knows who the Republicans and Democrats are. The mayor of Las Vegas is an independent, but she was previously a Democrat. As with San Antonio, Las Vegas is a Democratic stronghold, and the other members of the city government are Democrats.

Even if you illogically refuse to adjust for population, Trump is still correct in 19 out of 20 cases.

Bump then looks at violent crime rates, adjusted for population, and acknowledges that 19 of the top 20 cities are run by Democratic mayors. But the one city that he claims is run by an independent (Springfield, Mo.), has non-partisan races. The city also leans toward Democrats in how it votes.

Bump combines his two top-20 lists (number of violent crimes, and violent crime rate) to reach the conclusion that: “Four of the 32 cities listed above have non-Democratic mayors.” But that’s not the full story, and Bump is inaccurately trying to conflate non-partisan office holders with independents. Only by looking at total violent crime and not per capita crime rates, can the Washington Post point to even one of those cities being run by a Republican.

Another measure of danger is the murder rate. Of the 30 cities with the highest murder rates, 28 are clearly controlled by Democrats and the other two cities hold non-partisan elections. Both those cities again tend to vote for Democrats.

Bump then dismisses Trump’s entire point, saying that it “doesn’t really matter” because cities “generally have more crime than suburban and rural areas,” and that “it’s problematic to draw a causal relationship between crime and Democratic leadership.” But Democrats don’t run all the large cities. Of the 100 largest cities, Republicans run 29, Democrats 64, independents 3, and four are non-partisan.

Of the 20 largest cities, Republicans run four and Democrats run 16. The Republican cities are much safer. In 2018, the violent crime rate was 72% higher in cities run by Democrats, and the murder rate was 83% higher. Even once you move out of the very largest cities, the results are the same. Of the 50 largest cities, Republicans control 13 and Democrats 37. Cities run by Democrats have a 74% higher violent crime rate and a 109% higher murder rate.

Once again, the media have to go well out of their way and make senseless comparisons. They ignore important facts to claim that Trump made an error. Even then, the size of the supposed mistake was pretty small. 

Unfortunately, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook use these fact-checkers to censor content. It is long past time that we acknowledge how partisan they are.

John R. Lott, Jr., “Media Ignores Facts to Claim a Trump Gotcha,” Real Clear Politics, July 1, 2020.




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