Home Store In Memoriam Deborah Newsletter Forum Topics Blogfeed Blogroll Facebook MySpace Contact Us About

FOX News Uses Biased, Problematic Expert to Counter Crime Stats

Reported by Marie Therese - July 5, 2007 -

A recent report by the Police Executive Research Forum claims that, in certain cities and areas of the United States, there has been a double-digit increase in violent crime, despite an overall decrease in violent crime nationwide. One of those areas most affected is the Midwest, a part of the country that's very important to FOX News. Consequently, they had to find someone to rebut the disturbing findings of the PERF report, first released in March 2007. FOX tapped one of their most "respected" reporters, Catherine Herridge, to interview "expert" John Lott as an unopposed rebuttal guest. With video.

Lott argued that the report was faulty because it did not include statistics for the entire United States and omitted reports on large cities like New York. Neither he nor Herridge bothered to point out that the original report was limited in scope and that its purpose was not to cover the nation but only certain geographical areas that defied the national averages.

As commonly happens on FOX, "expert" John Lott has some skeletons in his professional closet.

His reputation was scarred in 2003 when it was discovered that he went online using a "sockpuppet" (phony name) to defend his own faulty research.

In April 2006 Lott sued Stephen Levitt, author of Freakonomics, and Levitt's publisher, HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation, which also owns FOX News Channel. He claimed that the book and an email defamed his character. A judge recently threw out the part of the suit pertaining to the book, but has left intact Lott's suit regarding the alleged defamatory email.

Lott has been a vocal supporter of the NRA. His two prior books are defenses of gun ownership in which he advocates for the concept that the more guns people own, the lower the crime rate. The PERF study directly contradicts his hypothesis, in that the police chiefs of the various cities discussed claim that gun ownership and a kind of "fantasy video game" mentality have led to a double-digit rise in crime in certain cities.

From The New York Times, March 9, 2007 (subscription required):

"While overall crime has been declining nationwide, police officials have been warning of a rise in murder, robbery and gun assaults since late 2005, particularly in midsize cities and the Midwest. Now, they say, two years of data indicates that the spike is more than an aberration.

'''There are pockets of crime in this country that are astounding,'' said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which is releasing the report on Friday.

'''It's gone under the radar screen, but it's not if you're living on the north side of Minneapolis or the south side of Los Angeles or in Dorchester, Mass.'

Local police departments blame several factors: the spread of methamphetamine use in some Midwestern and Western cities, gangs, high poverty and a record number of people being released from prison. But the biggest theme, they say, is easy access to guns and a willingness, even an eagerness, to settle disputes with them, particularly among young people.

'''There's a mentality among some people that they're living some really violent video game,'' said Chris Magnus, the police chief in Richmond, Calif., north of San Francisco, where homicides rose 20 percent and gun assaults 65 percent from 2004 to 2006. ''What's disturbing is that you see that the blood's real, the death's real.'"

Sadly, Catherine Herridge, who has a really terrific resume including a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia, allowed herself to become nothing more than a shill for an unbalanced piece of blatant advocacy. There was no one from PERF on hand to argue against Lott's assertions. There was no mention of that fact that he has had some accuracy issues in the past. No mention of his lawsuit against a company owned by FOX News' parent company. No mention of Lott's pro-gun bias. And certainly no mention of the fact that less than two weeks after the publication of his latest book, Freedomnomics, it is being offered FREE as an inducement to join the Conservative Book Club!

I was truly disappointed in Herridge. She is too good a reporter not to have known about Lott's dubious past and deep prejudices. Despite this, she let herself be used in a clear propaganda piece designed to twist the truth in order to create an image more in tune with FOX's pro-gun audience.