Part 2—Prologue to a journalistic semi-enigma:
Starting on November 9, the mainstream press corps began reporting and discussing two sets of important events.

Some of these events occurred at Yale, a university in New Haven, Connecticut. Some of these events occurred at the flagship campus of the University of Missouri.

We've been struck by some of the ways those events have been reported and discussed within the mainstream press. But first, for one day only, consider a piece of prologue from New York magazine and the Washington Post.

In itself, this piece of prologue isn't hugely important. That said, it may tell us something about one of the players the press corps discussed, or failed to discuss, when it discussed the events at Yale and Mizzou.

That key player is youth. For our prologue about that key player, consider a blog post from New York magazine.

The report was posted by Nathan Pemberton, a young reporter who graduated from Florida State in 2009. Pemberton's report begins as shown below.

Our hypothesis will be the following. Only a fairly young person, at a fraught time, could have thought the highlighted claim made even a lick of sense:
PEMBERTON (11/16/15): Roughly 44 million Americans have an encounter with police each year. During these routine stops, in cars or on the street, black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to experience excessive force at the hands of police. The data, composed of public surveys collected and compiled by the Department of Justice, reveals that 75 percent of those stopped by police reported excessive force of some kind. Respondents defined excessive force broadly, ranging from verbal aggression (shouting, cursing, threatening) to physical force (grabbing, punching, kicking) and include severe responses (pepper spray, Taser usage, or officers pulling their guns out).
Does it make sense to list "shouting" among examples of "excessive force" by police? We'd be inclined to say no.

That said, Pemberton had seemed to stop making sense before he offered that list. The young reporter had made a claim which seems absurd on its face.

According to Pemberton, roughly 44 million Americans have some kind of encounter with police in the course of the typical year. Here's the part which seems to make no sense:

According to Pemberton, 75 percent of those people report excessive force of some kind on the part of police! 75 percent!

Being wise and mature beyond our years, that statement struck us as crazy. It didn't seem crazy to Pemberton, or to editors at New York magazine, if any such people monitor posts by the magazine's young, inexpensive reporters.

Pemberton didn't provide a link to the DOJ study he was discussing. Instead, he provided a link to a news report from Sunday's Washington Post—a page A2 report which struck us as unusually flawed when we read it in our hard-copy Post on Sunday morning.

Pemberton didn't provide a link to the study in question. Then again, neither had Anu Narayanswamy, the somewhat older scribe whose name appeared on the Post's report, not even in the on-line version of her report.

We weren't surprised to see a weird claim emerge from the poorly-written Post report, which appeared on page A2 of the newspaper's Sunday edition. Yesterday, when we read that weird claim, we decided to check the DOJ study to see what it actually said.

Uh-oh! As pretty much anyone would have guessed, Pemberton's claim was off a factor of a whole giant amount. As the DOJ's first paragraph states, the actual figure is 1.2%, not the clownishly larger percentage New York magazine reported.

Below, you see the original source of Pemberton's claim, headline included:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORT (11/15): Police Use of Nonfatal Force, 2002-2011

From 2002 to 2011, an annual average of 44 million persons age 16 or older had one or more face-to-face contacts with police. Of those who had contact, 1.6% experienced the threat or use of nonfatal force by the police during their most recent contact. About 75% of those with force (1.2% of persons with police contact) perceived the force as excessive...
A coherence problem already exists in that first paragraph by the Justice Department. ("Of those with force?") But according to the DOJ, 1.2 percent of the "persons with police contact" reported the use of force by the police which they perceived to be excessive.

At New York magazine, Pemberton reported the number as 75 percent. At this point, we'll repeat our hypothesis:

Only a very young person, at a fraught time, could have thought that number made sense.

Our hypothesis is crazily wrong, of course. Older people believe crazy claims too. This fact is proven every day, in and out of the press corps.

That said, we'll make this suggestion. At times which are fraught, young reporters, and other young people, may be inclined to believe improbable claims and reach judgments which may be a bit overwrought. They may be even more inclined to believe improbable claims than the older folk who are egging them on—though in saying that, we've started to put our thumbs on the scale concerning this week's topic, which is extremely important.

Full disclosure! In that news report in the Washington Post, Narayanswamy didn't say that 75 percent of people who had a police contact claimed excessive force. Still, her own reporting was so jumbled and so flawed that we suspected the source of Pemberton's peculiar claim before we clicked his link.

These kids today! The events at Missouri and Yale involve the reactions of people who are on the youngish side. Sometimes, young people are more perceptive than those who are older. Other times, though, they are not.

Are students at Missouri and Yale over-reacting to events at a time which is rather fraught? We don't know how to answer that question. In part, that's because we've been reading the work of the mainstream press corps.

What has been happening at Missouri? In our view, the New York Times and the Washington Post have done a fairly lazy job reporting that important topic.

Tomorrow, we'll start to review the basic reporting. From there, we'll move on to the op-ed pieces which appeared in last weekend's high-profile Sunday editions.

What has been happening at Yale and Missouri? For our money, the basic reporting has been rather weak, the commentary rather selective.

In the conservative world, the usual suspects have been tilting hard in the other direction, often in unpleasant ways. In the process, though, we'll have to say this: conservatives are being exposed to certain facts which are being withheld from everyone else.

Facts are being withheld from us. People, imagine that!

Tomorrow: We're not quite sure this made sense

What Narayanswamy reported: In the Washington Post, Narayanswamy didn't make the improbable statement Pemberton apparently thought he had read.

Still, her work struck us as very poor, from start to finish. This is the way she began:
NARAYANSWAMY (11/15/15): Black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to experience non­fatal force or the threat of force from police, according to a new Justice Department study.

The study, which was released Saturday, found that an annual average of 44 million U.S. residents older than 16 had at least one face-to-face contact with police between 2002 and 2011. About 75 percent of those who had encountered force from the police perceived the force to be excessive.
The scribe omitted a basic fact. Can you discern what it was?

Narayanswamy was writing at a highly fraught time. Her omission led to Pemberton's highly improbable claim. His claim made sense to New York magazine's editors, if such workers exist.


  1. Reporting that falsely impugns the police is part of a dynamic that has led to the murder of dozens or hundreds of people. Police are not patrolling with their usual vigor. Since the furors over the deaths of several black people at the hands of police, the murder rate in the inner cities has gone up pretty sharply. E.g., the BBC reported

    Murder and violent crime rates have risen in multiple US cities since the beginning of 2015, after falling for two decades. Some have put this down to a so-called Ferguson effect, referring to the protests against perceived police brutality, that sometimes became violent. Could that be true?
    What do the statistics say?
    There are no national figures on crime in the US available yet for 2015, but some cities have released their own figures.
    In New York City, the murder rate has gone up by 20% in 2015 compared with the first few months of 2014. Mayor Bill de Blasio called a special news conference at which he acknowledged the increase, but said it could be contained. He said he had faith in the New York Police Department that they will "turn the tide".
    In other cities, there are similar increases reported. In Baltimore, murders are up 37% and in Los Angeles, violent crime is up by 27% (although murders are down 2%). In Houston, murders are up nearly 50% so far this year....

    [The Ferguson Effect] is a term coined by St Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, whose police officers had been one of the forces dealing with the summer protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.
    He said in November his police officers had been drawing back from everyday enforcement due to fears they could be charged. As a result, he said, the "criminal element is feeling empowered".

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerNovember 17, 2015 at 12:30 PM

      So, police are not patrolling with their usual "vigor". This is what is referred to in labor as a "work slowdown". This can have nothing to do with fears by police of perceived police brutality and everything to do with police officers holding the public that they serve hostage to their demands for less oversight. You would think that the police themselves would be the first to call for citizen oversight to root out the bad apples. Apparently, this is not the case.

    2. In Los Angeles, the increase in crime is beung attributed to increased gang activity. You need more than a simple increase in the homicide rate to establish that a Ferguson effect is causing it.

    3. Baltimore Sun reports:

      Baltimore isn't just back to 1990s-level homicide rates. It has surpassed them — and with a month and a half to go before the year's end.

      Given... the stack of killings that occurred in recent days, 2015 has officially become the deadliest year, per capita, in Baltimore history.

      There have been 21 homicides in November alone with nearly half the month left — continuing a trend of more than a killing per day since the April death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent unrest.

      The higher rate of killings since the death of Freddie Gray is evidence of the "Feguson effect" in Baltimore. As Anon points out, there may be other reasons for a higher murder rate in some cities. E.g., in New York City, the Mayor ended the Stop-and-Frisk program, although the police said that it was an effective crime deterrant.

    4. You would think a fiscal conservative, like DinC, would be thrilled about the money we save not paying the police who won't do their job.

  2. Bob, writing at a "fraught time", gets ready to use age as a major player in a series which may seem to some, perhaps many, to last too long.

    That said, do you, the reader, hypothesize who or what Bob will blame when he writes at a "highly" fraught time? How about when he writes at at a "rather" fraught time.

    I would hypothesize that old people, writing at a stressful time, constantly focus on the youth of others because of their fear of death.

    Of course some might think I am old. Others might call me middle aged. Or somewhat middle aged. Or younger. Some, if there are any, might find me young, or fairly young. Still otherws might find all these modifiers fuzzy, which to me is a fairly lazy reaction.

    I'll restate my hypothesis. Only a lonely old coot. writing near the bitter end of a failed career, constantly portrays youth as a flaw.

    Of course that is ridiculous for me to suggest. Still. the blogger is on the oldish side, and these times are called the golden years by some and the downhill slide by others.

    Many a very old person, at a foggy time, could think this negative focus on youth is anything but sad for others to read.

    At times when they go slack, old bloggers, and many of their old followers, may be inclined to make preposterous claims and reach judgments which are way out of whack.

    1. I'm not buying your crap, troll. Bob is only on the prologue here in Part 2, and based on the "lessons from Mizzou" Somerby taught us in the preview post last week, and the fact that this cluelessness reminds us of 1692, as we learned in Part 1, I'd say your prediction the series will last too long is getting old.

    2. The kid missed it by a country mile.

      I'm skeptical of the world view judgements of 20-something year olds. Especially those who come from highly priviledged backgrounds. They're chosen for that work because they have a history of acquiescence to authority.

  3. In the fraught, fairly fraught, or highly fraught atmosphere of 2015, a recently released report by the DOJ using statistics from 2011 is timely, fairly timely, or highly timely.

  4. "Does it make sense to list "shouting" among examples of "excessive force" by police? We'd be inclined to say no."

    Sure you would, Bob. You grew up white, upper middle class, then went to the Ivy League.

    Your only contact with people of color was a few years spent in a classroom in Baltimore, lording it over kids while dodging the draft which was not only your primary, but your only reason for teaching.

    Then bored with that, you turn to the comedy club circuit, where you attempted, probably without much success, to make largely white audiences laugh. And failing that, you turn to blogging, where you have found your own lilly-white, albeit tiny, tribe to talk to on a daily basis, some of them even hailing your genius.

    You have no idea what it is like to be driving home from a dinner and a movie through a white suburb, get pulled over for no reason at all, and screamed at by a cop for the "crime" of DWB.

    1. Ok - we can all agree that being screamed at is unpleasant, perhaps even emotionally triggering, but is it "force?" Most reasonable people would be inclined to say "no."

    2. I always love it when Bob and his followers tell us what is "reasonable" in situations they've obviously never been it.

    3. You think David's never had a traffic stop? He's told us he was at a demonstration once. It's one thing to suggest that no white person can understand black experience, but you are showing some pretty extreme lack of understanding of white experience yourself. I think you are trolling since no one can be that stupid.

  5. "Force" - "strength or power exerted upon an object; physical coercion; violence"

    I can imagine circumstances where some policeman shouts excessively. Nobody likes being shouted at. However, the word "physical" in the definition suggests to me that shouting doesn't constitute "force" or "excessive force".

    1. And another white guy heard of who has never been yelled at by a cop.

      But I'm sure you have a second cousin by marriage who has.

    2. Cops don't only yell at black people. They yell at whoever they are trying to get to do what they want.

      If you've watched any of the videos of police encounters, you will see black people yelling at cops. Is that violence too? Is it assaulting an officer? Not by law -- but maybe you think it should be?

    3. White guy here who was yelled at by every cop who ever stopped me for a traffic violation. I did what they told me to do like a puss.

  6. Bob's audience has left the building.

    1. Is that a commenting semi-observation?

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