DUELING DISPROPORTIONS: Times fact-check drives Storyline!

FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2020

Do misperceptions matter?:
Is it possible that misperceptions might arise from the way the mainstream press has been covering fatal shooting at the hands of police officers?

(As a point of fairness, it should be said—not all such deaths involve police misconduct. We would assume that most do not, though we've never seen an attempt to study that question.)

At present, the press corps tends to cover some such deaths in great detail, but only if the victim is black. Is it possible that misperceptions can arise from this remarkable practice?

Beyond that, might such misperceptions be harmful in some way? Or is it possible that, at a time of revolution, selective coverage is the way to go—the way to effect useful change?

Concerning political strategy, opinions will surely differ. Concerning possible misperceptions, it's hard to believe that misperceptions don't arise from such unusual press corps behavior.

That said, the Beatles didn't want a revolution, but today's high bourgeoisie does. They clutter the staffs at our major newspapers. Storyline follows from there.

At present, they rush to show how deeply they care about the kinds of societal problems they and/or their colleagues and predecessors completely ignored in the past. Their news orgs ignored these topics for decades. Today, they pretend to care about little else.

Some of these upper-end journalists are extremely young. Overstatement may be the only kind of statement they've ever known in these highly fraught "spaces."

(According to top anthropologists, the invention of new language helps establish tribal membership in highly tribalized times.)

The thumbs of these ardent journalists may often be found on the scales. Can this lead to misperceptions? Consider something Linda Qiu wrote in yesterday's New York Times.

We have no reason to doubt that Qiu is a thoroughly good, decent person. She's also the top fact-checker at the New York Times, a position to which she seems to bring no discernible skills.

Qiu is six years out of college (University of Chicago, class of 2014). Weirdly, she was only three years out of college when she ascended to her post at our most fatuous newspaper.

It may seem strange to think that a person so young and so unskilled holds so high a position in our upper-end press corps. But this is the way the game is played at the hapless and Hamptons-based Times.

How strong are Qiu's fact-checking skills? Consider something she wrote yesterday. Also, consider the possibility that fevered writing of this type may lead to misperceptions among us rubes, possibly even to harm.

Qiu had been asked to fact-check William Barr's testimony before the House Judiciary committee. As a general matter, we'll suggest this:

Whatever you thought of Barr's testimony, Qiu's efforts may have been even worse.

We're going to focus on one minor claim Qiu made in her report. Barr had spoken about shooting deaths at the hands of police. Early in her report, Qiu performed this check:
WHAT MR. BARR SAID
“According to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, the number of unarmed Black men killed by police so far this year is eight. The number of unarmed white men killed by police over the same time period is 11. And the overall numbers of police shootings has been decreasing.”

This is misleading. Mr. Barr accurately cited a database of police shootings compiled by The Washington Post. But the raw numbers obscure the pronounced racial disparity in such shootings. (The statement was also an echo of Mr. Trump’s technically accurate, but misleading claim that “more white” Americans are killed by the police than Black Americans.)

When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans, according to the database. Research has also shown that in the United States, on average, the probability of being shot by a police officer for someone who is Black and unarmed is higher than for someone who is white and armed.
Overall, Qiu scored Barr's statement as "misleading." For ourselves, we'd be inclined to score part of his statement as just plain simply false:

Is it true? Have "the overall numbers of police shootings" actually "been decreasing?" That's what Barr said, if only in passing. But as far as we know, they have not.

In that passage, Qiu refers to the Washington Post's Fatal Force database, as Barr did in his quoted statement. But that database only records fatal shootings, and these are its annual numbers since it came into existence:
Fatal shootings by police officers, 2015-2019
2015: 994
2016: 962
2017: 986
2018: 990
2019: 999
Most observers have noted the way those annual numbers haven't decreased. If that's what Barr was talking about, then that one statement seems to be false.

Barr may have been talking about something else; Qiu probably should have asked his office. But to the extent that it actually matters, that statement may have been false.

Qiu scored Barr's overall statement "misleading" because he failed to mention the fact that "Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans, according to the [Post] database."

Given the larger point Barr was explicitly making—"the fact is that these events are fortunately quite rare"—we aren't sure we'd fault him for failing to mention that fact. But we were struck by Qiu's next statement.

To be honest, Qiu's next statement had little to do with what Barr actually said. But we couldn't help wondering whether this was actually true:

"Research has also shown that in the United States, on average, the probability of being shot by a police officer for someone who is Black and unarmed is higher than for someone who is white and armed."

We don't know why the term "on average" is included there. But is it possible that an unarmed black person is more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer? More likely to be shot and skilled than a white person who is armed?

It's a bit hard to know what that statement means, but it surely does help drive current preferred Storyline. For her source, Qiu links to exactly one piece of "research," a study from 2015 which bears this daunting title:
A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014
Can we talk? That study is so complex, so convoluted and so technical that we have no idea how to assess its claims. Along those lines, if you think anyone at the New York Times knows how to evaluate that study, we have a bridge to the 51st century we'd be willing to sell you.

To be honest, Qiu's statement had little to do with anything Barr really said. It did reinforce preferred Storyline. But could that claim really be true?

Are unarmed black people shot more frequently than white people who are armed? It's hard to get clear on what that statement actually means, but we decided to look at the Fatal Force site, which Barr and Qiu had both cited.

It's hard to get clear on what that claim means. But this is what we found at the Fatal Force site:

According to the Post database, police officers shot and killed 368 armed white people last year. By way of contrast, police officers shot and killed 14 unarmed black people.

Even adjusting for population, there's no real comparison there. According to the Census Bureau, there were 4.5 times more white people in the national population last year. But the ration between those two groups of shooting victims was 26.3 to one!

We don't really know what Qiu's claim actually means. Nor can we say that it's hugely relevant to anything Barr really said.

That said, it did come straight outta Storyline, the one we all currently love. Could it also create misperceptions? Could it possibly produce real harm?

Could Qiu's highly desirable claim heighten the sense, of a parent or perhaps of a child, that black people are being wantonly hunted down by police officers? It seems to us that it could.

Especially when based on inaccurate claims, can such perceptions cause serious harm? It seems to us that they can!

How should these shooting deaths be reported? We'll close today with two points—with points about two disproportions:

At present, certain black shooting deaths get reported and widely discussed. White shooting deaths do not.

This practice seems remarkably hard to justify, but there's zero chance it will stop. Our press corps runs on Storyline, and this is the one they now love.

It's also true that, in a fuller discussion of this very important topic, absolute numbers of shooting deaths must be adjusted for population. Our cable stars rarely adjust when their failure to do so cuts against Trump, but serious journalists should adjust for population here.

It's true! Roughly twice as many white people get shot and killed by police each year! But this is also true:

"When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans." That fact is also true.

At "liberal" sites, the need to state that second fact will rarely arise, since the existence of white shooting deaths won't be mentioned at all. But on the rare occasion when someone like Trump actually makes an accurate statement, a fuller discussion must involve that nagging frequency gap.

A full discussion won't stop there, but that's where a fuller discussion must go. Where might a full discussion go after that?

We'll return to that question tomorrow. For today, we'll leave you with this:

The fact-check by the youthful Qiu came straight outta preferred Storyline. This is par for the course at the Times, a place where the virus has spread.

Tomorrow:
Why so many shooting deaths? Also, what Sharpton said

Fuller disclosure: Sometimes, the shooting of an unarmed person must be scored as justified. For example:

Out in Minnesota, it turned out that Robert Christen was unarmed when he was shot and killed by that female deputy sheriff.

Christen is listed as "unarmed" at the Fatal Force site. That said, the deputy had no way to know that he was unarmed—and Christen, a former Big Ten fullback, was trying to bullrush past her into the house of his former girl friend, who he'd said he was going to kill.

Christen had a long, extremely painful history of mental illness. This case was tragic for all involved. Except in the realm of Storyline, many of these incidents are.

Sometimes, heinous killings do occur. So it was in the case of the late George Floyd, and in the case of the late Tony Timpa.

40 comments:

  1. "Do misperceptions matter?"

    Yawn. But of course they matter, dear Bob. And that's the whole point of your liberal Ministry of Truth and its goebbelsian propaganda. Don't be coy now.

    Incidentally, I'm sorry to say, dear Bob, but you sound like you've already crossed the line between coy and willfully obtuse...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Мао ест свое дерьмо

      Delete
    2. Speaking of propaganda:

      https://www.amazon.com/Putins-Propaganda-Machine-Russian-Foreign/dp/1442253614

      Delete
    3. I agree with Trump that nectarines help prevent the spread of the virus.

      Delete


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  2. Oh! Well drawn! The line poor Bob's crossed, I mean, between the coy and rhe willfully obtuse! Such a skillful rhetorical sleight of hand, and the insinuating tone is utterly delicious. Where did you study such things, dear Mao? Or are you simply preternaturally gifted.

    I salute you, Gao

    ReplyDelete
  3. A statistician might question Qiu's use of population as a denominator when measuring the rate of police shootings. Other possibilities would be the number of violent crimes or number of murders. The ratio

    (Unarmed killed by police)/(No. of murderers)


    is higher for white than for blacks.

    However, I don't think either ratio was the main reason why Qiu called Barr's statement "misleading". IMHO the reason was simply that Barr's statement contradicted the prevailing liberal narrative. For people like Qiu, the narrative is TRUTH. Anything that contradicts the narrative is FALSE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This from the dolt who thought yesterday's semi-coherent Trump presser was brilliant.

      Delete
    2. Anon 12:58,

      You're talking about a person who explained his enthusiastic vote for trump by saying tRump would use his talent and experience for being an evil, corrupt and unethical motherfucker in the business world to make America great again.

      Tell us all about your theory, David, you fucking fascist prick.

      Delete
    3. Trump should be a lyricist.

      Delete
  4. Democrats can try all they want but everyone knows blacks commit exponentially more street crime, therefore have more police encounters, and still end up facing the ultimate consequence proportionally less frequently than whites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everyone knows blacks end up facing systemic discrimination exponentially more frequently than whites and therefore have more proportional consequences like street crime, try all they want.

      Delete
  5. Does anyone ever ask the question "How many blacks are shot and killed by other blacks over the years?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liberals don't care about any "blacks". They want power.

      If they cared, they had 8 years under Demigod Barry to defund the police and everything else.

      Delete
    2. ma0 ma0 * ,!, ,!,

      Delete
    3. "Liberals don't care about any "blacks". They want power."

      Q. How many Right-wing accusations are really confessions?

      A. All of them, Katie.

      Delete
    4. To be fair, I hear George LORD Thy God Soros loves "blacks".

      In fact, "blacks" is practically all He cares about, asking His servants every few minutes: how's my "blacks" doing out there?

      Delete
    5. Mao,
      I'm all for you and David taking over Trump's re-election campaign, and leading with the slogan "Donald J. Trump loves black people WAY more than he does white people".
      The only people dumb enough to believe it, are Right-wingers, and they will not vote for Trump if they believe it.

      Delete
    6. I certainly do believe that George LORD Thy God Soros loves "black people".

      I heard, from His dedicated body servants, about Him asking: "how is my "black people" doing? If it needs $20 billion or so, I shall dispatch it immediately. What? No? Good. But when it does, please tell me toot sweet."

      These are His exact words.

      Delete
    7. Mao,
      Soros isn't the LORD. He just seems like it to you, because he hasn't killed 150,000 Americans due to his criminal negligence.

      Delete
  6. “Could Qiu's highly desirable claim heighten the sense, of a parent or perhaps of a child, that black people are being wantonly hunted down by police officers? It seems to us that it could.”

    First of all, Qui’s claim isn’t her claim. It comes from the study she cited. Apparently, Somerby didn’t read it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t wonder why she uses the phrase “on average”—that is verbiage directly from the study.

    As to Somerby’s idea that the media is creating or fueling the perception that “black people are being wantonly hunted down by police officers”: It’s possible that someone could get that idea from watching the news coverage. It’s also possible that viewers simply see coverage of prominent incidents that raise legitimate questions about police behavior, disproportionality, and systemic racism.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Vanity Fair: “Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically.”

    Said one expert: “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What's a "national plan"?

      To grab Andrew Mario's Son Cuomo and his comrades in NJ and CT, and ship them to Gitmo before they start sending infected people to nursing homes?

      That's the only "national plan" that would work, but I doubt it would make your boss George LORD Thy God Soros happy.

      Delete
    2. Here's a fucking plan, Vlad.

      “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do.”

      Promise made 2 weeks ago by Donald J Chickenshit, The Magnificent.

      Herman Cain sacrificed his life for Donald J Chickenshit, Acting President. What have you done? Piker!

      Delete
  8. "(As a point of fairness, it should be said—not all such deaths involve police misconduct. We would assume that most do not, though we've never seen an attempt to study that question.)"

    Somerby can say this only because he has never made an attempt to find such a study.

    This kind of study is exactly why conservatives want to eliminate ethnic studies programs at universities. There are also nonprofits studying this stuff. Policing is a subtopic of sociology. Bigotry is a subtopic in social psychology. You would find such studies by entering keywords into a social sciences database, or just ask a reference librarian for help.

    ReplyDelete
  9. First Somerby spends a few paragraphs savaging journalists, then he starts in on Qiu, as if everything he said prior also applies to her. That is dirty pool. And when has being "three years out of school" ever been a valid complaint about anyone's "fact checking"? You get trained in school to look things up, no matter what you major in.

    Somerby's actual complaints never measure up to his generalized complaints about journalists. The unfair of this is one of the most distasteful aspects of his daily writing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. If you were cutting slices of pie and you spent a great deal of time making sure that everyone's wedge were exactly the same size, that would seem like fairness only if you completely ignore the hunger of the pie recipients.

    If a particular social problem affecting black people disproportionately were ignored for years, decades, centuries, and then is finally getting some attention, is it right to insist that that problem only get its exact scientifically measured share of attention (compared to white people)?

    The extreme focus on equal attention by the press strikes me as racist on Somerby's part. He seems to be making a fuss about this supposed disproportionality only because he doesn't want the problem to be identified at all. He doesn't want to ever hear about it, so he pretends there is a storyline and an exaggeration going on, while giving token lip service to the legitimacy of such a problem.

    Somerby focuses so narrowly on a single aspect of BLM's protests that he misses the larger importance of talking about race, finally having that conversation that Obama talked about nearly 12 years ago. That is what is happening, not some squabble over statistics in police shootings. And Somerby doesn't like it, ignores it, won't participate, and tries to shift the conversation to stats.

    And I think that is racist.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Whatever you thought of Barr's testimony, Qiu's efforts may have been even worse."

    No actual liberal would ever say or even think something like this. Somerby is clearly trolling liberals today (if not every day).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course not. Somerby is a hard-core malevolent Trumptard.

      Delete
    2. "“I don’t agree there is systemic racism in police departments,” Barr tells Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee."

      Delete
  12. Somerby said there were no studies of racial bias in police shootings. Qiu cited one. Somerby said it was too complicated, so he dismissed it and looked for one he liked better. That isn't how research works. But it is clearly how Somerby works.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  14. Yastreblansky (The Rectification of Names blog) asks:

    "If it's true, as Stephen Colbert said, that "reality has a well-known liberal bias", does that mean we should give it less attention, just in pure fairness?"

    This is at the heart of Somerby's attempt, today and previously, to claim that black issues are getting too much attention in the media.

    ReplyDelete
  15. From Politicus:

    "A newly resurfaced video shows Donald Trump repeatedly failing to vote in person, becoming increasingly angry at the situation and finally using an absentee ballot.

    The 2004 clip from Access Hollywood shows Trump with host Billy Bush traveling from polling station to polling station where he tries to vote, only to be told he’s not on the list. "

    ReplyDelete
  16. From Political Wire (Taegan Goddard):

    "Jonathan Chait: “It was widely assumed that Robert Mueller’s investigation would uncover what, if anything, lay at the bottom of the bizarre and sometimes creepy level of deference Donald Trump extends to Russia. Mueller found some clues, the largest of which was a campaign negotiation to give Trump rights to a Moscow building project that stood to hand him hundreds of millions of dollars in profit at zero risk, and the secrecy of which gave Russia blackmail leverage over Trump.”

    “But Mueller never uncovered the full extent of Trump’s financial ties to Moscow. ‘Neither Mueller nor the Southern District prosecutors sought out Trump’s financial records or obtained his tax returns,’ Jeffrey Toobin reports. The mystery of Trump’s solicitousness to Putin remains unresolved. And he continues to give reasons for suspicion.”"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry, dear dembot, if not next year then in 2025 or 2029, eventually your liberal cult will get the nuclear codes.

      And then the thermonuclear war you desire will commence. Just wait a few years.

      Delete
  17. Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo makes the same point that I have been trying to make here, that people need real images in order to take the virus seriously, not statistics:

    "When New York City was the outbreak’s epicenter, there were at least occasional images of mass graves and portable morgues to remind us there were bodies behind the statistics. Now, those are largely replaced with statistics. The Midas cult shovels the dead into the economy’s furnaces without even crediting them for giving their lives for it. Confederate generals landed on pedestals. The COVID-19 dead land on graphs."

    Somerby's efforts to chide the press for not reporting statistics exactly the way he wants, does nothing to help fight covid because statistics are not real to most people and they will not appreciate the gravity of this virus situation no matter how well reporters use their stats.

    The same is true for racial disparities in policing. Stats aren't going to result in change. Liberals want change. I often wonder what Somerby wants these days.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Intent on showing off to Abe, Trump sent his aides to bring Basham right up to their table. This happens a lot to performers at Mar-a-Lago: They are asked to stand next to the table and sing his requests. Usually something from Phantom of the Opera or Cats."

    Should a president be held accountable for his taste? I think yes.

    ReplyDelete
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