LAND OF SCRIPT: 81 percent of “staggering” isn’t!


Interlude—Windy City script: Truly, script is all around in this, our nation of script.

This morning, Monica Davey writes the featured report in the New York Times National section. Her report concerns the drop in murders in Chicago in the past year.

There’s nothing automatically “wrong” with that topic, which the Times gives very big play. But even as the new year began, our script alarms started to sound:
DAVEY (1/1/14): Chicago Killings Fall, as Officials Praise Progress

A year after this city, the third largest in the United States, drew national notice for its staggering number of homicides, killings have slowed here.

Officials in the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has faced scrutiny over his handling of the violence in Chicago, said the improvement was a result of an array of efforts, from new police tactics to after-school and summer programs.
Where does the demanding god Script rear its head? In that one peculiar word: “staggering.”

Did Chicago have a “staggering number of homicides” in 2012? Today, in its featured National report, that’s what the New York Times says.

Presumably, one homicide is too many. But where does “staggering” come from in that peculiar assessment?

It comes from the press corps’ mighty god, Script. As she continues, Davey starts to provide the numbers:
DAVEY (continuing directly): In 2012, Chicago witnessed more than 500 killings, many of them shootings tied to gang rivalries in some of the toughest, struggling neighborhoods. As of Dec. 30, Chicago had reported 413 homicides, a 17 percent drop from the same period a year before and the fewest killings to date since 1965, city officials said.
Later, we learn that “more than 500” means 506.

Was that a “staggering” number of killings? Yes, it was, says the jealous god Script. On a journalistic basis, we’re not real sure why you’d say that.

After all, 413 killings (and counting) is 81 percent of the total which is said to be “staggering.” (81 percent and counting.)

When does a “staggering” number cease to be same? As you ponder that puzzle, consider two additional points:

Numbers from the recent past: Was that a “staggering” number of killings in 2012? On a journalistic basis, we’re not sure why a person would say that.

Consider something Davey tells us just a few paragraphs later:
DAVEY: As in many big American cities, the level of killings in Chicago was far worse a few decades ago; in the 1990s, the yearly death toll here sometimes reached more than 900. But the 506 deaths of 2012 represented an uptick and was a painful reminder of this city’s divisions of race and wealth; many of those deaths took place in only about half of the city’s police districts, south and west of the prosperous downtown. The city’s official murder tally does not include certain types of deaths, like those deemed as self-defense.
Say what? In the recent past, the number of killings was almost double last year’s “staggering” figure! (This happened on a fairly routine basis.)

Davey was a reporter in Chicago during the 1990s. On a journalistic basis, if last year’s number was “staggering,” what would she say about the totals from that recent era?

Given Chicago’s recent history, it’s hard to see, on a journalistic basis, why last year’s number was “staggering.” That said, the point which follows is much more significant:

Murder rates in other cities: Davey never mentions the following point. But here goes:

Chicago’s murder rate, even in 2012, was nowhere near the nation’s highest.

Newflash! Chicago is bigger than most big cities! This drives up its absolute numbers in all sorts of matters, pleasant and unpleasant alike.

That said, how staggering was Chicago’s murder rate in 2012? As every reporter must know by now, Chicago’s murder rate wasn’t anywhere near the nation’s highest.

Just among well-known famous big cities, the murder rates in Detroit and New Orleans were around 54 murders per 100,000 residents in 2012. The murder rates in Baltimore and St. Louis were around 35.

Newark’s murder rate was 34. We single it out for a reason.

By way of contrast, Chicago’s murder rate in 2012 was about one-third that of Detroit—18.5 murders per 100,000 residents. Not a word of this journalistic context is offered as Davey gasps, in paragraph 2, about the “staggering” number of murders in Chicago that year.

On a journalistic basis, was there a “staggering” number of murders in Chicago in 2012? With the 2013 number at 81 percent and counting, is the new number no longer “staggering?”

On a journalistic basis, we don’t know why you’d say such things. On a Scriptural basis, the reason is perfectly clear:

For some reason, the great god Script decided to punish Chicago last year.

Some said this action was taken because Chicago is Obama’s home city. Some said the punishment was aimed at Mayor Emanuel.

Whatever! Chicago’s murder rate was nowhere near the highest among the nation’s big cities. But the great god Script fingered the Windy City. Today, Davey and her unnamed editors continue to work from that script.

There’s nothing “wrong” with reporting the fact that the number of murders has dropped in Chicago. On a journalistic basis, there is something odd about singling Chicago out in the way the Times has (once again) done.

Has the murder rate dropped in New Orleans? In Detroit? Why don’t we care about that?

On a journalistic basis, there’s also something odd about Davey’s instant use of that key word—“staggering.” And on that same journalistic basis, it’s astounding that Davey would do a full-length, featured report of this type without ever mentioning Chicago’s rather pedestrian murder rate.

(Note: If you do a quick Google, you’ll find an array of American journalists who don’t seem able to distinguish between murders and murder rates.)

In our suffering land, script is never far off. That said, Davey’s reliance on script today isn’t hugely important.

But the great god Script is no journalist, and he’s never far off. On one major topic after another, the press corps’ devotion to his commands has turned us into the dumbnified nation we so plainly are.

A nation of cutting and pasting: To review some work which Davey tracks, see this NPR report from yesterday’s Morning Edition.

NPR at least managed to mention Chicago’s crime rate, noting that it doesn’t come close to being the nation’s worst. The Times, which strives to make all matters dumber, left such considerations on the cutting-room floor.

That said, how dumb is the Times prepared to be? Go ahead—consider the highlighted passage.

Cover the children’s eyes:
DAVEY: As in many big American cities, the level of killings in Chicago was far worse a few decades ago; in the 1990s, the yearly death toll here sometimes reached more than 900. But the 506 deaths of 2012 represented an uptick and was a painful reminder of this city’s divisions of race and wealth; many of those deaths took place in only about half of the city’s police districts, south and west of the prosperous downtown.
Many of the deaths took place in only half the city’s districts! In what realm would that not always be the case?

That utterly hapless formulation should make concerned citizens cry. Who except the New York Times publishes such monster piddle?

Newark si, Chicago no: In 2012, Newark’s murder rate was more than twice that of Chicago. Except to the jealous god Script!

The jealous god barked out his decrees. As a result, we read about Mayor Booker’s good acts—and about Chicago’s staggering number of murders.

Why were we asked to ingest such scripts? On a journalistic basis, we can’t answer that!


  1. If this kind of reporting is motivated by politics, it makes what should be news reporting into propaganda. Because writing is supervised by editors, it seems fair to assume there is some sort of agenda in both the assignment of such stories and the way they are reported. I think Somerby is being excessively coy in not connecting the dots on these things.

    Every day people are capable of overlooking the need to adjust for differences in population sizes of cities by calculating rates instead of comparing total homicides because they are minimally educated in math and only rarely educated in statistics. Journalists should be held to a higher standard -- the ability to deal in figures should be part of their training, especially at our national paper of record. So, it is fair to ask why this is being allowed to happen.

    Conan O'Brien regularly presents a series of clips of different on-air news reporters repeating the same distinctive phrases (this month is was "You can be forgiven if you buy one or two, or ten, presents for yourself this holiday season"). These presumably come from a story on a wire service subscribed to by various local stations. I think this practice of reporting verbatim wire service stories creates an echo chamber both in terms of content and in focus. I think the NY Times does the same thing, by dictating an agenda that other news sources may follow in addressing issues. I think Somerby is right to be focusing on the NY Times errors because it has that kind of influence over the terms of national dialog. So the main question here is not whether the Times made a math mistake, but why it has chosen to focus on Chicago murders and whose interests are served by doing so.

  2. Perhaps Statistics 101 is not tested.

  3. And of course, she hates black kids.

    Thats as relevant as this entire farrago of lies (partial truths = lies).

  4. The blogger's statistical gotcha!s are all crap. Data can be aggregated, disaggregated, presented as rates instead of absolute numbers and transformed in any number of ways and that may flip the outcome of a comparison.

    What he thinks he is accomplishing with them is not clear - the intended audience must be the Kool Aid drinkers - and the message - "don't trust the librul media".

    Some Zimmerman would be more interesting than this mind-numbing half-truths.

    1. This is nonsense. Statistics are measurements and they can be done in a way that is meaningful (informative) or they can be misused. The comparisons don't change just because you use numbers improperly -- just as your actual height doesn't change if you use the yardstick incorrectly, just your knowledge changes.

      But you are a troll and we all hoped you'd start the new year by going away.

    2. So you are saying Anonymous @ 6:17 is a yard short of needing to add a quart of IQ, or should he go for a whole IQ and filter change?

  5. The Times twists its prose into a pretzel to avoid addressing race with clarity. The Times writes:

    ...was a painful reminder of this city’s divisions of race and wealth; many of those deaths took place in only about half of the city’s police districts, south and west of the prosperous downtown.

    In ordinary English, this means:

    Most of the murders were poor blacks killing other blacks.

  6. OMB (Hypocry New Year)

    "For some reason, the great god Script decided to punish Chicago last year.

    Some said this action was taken because Chicago is Obama’s home city. Some said the punishment was aimed at Mayor Emanuel."

    BOB names no names in his tale of "some say, some say" to explain actions of the great God Script, perhaps because there are no "somes" at all discussing the appearance of the mighty God and HIS/HER decision to punish Chicago.

    In fact, that punishment night not have been punishment at all, but instead the unfortunate publicity of a horrendous murder of a young black Chicago teen in January of 2013, a murder following closely on the nightmare of Newtown.

    You see, Davey covers this, but BOB chose to leave it out. Because it didn't fit BOB's script or his fictional SCRIPTURE.

    Here's what Davey wrote, providing BOBfans with perhaps a better explanation of why the great God Script visited the Windy City.

    By last January, the miserable price of the bloodshed here drew widespread note when a high school girl who had just attended festivities honoring President Obama’s inauguration in Washington was killed as she spent an afternoon with friends in a park not far from the president’s home on the South Side of Chicago. The girl, Hadiya Pendleton, 15, had no ties to gangs, the authorities said, but had been mistakenly swept into a gang-related retaliation shooting. Michelle Obama attended the girl’s funeral here, and Mr. Obama spoke of her during his State of the Union address."

    So this leaves us with three questions.

    1) How quickly will BOB attack someone for leaving out what he sees as relevant information. (Hint, next post where he savages the NYT for shortening a quote from Susan Rice.)

    2) What Ivy League School did Davey attend, how old is she, and why does BOB not seem to care in this instance. (Hint. WWJDK.)

    3) By not mentioning the death of Hadiya Pendleton, and the statistics on the ages and race of most victims in Chicago, does BOB hate black children or just not care about them?

    We tend to think the answer to number 3 is a resounding no. You see, BOB wrote a beautiful post almost a year ago about the death of Ms. Pendleton when it fit his Script. He just skipped mentioning her when now when it didn't. Excuse him for thinking most of you wouldn't notice. When he wrote that piece only one of his readers felt moved enough to comment.


  7. Except, of course, that the death of a teen has nothing to do with the script of "staggering" amounts of murders. I'd say nice try, but it pretty much wasn't (like always).

    1. No Matt, it has more to do with the Chicago Bureau of the NYT writing a year end piece on a topic of interest over the past year in Chicago, where the NYT sells a Chicago version, and adding an element to make it of national interest so it can be picked up in the national edition.

      But BOBpologists always cover for him when he does what he criticizes others for doing, thus proving his analysis of tribal behavior correct.

      For other BOBreaders, Matt in the Crown wasn't the one BOBcommenter who cared about black children back in January, 2013. urban legend was. Matt in the Crown cares about BOB. He usually only makes an appearnace when BOB is criticized.

      BOB, by the way, doesn't read comments on his own blog. He just counts them on, and reprints them from, other blogs.


    2. And the NY Times doesn't publish editions in other large cities, such as Los Angeles (which regularly had over 900 murders in the 1990s)? A single murder victim, no matter how innocent or appealing, no matter how beloved by the President's wife, doesn't create a "staggering" crime rate.

    3. No a single victim doesn't create a staggering crime rate.
      And reading an entire BOB post doesn't cure some of his fans from suggesting the Times covered Chicago's crime rate when in fact they didn't mention the rate at all. In fact that was part of BOB's bitch.


  8. KZ: All these comments -- and you STILL haven't said anything worth hearing? "Bob doesn't read his comments." "There was a politically big individual murder case in Chicago."

    And then you call what you write "criticism?"

    Son, what you're doing doesn't rise to that level. It's just bleating.

  9. We need better trolls here.

    1. I thought trolls made you feel unclean and ashamed.