THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2021
The fruits of selective reporting: For several years, we've been wondering what would happen if a certain type of survey question was asked.
The question would deal with the number of people shot and killed by police, justifiably or not.
(Just for the sake of the record, we'd like to live in a world where the number of victims was zero. As it is, we still live in a rather violent, gun-inflected world.)
The survey question would go like this. It would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting:
Imaginary survey question:
According to the Washington Post, 237 black people were shot and killed by police last year. How many white people, if any, would you say were shot and killed by police last year?
(You could drop the words "if any" with half your survey's respondents.)
It's a ghoulish question. But police shootings have played a large role in mainstream reporting and punditry in the past nine or ten years.
In our imaginary question, we'd be citing the actual number of black decedents recorded by the Washington Post's Pulitzer-wining Fatal Force site. Here's what we'd be curious about:
How many people would say that the answer to our question was "none?" Would anyone say the answer was none? If no one thought the answer was none, what number would people offer?
(Correct answer: 453. Or at least, so says the Post, though no precise number is possible)
This would be a ghoulish line of inquiry, but we'd be curious to see what answers people would give. This would be intended as a study of the results of selective reporting—of the highly selective way police shooting incidents have been reported and discussed over roughly the past ten years.
As it turns out, Michael Shermer's Skeptic.com web site recently asked two variants of this same general question. We think our question is better than theirs, but in this recent post, Kevin Drum presented their survey's results.
Survey says? In our view, the survey suggests that selective reporting does, in fact, produce large misimpressions. It also does something worse—it scares the daylights out of a lot of good, decent "black" kids and out of their loving parents.
We love to perform our performative virtue here in the streets of Our Town. But as the poet once thoughtfully asked:
But oh, what kind of love is this / Which goes from bad to worse?