NYT on Arizona’s Immigrant Crime: Not as Bad as O’Reilly

We’ve rather amply documented Bill O’Reilly’s record of misinformation on Arizona, immigration and crime. It’s not surprising–but nonetheless worth documenting–that O’Reilly would bend reality in order to bash immigrants and defend the new Arizona law.

But the way the New York Times handled the matter is worth a look. The paper’s June 19 piece, “On Border Violence, Truth Pales Compared to Ideas,” should have told a simple story: Supporters of the law claimed that Arizona was seeing a dramatic increase in crime, and immigrants were to blame for this. This is simply not true. But in the name of journalistic balance, the Times opted for a “both sidesare doing it” framing.

Times reporter Randal Archibald went to an academicwho talked about this:

What social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

So what is reality, then? Turns out it’s complicated:

Crime figures, in fact, present a more mixed picture, with the likes of Russell Pearce, the Republican state senator behind the immigration enforcement law, playing up the darkest side while immigrant advocacy groups like Coalicion de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), based in Tucson, circulate news reports and studies showing that crime is not as bad as it may seem.

The Times explains that overall crime has been dropping in Arizona, as it has in most big cities. But there’s the other side:

But the rate for property crime, the kind that people may experience most often, increased in the state, to 4,082 per 100,000 residents in 2008 from 3,682 in 2000. Preliminary data for 2009 suggests that this rate may also be falling in the state’s biggest cities.

Sothe lesson apparently is that local officials who tell scare stories about immigrant crime aren’t to be believed. But don’t believe the pro-immigration crowd, either; they’re being selective as well.

Turn to the Times yesterday, though, and you read this:

Correction: June 27, 2010

An article last Sunday about the debate over immigration reform and how people’s perceptions sometimes run counter to crime statistics misstated the change in property crimes in Arizona between 2000 and 2008. The number of property crimes went down, not up.

Now, if you read that in passing, you’d think it was about as important as they made it sound– i.e., not at all. But this was literally the onlydata that helped create the false balance in the article. Without this fact, the story is something entirely different: immigrant-bashers versus reality. But for some reason, that wasn’t the story the New York Times wanted to tell.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.