Trust in the Fourth Estate is evaporating faster than an Indian summer rain shower.
More than half of Americans believe reporters misrepresent the facts, and one in three thinks journalists make them up entirely, a Gallup/Knight Foundation poll of 20,000 citizens reported last month.
In the same survey, 84 percent recognize that a free news media is vital to democracy. The public intention that the press hold government accountable is deeply seated in our republic, but the modern profession is failing woefully to meet expectations.
Such magnitude of lost confidence in a storied sector of society doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's the consequence of poor journalism, not the cause of it.
ABC News' George Stephanopoulos did his part to contribute to the media's rapid credibility decline on Monday night when challenging President Trump over a tough-on-crime comment in a Town Hall program.
"But a lot of people look at the statistics, Black Americans [are] more than three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police," he said. "And that indicates that this just isn't [police] bad apples ... . This is a real systemic problem."
The "statistics" Stephanopoulos parroted come from a Harvard study published in June based on the premise that "fatal police violence" is an "enduring public health problem."
Because the study only computed urban data, as it clearly states in the fourth sentence of its abstract, its results are immediately and immutably skewed by that limitation. Indeed, the authors candidly explained they chose to only measure Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) because that is where most of the "qualifying fatalities" during the study period occurred.
Right off the bat, they built bias into their analysis. They considered it acceptable; we shouldn't.
Metropolitan areas have more criminals--a lot more--than non-metro locales. MSAs also have a larger percentage of violent crime-concentrated areas involving populations in which both victims and perpetrators are Black. Furthermore, data have firmly established that the overwhelming majority of people killed by police are themselves armed, and frequently in the very act of committing a crime.
For an excellent high-profile example of how urban-area measures can warp "averages," look at Chicago.
Illinois reported a total of 884 murders in 2018 in a state that spreads over 57,915 square miles. But 561 of the state's homicides were committed in Chicago, which covers only 234 square miles--about one-half percent of the total state land area.
With a homicide rate seven times higher than the rest of the state, the daily lethal risks to Windy City citizens and police--which directly affect law enforcement officers' actions in active crime situations--are dramatically different from everywhere else in the other 99.5 percent of Illinois that isn't Chicago.
To only analyze the outcomes of fatal police violence in Chicago would paint a completely distorted picture of the reality experienced by the large majority of Illinoisans of all colors in their interactions with law enforcement. And to further project those findings across the state's entire population simply wouldn't be true.
The truth is that the Illinoisan in Chicago lives in a top 10 murder-rate state, and the Illinoisan residing elsewhere lives in a bottom 10 murder-
To avoid such misleading conclusions, any "study" of people killed by police exclusively in urban areas would need to feature prominent asterisks, disclosures and disclaimers that are more than conspicuously absent in the Harvard case.
The sole criterion in that study is skin color, as related to the outcome of fatal police encounters. That's beyond meaningless without the context of circumstances preceding the outcome, and it breeds equally hollow declarations.
"One in 1,000 Black men can expect to die of police violence over the course of their lifetime if present rates hold," the authors state in the introduction. That alarming remark is worse than simply untrue, it's deceptive.
It suggests a risk among a whole population segment that truly only exists for a tiny percentage of that segment, and even then is supremely affected by the individual behavior of each citizen at risk.
In the entire Harvard study, the word "behavior" doesn't appear once. It's hard to call research "scholarly" that counts the fate of a gun-wielding career criminal killed while shooting at police the same as an innocent, unarmed motorist simply pulled over for a traffic stop.
A more helpful study would have chronicled and categorized police-related fatalities by situation and circumstance, and then applied racial comparisons. See whether there are outcome disparities at all among people who point guns at police. Examine what inequities exist once incidents in which the decedent was armed, had a criminal record or didn't finish high school are all removed.
It may well be that the mortal risk from police to a law-abiding Black male living in a middle-upper income, non-urban neighborhood who doesn't brandish a weapon is exponentially less than for an inner-city felon who disobeys police commands to drop his gun.
Perhaps even roughly the same as a white male in a similar situation. We don't know.
The shame is, this study might could have told us--but chose not to even try.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.