AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In the world of journalism, one of the most reliable maxims is “if it bleeds, it leads.” Originally coined over a century ago, the phrase refers to the generally accepted truth in media that violent or brutal events get top billing – both for the sake of ratings and keeping the public informed about threats to their safety. However, in 2021, “if it bleeds, it leads” seems to have now been replaced with “if it bleeds, it’s buried.” The newspaper Metro sections that Americans have relied upon for decades for important information about the security of their local communities are now being heavily edited or outright removed from major publications nationwide. While the decline of local news reporting in general is likely partially responsible for this phenomenon, the main reason increasingly appears to be a concerted effort by social justice activists to cover up violent crimes altogether in the name of combatting “systemic racism.”
Perhaps the most influential group pushing for such change is the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school that runs the “fact-checking” website PolitiFact. In June, they ran an article explicitly calling for newspapers to cease all crime reporting. They contended that misdemeanor crimes “disproportionately affect people of color,” and that by reporting on such crimes, newspapers are participating in and perpetuating racism in America. They go on to suggest that crime reports exist not to inform citizens about public safety, but only to satiate the public’s morbid curiosity with crime, stating “the public good – rather than the public’s interest – should be a prevailing factor [in deciding what to report].”
Undoubtedly, it seems a dangerous prospect to let an obviously politicized organization like the Poynter Institute unilaterally determine what is and is not “the public good.” But their advocacy seems to be working. In June, the Associated Press announced that it will no longer name suspects in “minor crime stories.” They conveniently neglected to say just what constitutes a “minor” crime. Additionally, they will neither carry mugshots nor identify perpetrators in crimes where there will not be a follow-up story. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe is permitting suspects who appeared in previous stories to have their names removed upon request. Even the New York Times has completely eschewed crime reporting from its Metro section.
It’s not just news organizations that are being bullied into silence, either. Even law enforcement have faced a reckoning from progressives for something as simple and necessary as stating the race of suspects in crimes. Last year, for example, two men sexually assaulted a female college student at the University of Nebraska. After it was reported, local police sent an alert to students that informed them of the crime, warning them that the suspects were still at large. However, instead of helping catch the culprits, some of the student body erupted in fury. The reason? In their physical description, the police noted that the suspects were black. Even though police must legally provide as much information as possible when it comes to violent criminals, student activists were furious and demanded the police stop providing descriptions of assailants, even those that are still on the loose.
However, despite efforts of individuals and organizations like the Poynter Institute’s to dismiss crime reporting as a “curiosity” or a way to perpetuate racial injustice, many Americans are still rightly concerned about crime in their local neighborhood. As such, new Twitter accounts that solely report on local crime are gaining prominence across the platform. DC Realtime News, an account that focuses extensively on crime in the DC/Metro area, has been active for less than a year and has over 26,000 followers already. Thanks to the connective power of the internet, concerned citizens are reporting on crime even when their woke local newspapers won’t.
These accounts are predictably already drawing criticism from progressive activists. One Washington news publication alleged that accounts like DC Realtime News are bad for society because “consuming a steady stream of violent crime content without context, such as whether victims are random or targeted, can be problematic.”
Most of those who operate Twitter crime accounts, however – and large portions of the public they serve – argue the opposite. Larry Calhoun, who runs DC Realtime News, is a black resident of Prince George’s County who was wounded by a stray bullet while driving. He believes his feed “is providing public safety awareness…If a shooting is going on, you want to know because your kids could be outside playing. I’m gonna get it out within five minutes of it happening.” Alan Henney, another breaking crime reporter in DC argues that “we have a largely liberal press and yet they don’t cover the murders of Black men in Black neighborhoods…Addressing the root of violence starts with acknowledging there is a problem. That starts by us, and others, documenting it.”
When the Framers of our Constitution laid out Freedom of the Press in the First Amendment, they did so under the assumption that a free and independent press would hold government officials accountable, keeping the public informed so that citizens could understand the positive and negative effects of certain public policies and cast their vote accordingly. Many in the media today, however, have intentionally abandoned that duty in service of a political agenda. Thankfully, concerned citizens across the country are waking up to that fact and are keeping their communities informed about the dangers they face. And they will soon have a chance to make their voices heard at the ballot box.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.