Deadly Lessons – CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, May 31, 2007

“Deadly Lessons” in lying: CNN Anderson Cooper’s “keeping it unreal” hate-piece on Chicago youth

Anderson Cooper’s June 1, 2007, CNN special used the murders of 28 Chicago schoolkids in the last year to investigate why “youth violence is on the rise around the country.” Cooper and his sources variously blamed the “growing culture of violence, especially among young people” and “kids killing kids” (which Cooper said is “happening not just in Chicago, but all around the country”) on

  • the proliferation of guns and gang,
  • “a generation that does not value life”
  • “a general lack of respect for authority that is worse than it used to b,”
  • a new “culture of violence” of “violent video game and media culture” (especially rap musicians)
  • parents,especially fathers, who don’t supervise their kids
  • the closure of public housing and displacement of families was briefly mentioned

Cooper interviewed CNN national correspondent and Chicago native Gary Tuchman, who is white, who said when he was growing up, he could walk to school in Chicago and feel safe. “How this city has changed,” he said. “Ten years ago kids respected police.” “This is not normal,” Cooper repeatedly said of the murders of 28 public school students in the past year.

Why this report is misleading:

CNN’s story’s central claim is an alarmist hoax with racist overtones. In fact, Chicago school-age youth are safer from murder today than at any time in at least 40 years:

Years * Average number of murders per month of Chicago 5-17 year-olds, 1968-2007
1968-69 5.0
1970-74 5.6
1975-79 5.3
1980-84 5.5
1985-89 5.5
1990-94 10.6
1995-99 7.4
2000-04 3.9
2005-06 3.5
2006-07 3.2
Source; Figures for 1968-2004 are from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and WISQARS. Figures for 2005-06 and 2006-07 are from the Chicago Police Department
*Year by year tabulations below.

That murder is a tragedy, and Chicago African Americans suffer high homicide rates, is not an excuse for the news media to dredge up the same old demagoguery that “something new is going on”, and to blame easy scapegoats like young people, pop culture, disrespect for authority, and some new generational devaluation of life. If 28 murders of Chicagoans ages 10-17 in 2006-07 invokes horror, what about the 84 murdered in 1970? The 61 murdered in 1980 (see table of annual murders of Chicago school-age youths ages 5-17, 1968 to the present, below)? The 115 murdered in 1990? Historical figures on Chicago murders by age, which take five minutes of research to find on Centers for Disease Control websites, demolish the notion that youth today are uniquely violent.

The “something new” is that young people of all colors are dramatically less violent than past generations. In fact, in 2002 through 2004, the murder rate among Chicago youth (as among black youth nationwide) dropped to its lowest level since the mid-1960s. Even if the FBI-reported murder arrest rate among black youth in 2005 (12.7 per 100,000 age 10-17) doubled, it would not approach the level of 1970 (29.5), when commentators on CNN’s show were claiming life was safe and serene. All violent crime among black youth has dropped to its lowest level in 35 years (and we have to wonder whether pre-1970 crime statistics are reliable).

As for Gary Tuchman, whose fantasies about the past are frightening in a major news reporter and whom Cooper didn’t even pretend to keep honest, the notion that kids were safer and more respectful 10 or 20 or 35 years ago (when the murder rate among youth was two to three times what it is in the mid-2000s) is delusional. A decade earlier, police and public health records show, Chicago youths were two to three times more likely to be murdered than in 2007–an obvious fact that takes a few minutes of research to ascertain. CNN bills itself as the nation’s premier news station but does not make even rudimentary efforts at accuracy. Clearly, Tuchman, who is white, either misremembers the past or is misled by the fact that white Chicagoans have always been just one-seventh as likely to be murdered than blacks. Why do the media report random musings as solid fact and ignore their own journalists’ code of ethics to check facts carefully and subject sources’ statements to scrutiny?

Cooper was quick to challenge those who cited the proliferation of guns as a major cause, pointing out that not all of the murders involved guns. Such skeptical questioning is part of good reporting. However, Cooper did not question those who claimed black youth today are more violent, or who blamed moral failings, even though easily available evidence strongly contradicts sources’ claims that Chicago was a peaceful paradise before today’s young people arrived; quite the opposite.

In its eagerness to frame violence as a “youth” problem, CNN failed to report the fact that the Chicago Police Department received 204,000 reports of domestic violence in 2006, including 51,607 cases of domestic battery…150 every day. Nearly all domestic violence involves adults, the large majority over age 30. Further, middle-aged adults show by far the fastest increase in violent crime and other felonies. But the news media remain fixated that violence can be reported in only one rigid way, as youth, as rising, and as caused by some new younger, generation cultural horror. By indulging cheap, easy evasions, the news media obscure real issues affecting young people and contribute to their endangerment.

CNN’s special demonstrates yet again that America’s news media are simply not up to the challenge of covering a serious social problem and cannot be regarded as a source of factual information. Despite constant claims of “keeping them honest,” Cooper and CNN reporters provided no context, failed to challenge sources, recycled the same myths and cliches about “youth violence” the media have repeated over the last two decades, and spread panic while butchering basic facts. Nowhere does CNN demand that those who claim violence among teens is rising prove it by producing comprehensive figures for all age groups.

2005, 2006, and 2007 represent some of the LOWEST years for murder of Chicago youth in 40 years

Annual murders of Chicago school-age youth ages 5-17, 1968 – 2006/07

Year Murders
1968 50
1969 69
1970 86
1971 73
1972 66
1973 53
1974 58
1975 51
1976 65
1977 78
1978 63
1979 60
1980 61
1981 76
1982 63
1983 51
1984 77
1985 49
1986 71
1987 56
1988 65
1989 91
1990 115
1991 112
1992 123
1993 136
1994 152
1995 115
1996 98
1997 82
1998 80
1999 67
2000 50
2001 55
2002 49
2003 47
2004 35
2005 42
2006-07 not reported yet
9/1/2006 – 7/19/2007 32

Sources: National Center for Health Statistics; CDC, WISQARS; Chicago Police Department.