Two More Reasons to Believe Nothing about Teens on News at 6

Two More Reasons to Believe Nothing about Teens on News at 6

November 20, 2007

CBS News’ hysterical misrepresentation of teens continued in November with reports combining blatant inaccuracy, self-interest, and plain anti-youth bigotry. The barrage of repetitive news “stories” on youth that repeat the same baseless panics over and over show nothing major networks or other media say about youth can be believed.Reporters seem unable to report on youth in any way except to recycle, over and over, the same misleading stories that have been run by their own and other news outlets thousands of times already.

On November 12, reporter Byron Pitts’ report on Minneapolis “Curbing Violence With A Curfew,”  boasted, “CBS News Exclusively Obtains Stats Showing Hard-Line Approach Is Working In Many Cities.” The approach? “Going after the youngest of offenders,” Pitts declared, as if this approach (featured in literally hundreds of news stories over the last decade) represented to breathless new “model.” The setting? A claim of increased violent crime in 2006 that Minneapolis police “turned around” in 2007 by cracking down on juveniles (black ones, though the story didn’t say that).

Turns out CBS’s “exclusive stats” were flat wrong--and the network never bothered to look at readily available police statistics available online.

The station’s misreporting began with a quote from Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, who claimed that police “looked at who was committing violent crimes in the city of Minneapolis=, it was juveniles that were disproportionate,” Dolan said. “They were over 50 percent.”

Juveniles commit 50 percent of violent crime in Minneapolis? How could any competent crime reporter and news network accept such a preposterous figure without asking questions? That would be four times the proportion the FBI reports that juveniles commit nationwide. It’s also far more than juveniles commit in Minneapolis. Minneapolis PD‘s own posted statistics (marked “official”) show juveniles accounted for just 19.4% of the city’s violent crime arrests in 2006, down from 19.6% in 2005, and 20.6% in 2004. Because arrests overstate juvenile crime, the FBI’s crime clearance (solved crime) tabulations show, it’s likely that Minneapolis youth account for less than 15%, not 50%, of violent crime.

And the numbers of juvenile violence arrests were dropping–301 in 2004, 294 in 2005, 282 in 2006. The decline apparently is continuing in 2007, with another drop of 8% through August, police figures show. The police presented no evidence that juveniles caused 2006’s crime increase–and CBS’s Pitts, following the standard for news reporting on youth, asked police no difficult questions. Nor, apparently, did he or CBS take the 15 minutes or so to check easily accessible online statistics.

Juvenile homicide arrests in Minneapolis did increase from 9 in 2004, to either 4 or 5 or 14 in 2005, to 11 in 2006 (police report contradictory statistics in 2005 and 2006 Uniform Crime Reports), and are down from 6 in January-August 2006 to 3 from January-August 2007. These are well within normal year-to-year fluctuations in small numbers. The PD’s 2006 homicide report shows that for all ages, African Americans represented 26 of the 44 known murder suspects, and 39 of 60 murder victims. What happened, then, is that police and the news dodged the difficult question, rife with troubling issues of socioeconomics and race, about black crime and jumped on the easy scapegoat of “juveniles” (of which those shown in CBS’s report happened to all be black).

The upshot is that there was no evidence of a juvenile crime wave in Minneapolis and no evidence of a police strategy “turning around” crime in the city. Rather, CBS took another cheap shot at young people, with abysmal reporting ethics.

CBS’s “Secret Life of Teens” series (week of November 19) was even more atrocious, especially for a national news network. In the first story (“Invasion Of Privacy Or Smart Parenting”) featured shadowed faces of two parents angrily berating their daughter’s supposed internet webpages as a “frightening window” and “dark side” on drinking, parties, etc., they claimed were unique to “today,” CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg proceeded to announce: “These days, parents have good reason to worry… It’s a far cry from past generations, where parents knew what their kids were up to.” Over an old black and white video, Sieberg delcared, “The family telephone didn’t offer much privacy.”

Siegel’s even more pathetic second story (“Parents, Web-Savvy Teens Play Cat & Mouse”), November 20, on the “risks on MySpace,” openly advertised the “multi-million dollar business” that sells “dozens of software products” parents can buy to spy on their kids or keep them off the internet altogether. The source? Again, one family. The perspective? Zero. The title of the third report (“Teens Learn Lesson In Online Vulnerability: Predators Prey On Kids With Personal Information In Their Online Profiles”) on November 21 said it all: CBS’s Seth Doan hyped rare cyberdangers into an image of a vast web of terror waiting online to grab, stalk, rape, and murder teens. No assessment of the real dangers of MySpace or other internet sites, which are vanishingly small.

When the press waxes hysterical about “Internet dangers,” remember the findings of the 2005 Child Maltreatmentreport:  by conservative estimate, 133,000 teens ages 12-17 were confirmed victimes of abuse at home in 2005, nearly all by parents or caretakers, including 48,500 violently abused, 38,300 sexually abused, and 46,000 bullied or otherwise physically or psychologically maltreated–including 66 who were murdered.

Remember admissions by the Catholic church that as of the end of 2005, more than 5,000 priests have been accused of sexual offenses against 13,000 youths, 85% of them younger than 16, with thousands of cases already substantiated. Sexual abuse allegations also involve other denominations whose officials, like the Catholic Church, consistently have protected abusers.

Remember a recent analysis by the Associated Press finding that 2,500 teachers and other educators were disciplined after sexually abusing students.

Now… how many REAL cases of teens being harmed by online, predators, stalkers, bullies, and other abusers have been documented?

Of course, CBS would never broadcast scare stories warning parents not to let their kids go to church, school, or home. And, true, when you consider the tens of millions of youth who go to church, attend school, and go to homes where their parents or caretakers live, incidents of sexual abuse are quite rare.

The same is even more true for internet social sites, where tens of millions of teens interact billions of times every day with vanishingly rare cases of predatory or other dangerous victimizations. CBS, other news media, and self-interested enterprises are exploiting grownups’ fears of new technology and youth, not warning of real dangers.

Sieberg’s worse-than-worthless “reporting” represents “science and technology” expertise? What a sad commentary on the frantic efforts of news networks to terrify parents with sloppy, lazy misreporting, tainted by authors, software sellers, and promoters of fear about online dangers that a decade of experience has proven largely mythical. The bitter ironies:  teens of the supposedly well-supervised past were in far more danger from drinking, rape, and other dangers than youth are now, and teens are in much more danger of violence from adults at home, in church, or at school than from anyone they meet online. This is a truly awful series, another example of how low the media have sunk on youth issues.

Once again–believe NOTHING the news media says about teens until you’ve checked it completely… which will demonstrate why they’re unbelievable.