In the opening section, on Beyoncé’s “Formation”:
“Orkanen [Katrina] påvirkede især boligområder i New Orleans, Louisiana, med en overvejende sort befolkning, der i forvejen var fattige. Huse, parker og veje druknede under vandmasserne, og flere tusind mennesker mistede livet.”
This is journalism; those are facts.
“Der var delte meninger om, hvorvidt samme ulykker var sket, hvis byens demografi havde været anderledes.”
This is also a fact, but a little sneaky. The hurricane slammed New Orleans to devastating effect. The population of New Orleans is overwhelmingly black and generally poor. The hurricane therefore slammed a population that was overwhelmingly black and generally poor. All true. To say that opinions were split on whether the damage would have been the same if the city’s demographics had been different is also true, but it doesn’t address the validity or relevance of those opinions.
We could say, for example, that “opinion is divided as to whether the moon is made of cheese.” That’s true, but it’s also pointless: the moon is not made of cheese, regardless of how many people think it is. Believing a thing does not make it so.
There is no question that Katrina’s impact on New Orleans was devastating. There has been enormous soul-searching and blame gaming ever since. Predictably, the left blamed the federal (Republican) administration while the right blamed the state and local (Democrat) governments. There were failures at every level of government, many if not most of them the consequence of pure administrative entropy. There is no empirical evidence that poverty or race had a direct bearing on the preparation for or response to the hurricane. Zero. There is ample evidence that competence was an issue at every level.
New Orleans has been under Democrat party control since 1872. The Democrat mayor at the time of the hurricane, Ray Nagin, was himself a black man, so it’s difficult to imagine his own preparation or response would have been different had the majority of his constituents been white. (Nagin was convicted in 2013 by a jury of his peers on twenty counts of corruption and he was sentenced to ten years in prison: he was released three years early, in April of this year, due to coronavirus.) The governor of Louisiana at the time, Kathleen Blanco, was also a Democrat, the state’s first female governor.
New Orleans was struck by 49 hurricanes from 1851 to 2004. It was hit by the four most destructive storms that hit America in the 20th century. There are simple geographical and meteorological reasons why New Orleans is so often struck to such terrible effect by such powerful storms. I won’t bore you with tedious detail, but here’s a paper on the history of hurricanes in New Orleans from the National Weather Service. The color and wealth of her citizens are irrelevant: New Orleans has always been, and will likely always be, devastated by hurricanes, and there is only so much one do to prepare for such a destructive force of nature.
Beyoncé, by the way, currently has a net worth of half a billion dollars; her husband Jay-Z has a net worth over a billion.
In the section on Janelle Monáe’s “Hell you Talmbout,” the authors note that “Nummeret udkom i 2015. Samme år blev 1.134 unge, sorte mænd dræbt af politiet. Deres risiko var ni gange højere end for unge, hvide mænd.”
This is not journalism.
The concluding sentence is not even truth—or rather, it is a statistically dishonest truth.
Whether the dishonesty is the result of statistical ignorance or actual malice is not for me to say, but the math of police shootings has been examined by so many people from so many angles, at this point, that for the authors to cough up this bogus statistical hairball cannot have been made in good faith. Study after study has shown that there is no evidence of any racial disparity in police shootings. (I’ll get into more depth on that in a future post; there’s no time for that here.)
The problem is not that American police are shooting black civilians willy-nilly. The problem is that the more frequently a population is involved in violent crime, the more frequently they’re involved in shooting encounters with the police—and that’s the thing most likely to increase a population’s chances of being shot by the police. Not the color of their skin, but their participation in violent crime.
According to the FBI, 2925 blacks were murdered in 2018 (the most recent data publicly available). Only 234 of them (8%) were murdered by whites; 2600 of them were murdered by other blacks. Meanwhile, there were 3315 whites murdered that same year, 514 of them (16%) by blacks and 2677 of them by other whites. (There were 330 murders where the victim’s race was “other” or “unknown,” and 215 murders of blacks or whites where the offender was “other” or “unknown.”)
In other words, almost 85% of all murders of blacks or whites in 2018 were intraracial—whites killing whites or blacks killing blacks—and that’s a stat that doesn’t vary much from year to year. Interracial homicides are a small subset of all homicides in the United States. But to the extent there are interracial homicides, black offenders murder white victims much more frequently than white offenders murder black victims. Not just proportionately, but in raw numbers. More than twice as many blacks killed whites in 2018 as whites killed blacks, even though there were more than five times as many whites as blacks (250 million versus 44 million) in the country.
Blacks were five times likelier to be murdered by other blacks than whites were to be murdered by other whites. (Roughly 11 per million whites killed by whites; roughly 59 per million blacks killed by blacks.)
This is a grotesque math, but if DR is going to throw out misleading statistics like they have here, they need to be confronted on them.
Those are statistics that are real, that are publicly available, and that anyone inclined to investigate can discover on a moment’s search of the web. They hardly paint a picture of an America where whites have declared open season on blacks, within or without law enforcement.
None of this excuses any case in which unarmed offenders, or presumed offenders, are killed by armed police officers. But law enforcement is a group. It is made of people. People are fallible. They can be wicked, racist, and murderous. They can also be incompetent. They can have lousy aim. They can be too quick on their triggers. Every case of an offender’s death in police custody should be, and usually is, thoroughly investigated.
It would have been interesting to see the DR authors’ interpretation of these statistics, or others that are widely available and all tell the same story. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
In the section on Erykah Badu’s “Amerykhan Promise,” from 2008, the authors observe: “Barack Obama blev USA’s første sorte præsident samme år, som nummeret blev udgivet.”
Indeed he did. The “systemically racist” and oppressive United States had just voted a black man into the highest office in the land.
But don’t be deceived! The authors are standing by to explain how even Obama’s signature policy turns out to have been just one more example of systemic racism:
I sin tid som nationens frontfigur gennemførte han en sundhedsreform, der fik kælenavnet Obamacare. Den nye reform skulle forsikre borgere og mindske udgifterne.
Men 27 millioner amerikanere står stadigvæk uden sundhedsforsikring – og det gælder især sorte.
The authors’ thesis moved from “systemic racism” to “disproportionately low levels of access to affordable health insurance” so quickly I nearly got whiplash.
Finally we move on to Public Enemy’s “911 is a Joke” (1990).
It took me about three minutes to find a video of Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav talking about the origins of the song. After he tells the story, the off-camera interviewer suggests it shows how differently blacks and whites were treated by emergency services.
Flavor Flav contradicts him directly and immediately: “It didn’t have anything to do with color when I wrote it.”
He even says explicitly: “It [the slow 911 responses] wasn’t a just black thing. You know what I’m sayin’? It was a everybody thing.”
See for yourself:
So, on the one hand, we have the artist himself, the one who lived through the experience of the song, who wrote it, and who performed it, saying it had nothing to do with race.
On the other, we have a couple of Danish professors telling us: “‘911 is a joke’ var en direkte kommentar i debatten om, i hvilken grad beredskabsenhederne var længere tid om at komme ud til sorte samfund end hvide.”
That’s not just a misinterpretation. That’s not spin. It’s a lie.
The authors then state that the song “gav ekko i South Central Los Angeles to år efter, den skabte røre i New York.” They’re talking about the L.A. riots that followed the Rodney King verdict. I had lived in Los Angeles for the five years just prior to those riots, including one year right on the edge of South Central. I had friends literally caught up in the crossfire of those riots. There was no broad public debate about racial disparities in emergency service response times either before or after the riots. The authors make no effort to document them. They simply make their note that two years after “911 is a Joke” was released by a New York artist (who says the song had nothing to do with race), there were riots three time zones and 5000 kilometers away due to events that had nothing to do with emergency response times.
The entire article—this glorified listicle—could have been reduced to two sentences: “Many black American artists have produced powerful and beautiful music while raising their voices against the disgusting injustices of their eras. We should all be just as grateful for the music as we are angered by what inspired it.” And many (but not all) of these songs belong on that list.
Instead, we’re treated to a partisan mashup of American history that’s frequently inaccurate and misleading, and sometimes entirely untrue. I spent all this time on it because this isn’t an outlier: this is DR’s standard operating procedure with respect to all things American.
Whenever you watch, listen to, or read DR’s coverage about America, keep in mind the level of dishonesty packed into this one little listicle. And take a moment to consider what Michael Crichton dubbed the “Gell-Mann Amnesia effect:”
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
UPDATE: The post originally stated that he was still in prison “to this day.” Since the post was published in July 2020, that was not true. It should have been, but he was released three years early “due to coronavirus.” I’ve corrected the text.