Last June, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a simple, easy-to-verify claim, and the so-called fact-checkers lost their minds over it. What was his shocking claim? “Crime is rising.”
Politifact, infamous for declaring that “clearly accurate” and “technically true” claims are nonetheless “mostly false”, pulled out all the stops and gave Trump’s claim a “pants on fire rating,” which the organization reserves for only the most egregious of lies.
“Donald Trump said, ‘Crime is rising.’ It’s not (and hasn’t been for decades),” Politifact declared in its headline.
According to the newly released 2015 crime data, violent crime in the U.S. increased across the board last year. The murder rate increased by 10 percent. The rape rate increased by more than 5 percent. The robbery rate increased by nearly 1 percent. And the aggravated assault rate increased by nearly 4 percent. (Crime rates, rather than the absolute number of crimes perpetrated, are used to take population growth into account). The rate of every single category of violent crime increased in 2015. Overall, the violent crime rate increased by nearly 4 percent last year.
In its screed against Trump, Politifact used trend data from the 1990’s through 2014 to show that crime had steadily fallen for two decades. That is true. Crime today is thankfully much lower than it was 20 years ago. But when it comes to evaluating the specific claim about whether “crime is rising,” crime data from 20 years ago are irrelevant. Trump didn’t say crime was higher than it was in 1995. He didn’t say America is locked in a multi-year upward trend. He merely said, “Crime is rising.” And the only data we need to evaluate the veracity of that claim are crime data from 2014 and 2015. If crime fell, then Trump’s claim would be false. Crime would not be rising. If crime increased, then Trump’s claim would be correct. It’s that simple.
The comprehensive nationwide crime data released yesterday by the FBI, data which Politifact said are “generally considered the best available for answering” questions about crime, indisputably support Trump’s point that crime in the U.S. is rising.
Will crime continue to rise in 2016 as it did in 2015? We don’t know. There are some promising signs that the 2015 increase in violent crime might have been a blip, at least in some isolated areas, but it’s far too early to tell, especially since other cities like Chicago are seeing massive spikes in murders so far this year:
Police departments in many major cities and metropolitan areas say that homicides and other violent crimes are up midway through 2016 over the same point last year, reports that come as the country’s levels of bloodshed have become a recurring topic in the presidential campaign.
More than two dozen police agencies say killings in their cities were up at the midyear point, in some cases outpacing their 2015 homicide counts by dozens of deaths, according to statistics released Monday. Much of this violence is continuing in the same places that also saw violence also increase last year, as most cities with higher homicide totals for the first half of 2016 also reported more killings for all of 2015.
It is an indisputable fact that crime increased in 2015. There’s also evidence that crime may be higher yet in 2016. But rather than evaluating the actual claim that Trump made (“crime is rising”), Politifact chose to critique the claim it wished Trump made (“crime is higher today than it was 20 years ago”).
Apparently unbeknownst to Politifact, it is possible to craft a perfectly accurate sentence in which an uptick in crime is placed in context with multi-year crime trends: crime is rising, but it is still far lower than it was 20 years ago. Or: While crime clearly increased in 2015, it’s unclear if that uptick was merely a blip or whether it will be the beginning of a new upward trend. Or maybe: Violent crime increased across the board in 2015, but not enough to erase significant decreases over the last two decades. That is how an organization interested in accuracy, rather than partisan polemics, would have approached the issue.
Politifact could have rated Trump’s claim as completely true and then added historical context about the overall trend in crime. Yes, crime is on the rise according to the most recent nationwide data available, but on the whole the nation is far safer than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Why would that be so hard to admit?
Politifact can’t admit that Donald Trump was right about something because because Politifact’s agenda is not fact-checking. Politifact is not a fact-checker. It is an implication-checker. If it doesn’t like a claim’s implications, it decides that the claim is false. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence that its own claims were inaccurate, Politifact stuck its fingers in its years and screamed, “PANTS ON FIRE!” It has done this time and time again.
That’s right: Politifact blatantly refused to retract its “pants on fire” rating, even though multiple crime data experts contacted the organization to explain why Politifact was completely wrong. And why did Politifact ignore the evidence and the experts on this particular issue?
According to Politifact, the editors refused to retract their wildly inaccurate rating because they disapprove of “Trump’s sweeping rhetoric about a nation in decline.” That statement right there proves that Politifact was never actually interested in evaluating Trump’s simple claim that “crime is rising.” Politifact’s goal was to smear Trump for saying true things that had implications of which Politifact didn’t approve.
The new FBI data prove that Trump was 100 correct, and that Politifact was 100 percent wrong. Crime is rising in the U.S., even if it still happens to be lower today than it was in the 1990’s. Crime in 2015 was higher than it was in 2014. These are indisputable facts, and they remain indisputable facts regardless of how you happen to feel about Donald Trump.