About a month ago, news consumers were belatedly informed that New York governor Andrew Cuomo was not a pandemic hero, the Lincoln Project was not filled with noble Republican idealists who were effectively persuading conservatives to stop supporting Donald Trump, and progressive policies were not helping the least fortunate in California. This week, the media belatedly recognize that the evidence for soaring hate crimes against Asian Americans is much less reliable than initially reported, that the survey data reveal that liberal perceptions of police shootings are wildly at odds with the verifiable facts, and that recent headlines exaggerated the conclusions of a CDC report on government mask mandates.
Some days I feel as if I might as well rename this newsletter, “Here’s what the data actually say . . .”
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part One
The New York Times, February 27: “Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.”
USA Today: “Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise.”
Jay Caspian Kang, writing in the New York Times op-ed page, Sunday:
There are claims of a huge national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, but they largely relyon self-reported data from organizations like Stop AAPI Hate that popped up after the start of the pandemic. These resources are valuable, but they also use as their comparison point spotty and famously unreliable official hate crime statistics from law enforcement. If we cannot really tell how many hate crimes took place before, can we really argue that there has been a surge?
There have also been reports that suggest that these attacks be placed within the context of rising crime nationwide, especially in large cities. What initially appears to be a crime wave targeting Asians might just be a few data points in a more raceless story.
There have also been condemnations of Donald Trump and how his repeated use of the phrase “China virus” to describe the coronavirus and his invocation of white supremacy might be responsible. But how does that explain the attacks by Black people? Were they also acting as Mr. Trump’s white supremacist henchmen? Do we really believe that there is some coordinated plan by Black people to brutalize Asian-Americans?
It is also worth noting that a report that generated the frightening headline, “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spiked by 150% in Major US Cities” showed wildly different circumstances in different cities. The report identified 122 incidents of anti-Asian-American hate crimes in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020. Almost a quarter of them, 28, occurred in New York City. The top four cities — New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle — were the location for 57 percent of all cases in the study. In Cincinnati, the number of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased from zero in 2019 to one in 2020, and San Diego had the same figures. Chicago stayed level with two each year. Denver and Houston increased from zero to three. Washington, D.C., declined from six to three.
Every crime is worthy of investigation and prosecution, and even one case of someone being targeted for a crime because of their race, religion, or heritage is one too many. But in this situation, it appears that the existing spotty statistics are being shoehorned into place to support a narrative of a worsening crisis. The headline “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spike in a Few US Cities, Rare in Others” wouldn’t attract quite so much attention.
Of course, the only way society can investigate and prosecute hate crimes is with an effective police force, and there’s not exactly a broad political consensus in support of the police now, is there?
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Two
That deep political division about the quality of American policing stems from wildly disparate beliefs about what the police do.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
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The Civil Unrest and Presidential Election Study (CUPES) survey, completed last month, asked 980 adults two questions. The first was, “If you had to guess, how many unarmed Black men were killed by police in 2019?” Options ranged from “about 10” to “more than 10,000” The second question was “If you had to guess, in 2019 what percentage of people killed by police were Black?” Respondents could choose any number from 0 to 100.
According to the Washington Post database, regarded by Nature magazine as the “most complete database” of its kind, 13 unarmed black men were fatally shot by police in 2019. According to a second database called “Mapping Police Violence,” compiled by data scientists and activists, 27 unarmed black men were killed by police (by any means) in 2019.
The CUPES survey found that “over half (53.5 percent) of those reporting ‘very liberal’ political views estimated that 1,000 or more unarmed black men were killed,” and 26.6 percent of those identifying as “liberal” believed it was “about 1,000.” Fourteen percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed “about 10,000” unarmed black men were killed, and almost 8 percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed that more black men were killed by police in 2019.
The study noted that, according to peer-reviewed research, 26.7 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities between 2015 and 2020, were black. Another source, BBC News’s “Reality Check Team,” reported that in 2019 specifically, 23.4 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities were black.
The second question found similar results. “Those who reported being ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’ were particularly inaccurate” in their guesses of what percentage of people killed by police were black, “estimating the proportion to be 56 percent and 60 percent, respectively.”
If you walked around believing that 1,000 or 10,000 or even more unarmed black men were killed by police each year, with minimal if any consequences, you would probably distrust the police and want to see them abolished or defunded or, at minimum, torn down and rebuilt from the ground up with a completely different culture.
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Three
Before we go any further, I’m pro-wearing masks. I don’t think they provide perfect protection. I think KN95s are more effective than cloth masks, and cloth masks are better than nothing. I think wearing your mask on your chin is ridiculous. And while we’re still collecting data, the evidence we have is that full vaccination makes people much less likely to spread the virus — so there is little reason for groups of vaccinated people to wear masks around one another. And if you’re going to go into a restaurant, it’s best to try to maintain that six-foot distance between you and members of your household and everyone else, particularly when unmasked and eating.
You probably saw the headline, “CDC study finds in-person dining bans and wearing masks make a difference.”
The CDC compared county-level data on mask mandates and restaurant re-openings with county-level changes in COVID-19 case- and death-growth rates relative to the mandate-implementation and reopening dates. When you dig deep into the actual CDC report, you find:
During March 1–December 31, 2020, state-issued mask mandates applied in 2,313 (73.6 percent) of the 3,142 U.S. counties. Mask mandates were associated with a 0.5 percentage point decrease (p = 0.02) in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, and 1.8 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all) (Table 1) (Figure). Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all).
Notice the decrease was in the case- and death-growth rate, not the number of overall cases or deaths. And the difference in that rate of growth of both cases and deaths added up to less than 2 percent over a three-month period. That’s not nothing; we obviously want to prevent every death that we can. But that’s also not a particularly dramatic difference.
A mask mandate may mitigate the death toll in a state, but not by much. The state that ranks the worst in COVID deaths per million residents is New Jersey, with 2,654, as of this writing. New Jersey was the first state to require masks at all businesses starting April 10, 2020, and outdoors in circumstances where social distancing is not possible since July 8, 2020. More than 90 percent of the state’s 23,557 deaths occurred since the former mandate was implemented.
The second state to enact a mask order was New York, which enacted a mask requirement April 15, 2020, and that state ranks second worst in COVID deaths per million residents, at 2,497. The states that rank at the bottom in deaths per million residents are Hawaii (mask requirement), Vermont (mask requirement), and Alaska (no mask requirement).