Thursday, June 4, 2009

War on Crime

I know I've already done this kind of post before but I feel that, in light of some of the comments on yesterday's post on the peacefulness survey and crime, I ought to mention a few points again. Here's the comments:
Anonymous: yeah sure, the media makes up all this stuff about violent crime. it doesn't happen. all those court cases, all those police appeals - they just make all that shit up.

Clearly a troll, possibly an employee of the Herald, and a perfect example of a straw man argument. Next!
Anonymous: Far too obtuse an argument, even for you. [!]

This is an international comparison which assessed a number of factors - including war records, military spending, government stability and crime levels - to determine the 'most peaceful' nation.

It did say that, on balance, New Zealand topped the list. It did not say that New Zealand is a crime-free nirvana full of selfless pacifists.

New Zealand does have crime problems, as does any nation. It does have a serious issue with meth abuse, like many nations. It would be folly to suggest otherwise.

To beat up a newspaper for reporting the crime that does happen, and the problems the country faces, is myopic.

To state that the same newspaper claims New Zealand leads the world in crime is an absudity uttered in an attempt to further a flimsy argument.

And to conclude that because a newspaper runs a peace survey story while also running crime stories is proof positive that it overplays and is obsessed with crime, is just total stupidity.

Different anon.
You're right, it is an aggregate of various criteria. However, if you'd bothered to read the methodology section of the report and the section on New Zealand, or even just the part that I quoted, you would have seen that we got the lowest (i.e., best) possible grade for violence and crime. Now, of course, that doesn't make us a "crime-free nirvana full of selfless pacifists", but I don't know where I said that it did. Why are straw man arguments so popular this season - have they been in Viva?

My argument, as regular readers will know, is that the Herald (and other mass media) don't just report crime - they play it for ratings. Sure, they're just trying to sell papers, but they shouldn't be given a free ride for that. As for the Herald claiming that we lead the world in crime, it's not as absurd as you think - partly it's my rhetoric, of course, but have you ever seen Your Views? Or even the letters page? Or Garth George?

And, finally, as for my reason for concluding that the Herald overplays crime being the publishing of the crime survey... you're new here, aren't you?

JP_Rocks: Personally, I am quite happy with the level of reporting that our rare occrences of violent crime get in this country, and the disproportionate levels of outcry that they cause. The opposite is far, far worse. Rather than showing how lawless a society we are becoming, I think it shows how very isolated these cases of horrific violent crime really are. Where else in the world would a convinience store robberies that occurred without a shot being fired become national news? I'm not saying that everything is peachy keen and terriffic, but christ, things could be a whole lot worse. Just ask any of the thousands of South Africans that walk among us.
This is a good argument, on one level. I can see it having some plausibility. The only problem is that both anecdotal and social scientific research show that that's not what people take from it. I've discussed on the blog before how people, when surveyed, massively overestimate both the level and increase (the speed and acceleration, if you will) of violent crime in this country - and media coverage of crime is at least partly to blame. Of course, in some sense any violent crime is too much, but it seems to me that there are a lot of of negative consequences of this: a siege mentality, a lack of trust in fellow citizens, and an increase in racism and popular support for draconian, expensive and ineffective policy. In that sense, it was nice to read about the peacefulness survey on the front page. I only wish that the reporter had been given the time and space to go into more detail about what JP_Rocks and I definitely agree on - that New Zealand is, despite the reporting, not such a rotten place after all.

Proper content, including Garth, after lunch.

EDIT: Front page headline today: "Father's back fractured as home invaders run him down".


  1. About the thousands of South Africans that walk among us - is there some easy way to identify them? Say, hooked nose, curly hair, cloven hooves? I'm just itching to question them on the differences between NZ and SA.

    PS if you say 'straw man' one more time James, I may have to immolate you.

  2. Oh Garth, why does he say the things he does? I was right with him, enjoying his pie-addled state of relative pleasantness, all the way up to the last two paragraphs.

    "These are the people who harp on endlessly - and dishonestly - about "junk food" and "unhealthy" food. They are liars."

    And in the same atricle where he basicially pumps himself up as a food critic? Now I love fast food, but I'm not under any false pretenses about the relative health benefits of a large BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger combo. That shit will kill you eventually.

    Why can't he just make a nice point without FUCKING IT UP entirely?

  3. I look forward to an analyis of this weeks Garth nonsense.

    After last weeks homoerotic witterings ("oh officer, can I see your pistol?" "Well, Garth, if I get that thing out, I'm going to have to use it...."), I can't read anything he writes without seeing the double meaning.

    Garth doesn't like fish pie. I rest my case.

  4. "I'm not under any false pretenses about the relative health benefits of a large BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger combo. That shit will kill you eventually."

    This struck deep into my soul. My regular Wednesday evening faux-flame-grilled fix will never be the same...

  5. I didn't say you couldn't enjoy it Samuel. Feast on!

    Can I ask, are you one of the people who apparently 'can't wait until 10:30am' to eat a cholesterol sandwich? I think if I ate one before 11am I would turn into a Gremlin or some shit.

  6. But but but... what about crime?

  7. Sorry we pre-empted you to talk about Garth. To be fair, most of his opinions border on the criminal.

    For what it's worth I agree with you James, We're not likely to strike a perfect balance in reporting any time soon, but the media could stand to be a bit more 'responsible' when reporting crime.

    Why do people only post negative responses as Anonymous? We don't know if it's just the same one or two guys or what? Come on complainers, We don't even need a real name, just SOMETHING! Be creative. 'EditingJames' perhaps? Wait don't all use that, we'll have the same problem...

  8. I don't know if Garth's in the pocket of Big Pie, but someone seems to be - that's two days in a row the top slot on the Opinion page has been blathering about Georgie Pie.

  9. Jimmy, knowing how seriously you take your argument construction, I take your mild approval of my point with great pride. I may print out your post and put it on my fridge.

    It is a great shame that more people in this country are unable to see through our shamtastic media outlets. Which is what makes this blog so refreshing and important, helping us all to realise that, in the words of the great David Foster Wallace, that 'this is water'.

  10. "It is a great shame that more people in this country are unable to see through our shamtastic media outlets."

    being a pedant and creating straw men arguments on a blog does not a hero make.

  11. Yes, arrogance and self awareness rarely go hand in hand.

  12. What a bitch fest.

    I was going to post this as anonymous but have decided to use my real name from now on.

  13. PS. Nice new banner.

  14. I can't wait until I next have a discussion with someone and, instead of giving an argument, they just say "Yes, arrogance and self awareness rarely go hand in hand."

    Funnily enough, anonymity and enlightenment rarely go hand in hand either.

  15. Anonymous? Or Analrapist?

  16. Ha ha ha!

    James, can you somehow change it so that Analrapist is the default username, instead of Anonymous?

    Yes, nice new banner as well. BTW I work for the company that does all the 'As Seen On TV' stuff, and I will do my very best to try and make sure you don't face legal action for this one. Having said that, I would have very little say in the matter.

  17. interesting points.

    james, when this blog is good it is good but certain posts (such as the peace survey) appear to begin and end with preconceptions and grudges. that's never a good way to embark upon an argument.

    on a wider issue, you seem to have problems with one outlet of a rather large media industry. indeed the new zealand herald is far from the best newspaper in the world. it does not pretend to be but, by fair means or foul and whatever your views, it is consistent in its editorial lines, its policies etc. if you expect it to be an all-conquering and sober broadsheet, look at the market it operares within: it is broadsheet in form but tabloid in mentality, seeking to connect with and exploit the huge base of centre-right, pavlova paradise nimbys that populate new zealand's largest city.

    it is a private business - it is certainly not a public service. it knows its market and it panders to it on a daily basis. the axiom 'the people get the government they deserve' can certainly be extended to cover the private media. what more can you expect?

    and it is a newspaper operated on very limited resources. indeed it has 'outsourced' the majority of its production desk - the once-senior section of a newsroom that was charged with maintaining 'standards' - and it has cut its reporting staff in half in little over five years. This is why you are seeing the mistakes and the poor headlines, and the filler articles.

    yet despite an obvious decline in standards it maintains a hefty profit. and that brings us back to a previous issue: the people get the newspaper they deserve. stop buying it if you're so incensed, and turn to other outlets. remove the politics and the crime from the herald and you get a bunch 'and finally stories', and there seems to be a wide selection of those about new zealand on


    *but not the bald guy from arrested development.

  18. Anon at 11:33, I agree with pretty much everything that you said, and really dont think that your point of view is that different to Jimmy's.

    All media sources in NZ, not just the Herald, are pandering more and more to the lowest common denominator. That is what annoys and angers me. The people may be getting the newspaper they deserve, but I feel that I deserve a better one. And I think many people here feel that way too. We dont care about the Jade Goodys of this world, we dont need to know opinions clearly influenced by kickbacks from Big Pie, and we dont need fashion advice reccommending spending thousands of dollars on organic leather lampshades. And we really, really, REALLY dont need to know what the views of the Your Views faithful 'centre-right, pavlova paradise nimbys' are.

  19. Dear Analrapist*

    Thank you for explaining WHY the Herald is a bit rubbish sometimes. These are all good points, and fair, but does that mean that we should simply accept them and move on?

    The real problem is that the Herald is the only major newspaper we have. Perhaps that is as good a reason as any to keep challenging their position? A blog like this may seem superflous if aimed at a British newspaper, since one could easily ignore it and select an alternative news source, but this is not the case for New Zealanders.

    So yes, the Herald may have a reasonable defence for being the way it is, but that does not exempt it from critique.

    *please give us some evidence to disprove this name.

  20. @JP: So it's a big world out there, and it's easy to find another source of news.

  21. You're trying to bait me. I bet you are a cyclist... Well, tough luck, your insults will have to make much more sense before I bite.

    Good luck working on your reading comprehension. English is a hard language to master...

  22. It wasn't an insult. But think what you will.

  23. "on a wider issue, you seem to have problems with one outlet of a rather large media industry."

    'Editing the Entire Media Industry' does seem like quite a monstrous brief for one man to take on, though.

  24. @Mel
    Yeah, I think that might be available in the pay version of this site :)

    @Analrapist (anonymous coward)
    So, right... we should just all shut the f**k up and accept it cos "it is broadsheet in form but tabloid in mentality, seeking to connect with and exploit the huge base of centre-right, pavlova paradise nimbys that populate new zealand's largest city."

    Go ahead and put a name to your dumbass comments...

  25. Since when does wishing to use 'anonymous' become 'cowardly'? What is the difference between 'Pete M' and 'Anonymous' aside from a few letters on a screen? Do tell.

    The post pointed out why there are failings, not that 'we should just all shut the f**k up'. There was no insult, no attempt at sarcasm contained in the post.

    But if you do feel so strongly, and are so incensed by the paper and my comments above, don't buy it. Don't read it. No one forces you to do so. Despite what you seem to believe, it's not your master.

    Find something else to waste your short, pointless and illiterate life on.

    Are you a YV poster who's stumbled on another website and got a bit scared and confused?

  26. Um, the difference is pretty obvious... I know that you're posting about me and can respond accordingly and you know that you're posting about me. It's about identification not anonymity... The name anonymous describes your choice to not provide a way of us identifying your posts, not that you tell us your name, age, sex, location...

    I'm not sure how it passed you by, but 'we should just all shut the f**k up' is a statement that underpins your acceptance of the quality of the NZ Herald - something I'm not willing to accept. As much as it is the 'job' of the media to keep society informed, it is equally the job of others to point out when this is done in a biased or mis-informed way.

    Also, if you read James' posts on the same issue, you will understand (or maybe it will also pass you by) why 'dont't buy it' and 'don't read it' actually don't cut it when a paper has the monopolistic distribution that it has in NZ, and that it is paramount that it is held to the highest journalistic qualities so that the people are correctly informed.

    I will continue to 'waste' my short, pointless illiterate life on helping to educate the mentally underprivileged like yourself. Consider it charity or public service, I don't mind.

    That is all.

  27. Riiiight. Nice blog by the way, Pete M. Great writing.