When The Narrative Replaces The News

How the media grotesquely distorted the Atlanta massacres


The massacres at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area this week, leaving eight human beings dead, others injured, and their families scarred, were horrifying. Read this deeply moving story about the son of one of the women killed to remind yourself of this. It’s brutal. The grief will spread and resonate some more.

But this story has also been deeply instructive about our national discourse and the state of the American mainstream and elite media. This story’s coverage is proof, it seems to me, that American journalists have officially abandoned the habit of attempting any kind of “objectivity” in reporting these stories. We are now in the enlightened social justice world of “moral clarity” and “narrative-shaping.”

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

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And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an anti-Asian white supremacist hate crimeSixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

Mass killers, if they are motivated by bigotry or hate, tend to let the world know:

The suspected attacker in Pittsburgh allegedly said he wanted to “kill Jews” while rampaging inside a synagogue. Police said the man charged with killing people at an El Paso Walmart told them that he was targeting “Mexicans” that day. And the man who massacred Black parishioners inside a Charleston church detailed his racist motivations at length.

This mass murderer in Atlanta actually denied any such motive, and, to repeat myself, there is no evidence for it — and that has been true from the very start. And yet, a friend forwarded me the note swiftly sent to students and faculty at Harvard, which sums up the instant view of our elite:

Many of us woke up yesterday to the horrific news of the vicious and deadly attack in Atlanta, the latest in a wave of increasing violence targeting the Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander community … This violence has a history. From Chinese Exclusion to the nativist rhetoric amplified during the pandemic, anti-Asian hostility has deep roots in American culture.

And on and on. It was almost as if they had a pre-existing script to read, whatever the facts of the case! Nikole Hannah-Jones, the most powerful journalist at the New York Times, took to Twitter in the early morning of March 17 to pronounce: “Last night’s shooting and the appalling rise in anti-Asian violence stem from a sick society where nationalism has been stoked and normalized.” Ibram Kendi tweeted: “Locking arms with Asian Americans facing this lethal wave of anti-Asian terror. Their struggle is my struggle. Our struggle is against racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”

When the cops reported the killer’s actual confession, left-Twitter went nuts. One gender studies professor recited the litany: “The refusal to name anti-Asianess [sic], racism, white supremacy, misogyny, or class in this is whiteness doing what it always does around justifying its death-dealing … To ignore the deeply racist and misogynistic history of hypersexualization of Asian women in this ‘explication’ from law enforcement of what emboldened this killer is also a willful erasure.” 

In The Root, the real reason for the murders was detailed: “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it.”

Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false: “You killed six Asian people. Specifically, you went there. Your murders speak louder than your words. What makes it even more painful is that we saw it coming. We see these things happening. People have been warning, people in the Asian communities have been tweeting, they’ve been saying, ‘Please help us. We’re getting punched in the street. We’re getting slurs written on our doors.’” Noah knew the killer’s motive more surely than the killer himself.

None of them mentioned that he killed two white people as well — a weird thing for a white supremacist to do — and injured a Latino. None pointed out that the connection between the spas was that the killer had visited them. None explained why, if he were associating Asian people with Covid19, he would nonetheless expose himself to the virus by having sex with them, or regard these spas as “safer” than other ways to have quick sex.

They didn’t because, in their worldview, they didn’t need to. What you see here is social justice ideology insisting, as Dean Baquet temporarily explained, that intent doesn’t matter. What matters is impact. The individual killer is in some ways irrelevant. His intentions are not material. He is merely a vehicle for the structural oppressive forces critical theorists believe in. And this “story” is what the media elites decided to concentrate on: the thing that, so far as we know, didn’t happen.

We don’t know all the nuances of this case. Again, we shouldn’t take a killer’s confession at face value. Or his roommates’ memories. We may yet be surprised by some other factor — including perhaps anti-Asian bias that has so far been missing. (One rumor aired in Korean media, but unconfirmed anywhere else, is that the killer conveniently cried “I want to kill all Asians!” before the murder spree. )

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

There’s a reason for this shift. Treating the individual as unique, granting him or her rights, defending the presumption of innocence, relying on provable, objective evidence: these core liberal principles are precisely what critical theory aims to deconstruct. And the elite media is in the vanguard of this war on liberalism.

This isn’t in any way to deny increasing bias against Asian-Americans. It’s real and it’s awful. Asians are targeted by elite leftists, who actively discriminate against them in higher education, and attempt to dismantle the merit-based schools where Asian-American students succeed — precisely and only because too many Asians are attending. And Asian-Americans are also often targeted by envious or opportunistic criminal non-whites in their neighborhoods. For Trump to give these forces a top-spin with the “China virus” made things even worse, of course. For a firsthand account of a Chinese family’s experience of violence and harassment, check out this piece.

The more Asian-Americans succeed, the deeper the envy and hostility that can be directed toward them. The National Crime Victimization Survey notes that “the rate of violent crime committed against Asians increased from 8.2 to 16.2 per 1000 persons age 12 or older from 2015 to 2018.” Hate crimes? “Hate crime incidents against Asian Americans had an annual rate of increase of approximately 12% from 2012 to 2014. Although there was a temporary decrease from 2014 to 2015, anti-Asian bias crimes had increased again from 2015 to 2018.” 

Asians are different from other groups in this respect. “Comparing with Black and Hispanic victims, Asian Americans have relatively higher chance to be victimized by non-White offenders (25.5% vs. 1.0% for African Americans and 18.9% for Hispanics). … Asian Americans have higher risk to be persecuted by strangers … are less likely to be offended in their residence … and are more likely to be targeted at school/college.” Of those committing violence against Asians, you discover that 24 percent such attacks are committed by whites; 24 percent are committed by fellow Asians; 7 percent by Hispanics; and 27.5 percent by African-Americans. Do the Kendi math, and you can see why Kendi’s “White Supremacist domestic terror” is not that useful a term for describing anti-Asian violence.

But what about hate crimes specifically? In general, the group disproportionately most likely to commit hate crimes in the US are African-Americans. At 13 percent of the population, African Americans commit 23.9 percent of hate crimes. But hate specifically against Asian-Americans in the era of Trump and Covid? Solid numbers are not yet available for 2020, which is the year that matters here. There’s data, from 1994 to 2014, that finds little racial skew among those committing anti-Asian hate crimes. Hostility comes from every other community pretty equally.

The best data I’ve found for 2020, the salient period for this discussion, are provisional data on complaints and arrests for hate crimes against Asians in New York City, one of two cities which seem to have been most affected. They record 20 such arrests in 2020. Of those 20 offenders, 11 were African-American, two Black-Hispanic, two white, and five white Hispanics. Of the black offenders, a majority were women. The bulk happened last March, and they petered out soon after. If you drill down on some recent incidents in the news in California, and get past the media gloss to the actual mugshots, you also find as many black as white offenders.

This doesn’t prove much either, of course. Anti-Asian bias, like all biases, can infect anyone of any race, and the sample size is small and in one place. But it sure complicates the “white supremacy” case that the mainstream media simply assert as fact.

And, given the headlines, the other thing missing is a little perspective. Here’s a word cloud of the victims of hate crimes in NYC in 2020. You can see that anti-Asian hate crimes are dwarfed by those against Jews, and many other minorities. And when you hear about a 150 percent rise in one year, it’s worth noting that this means a total of 122 such incidents in a country of 330 million, of which 19 million are Asian. Even if we bring this number up to more than 3,000 incidents from unreported and far less grave cases, including “shunning”, it’s small in an aggregate sense. A 50 percent increase in San Francisco from 2019 - 2020, for example, means the number of actual crimes went from 6 to 9.

Is it worse than ever? No. 2020 saw 122 such hate incidents. In 1996, the number was 350. Many incidents go unreported, of course, and hideous comments, slurs and abuse don’t count as hate “crimes” as such. I’m not discounting the emotional scars of the kind of harassment this report cites. I’m sure they’ve increased. They’re awful. Despicable. Disgusting.

But the theory behind hate crimes law is that these crimes matter more because they terrify so many beyond the actual victim. And so it seems to me that the media’s primary role in cases like these is providing some data and perspective on what’s actually happening, to allay irrational fear. Instead they contribute to the distortion by breathlessly hyping one incident without a single provable link to any go this — and scare the bejeezus out of people unnecessarily.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

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(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue includes: all the usual reader Dissents — this time on the revolutionary nature of Biden’s record so far — and my responses; a long conversation with Mickey Kaus about the “Biden dole” and immigration; several remarkable accounts from readers on addiction; a poignant Faces of the Week; a new Yglesias Award nominee; more notable quotes, more recommended reading, more window views, a musical Mental Health Break, and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)


New On The Dishcast: Mickey Kaus

Mickey is an old friend and colleague from way back. His 1992 book, The End of Equality, was hugely influential for welfare reform in the Clinton years. To hear three excerpts from our long conversation — on the history of how neoliberalism gutted the middle class; on whether Joe Biden’s amnesty policy amounts to “open borders”; and our questioning of what Biden actually believes, if anything — head over to our YouTube pageListen to the whole episode here.

That link also takes you to more remarkable emails from Dish readers, this time responding to our episode with Sally Satel. One reader is an expert on the opioid epidemic and shares his own personal insights on addiction from his time in AA: “I cannot think of another institution in American life that fosters these kinds of benevolent interactions with people from opposite ends of the political spectrum.” If you remember the old reader threads from the Dish, this page is where we’re building and expanding on them. I’m really honored to have the smartest readership on the web. And deeply grateful to the guardian of Dishness, Chris Bodenner, who makes all this happen every week.

Regarding the podcast, a reader picks up on the age-old Dish theme of very gradual change:

The episodes are really improving. You seem to be more receptive to the guest and are in more of an exchange. The more you can get them to speak, the more we learn. You have been challenging the guests with good counterpoints and have been brave and fair taking them to task. You have started to prepare well.

It is tough to balance the challenging of guests‘ viewpoints and being cordial to them. But keep putting them on the spot. Without dunking or being rude, you have exposed the holes and inconsistencies in the last couple guests’ arguments — Michael Anton on Trumpism and Mara Keisling on trans issue — and it becomes very apparent when they dodge. Keep it up! There are few reasonable voices other than Joe Rogan or Bill Maher who can engage a respectable space and be entertaining. Real truth shines through in a fair and frank exchange of ideas. Your opinions are on record in your writing, which allows you not to waste debate time pontificating them, and the guests know they will be treated fairly and need to bone up on their messaging.

This is what I love about the Dish and why I pay. It is what this space can be. Thank you so much, and know you inspire a white middle-aged non-college graduate like me to learn more and be fair. Thank you and the whole Dish staff.

The whole Dish staff — Chris — thanks you back, as do I.


The View From Your Window Contest

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The results for the last week’s contest are coming in a separate email to subscribers later today.

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