The New York Times has a perfect Fox Butterfield fallacy

hands-on-prison-barsFor those unfamiliar with the term, “Fox Butterfield fallacy” is named after a New York Times rejoicing under the euphonious name “Fox Butterfield.” Butterfield wrote an article in 1994 that dealt with what to him was a mystifying conundrum: How could there be more criminals in prison if crime rates were going down?

IT has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder.

So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up? Last year, it reached almost 1.7 million, up about seven percent a year since 1990.

The beauty of the latest example of a Fox Butterfield fallacy in a New York Times article is that it is overwhelmed by the exact same paradox that so befuddled Fox Butterfield! Yes, the Times did it again.

This latest entry occurs in an article examining different imprisonment trends in different regions. The Times makes it clear from the article’s title that something very mysterious is going on in small town (i.e., white) America: This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?

Why, indeed?

The Times’ confusion is made manifest a mere seven paragraphs into the lengthy article. After explaining that America’s urban centers are busy reducing incarceration, the article turns its attention to America’s Bible-toting, gun-clutching flyover regions, where incarceration is increasing (emphasis mine):

But large parts of rural and suburban America — overwhelmed by the heroin epidemic and concerned about the safety of diverting people from prison — have gone the opposite direction. Prison admissions in counties with fewer than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has fallen, according to a New York Times analysis, which offers a newly detailed look at the geography of American incarceration.

Wow! How is it possible that those redneck hicks keep imprisoning people even as crime has fallen? It just makes no sense!

Well, yes it does make sense. As the Times story notes, small town America is struggling under the tremendous burden of rising addiction to hard drugs. Had they wished, the reporters could have mentioned that the long prison sentences across America over the last thirty or so years (the ones that mystified Mr. Butterfield in 1997) were also a response to the scourge of drugs — except that the last time, the scourge was in inner-city, black environments, and it was black citizens who were begging to get dangerous users and dealers off the street.

To intelligent people, those who aren’t in the mainstream media, there is a big connection between lower crime and high imprisonment:  When you get criminals off the streets, they don’t commit crimes. Now, I happen to believe that, if the black community would step up and address its own problems, instead of buying into the Democrat blame game, a lot of these criminals and crimes might vanish. But the blame game is the name of the game — it’s everyone else’s fault so we have no obligation to address the problem through traditional faith, morality, and marriage — so the only way to separate predatory from prey is to lock the predator’s away.

In an effort to avoid Logic 101, the Times article, while focusing on those bad small town (Republican) people, accidentally or on purpose drops the ball entirely when it comes to the paragraph immediately preceding the Fox Butterfield fallacy, that is, the paragraph that discusses imprisonment trends in big cities:

A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s. From 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions dropped 36 percent in Indianapolis; 37 percent in Brooklyn; 69 percent in Los Angeles County; and 93 percent in San Francisco.

A real reporter, someone genuinely curious about things, might examine whether the decreasing incarceration has affected crime rates in those named regions. A real reporter would discover that there is indeed a change in crime statistics. Moreover, if that reporter were a Fox Butterfield type of writer, he might say of those urban areas that “prison admissions in urban areas with large populations have dropped even as crime has risen!”

Risen? Yes. Here’s the data for San Francisco and Los Angeles County:


Indianapolis is also an area with lower imprisonment and (surprise!) higher crime:

Indianapolis crime statistics report an overall upward trend in crime based on data from 13 years with violent crime increasing and property crime increasing. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Indianapolis for 2016 is expected to be higher than in 2012.

The city violent crime rate for Indianapolis in 2012 was higher than the national violent crime rate average by 206.42% and the city property crime rate in Indianapolis was higher than the national property crime rate average by 97.29%.

In 2012 the city violent crime rate in Indianapolis was higher than the violent crime rate in Indiana by 242.88% and the city property crime rate in Indianapolis was higher than the property crime rate in Indiana by 86.21%.

The rather random reference to Brooklyn, incidentally, shows some Times cherry-picking, if one is to judge by a news report from last year noting rising crime everywhere in the New York region but for Brooklyn:

While the city has seen a recent uptick in homicides and shootings, the numbers are actually down in Brooklyn.

New police numbers show there have been three fewer murders in Brooklyn through April 19, compared with the same time period in 2014.

However, murders are up in The Bronx, Manhattan and Queens.

Shootings in Brooklyn are down nearly 12 percent, but they are up more than five percent across the rest of the city.

And the number of shooting victims is down nearly 16 percent in Brooklyn, compared with about a three percent increase in the other boroughs.

The Fox Butterfield fallacy is always amusing, but it’s implications are really quite serious: Whether we like it or not, the New York Times still represents one of the most respected — and powerful — media outlets in America. Given the outsized reputation it has, there is a big problem with American discourse when its reporters are incapable of even the most basic logic and refuse to do any investigation that will challenge their hard-Left paradigm.