The FBI Hate Crimes report through the lens of media bias
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The FBI Hate Crimes report through the lens of media bias

November 14, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

FBI: 2016 hate crimes report shows 4.6 percent increase from 2015

The Federal Bureau of Investigation published its annual Hate Crimes Statistics report on Monday, counting a total of 6,121 reported hate crime incidents in the U.S. during 2016. This is an increase of 4.6 percent from 2015, when there were 5,850 reported hate crime incidents. The report is based on information voluntarily submitted from about 15,000 law enforcement agencies. Approximately 3,000 agencies did not submit any information, according to HuffPost.

The FBI refers to “incidents” and “offenses” in its report. An incident, such as a shooting, can result in multiple offenses (murders, for example). The agency defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Vox reports that the federal government has a hate crime law, but some states do not and their standards for what constitutes a hate crime may vary.

Types of crimes

The report states there were 3,765 crimes against persons, including 1,577 incidents of intimidation, 1,458 incidents of simple assault, 685 incidents of aggravated assault, 24 incidents of rape, and five incidents of murder or manslaughter resulting in the deaths of nine individuals.

The report also cites 2,519 crimes against property, including 1,913 incidents of destruction, damage or vandalism.

Report highlights:

  • Race, ethnicity and ancestry bias: In 2016, 3,489 of reported hate crimes were motivated by a race, ethnicity or ancestry bias. There were 1,739 anti-black bias incidents, 720 anti-white incidents and 344 anti-Hispanic/Latino incidents.
  • Religious bias: There were 1,273 reported hate crimes based on religious bias, making up 21 percent of reported hate crimes in 2016. The two largest bias motivations were anti-Jewish with 684 incidents, and anti-Islamic with 307 incidents.
  • Sexual orientation bias: Crimes based on sexual orientation bias made up 17.7 percent of hate crimes in 2016, totalling 1,076 incidents. There were 675 incidents based on anti-gay (male) bias.
  • Other biases: There were 70 incidents based on disability bias, 31 incidents based on gender bias, 124 incidents based on gender identity bias and also 58 multiple-bias incidents.

Distortion Highlights

  • The FBI’s report on hate crimes has limitations in data, which is a type of slant or bias.
  • The articles we analyzed on the report were also biased.
  • See how slanted coverage can limit our understanding of hate crimes and other forms of violence.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion)

Top Spin Words

  • Vile

    They also label these acts as a very specific kind of vile crime, encouraging law enforcement to take the issue more seriously. (Vox)

  • Woefully inadequate

    Although the FBI report is the most comprehensive look at the nation’s hate crimes released every year, the report is known to be woefully inadequate — because it may undercount the number by the hundreds of thousands, based on other federal surveys. (Vox)

  • Skyrocketed

    But the report gives a glimpse at the numbers in a year in which concerns about hate crimes skyrocketed due to President Donald Trump’s campaign and election. (Vox)

  • Widespread

    As a result, Trump’s election led to widespread fears that there would be an emboldening of racist acts across America. (Vox)

  • Steep

    But what makes 2016 stand out, Levin previously told HuffPost, is the steep rise in hate crimes around Election Day itself. (Huffington Post)

  • Much-anticipated

    The much-anticipated FBI report is the most comprehensive hate crime data available for the divisive 2016 election year, and backs up earlier evidence of rising hate in America. (Huffington Post)

  • Overwhelming

    “Anti-Black or African bias” still made up the overwhelming majority of cases of racial hate crime offenses in America. (The Daily Caller)

  • Deeply flawed

    The FBI’s annual hate crime statistics, while the best measurement of hate in America, are deeply flawed. (Huffington Post)

  • Poor

    The reality, though, is it’s hard to say if hate crimes are on the rise — even after the FBI’s latest report — because the data used to track these cases is so poor. (Vox)

You could say hate crimes are violent, externalized forms of human bias. They’re an effect of holding a narrow, inflexible perspective deemed “right,” to the point where we dehumanize others and are willing to harm or even kill them. So understanding bias and violence as more generalized processes — regardless of a specific issue or a type of crime — is a valuable resource to address these problems in society.

Media bias plays a role in how we form and further our own perceptual biases because, unless they’re challenged, they’re unlikely to change. Ironically, the coverage we analyzed on the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics report was slanted in different ways — namely by omissions, emphasis and juxtaposition, although we identified other issues as well. Here’s a look at each, and how each can limit the way we examine and approach these subjects.

1. Omitting the limitations in data

Of the four articles we analyzed, Reuters was the most data-based in that it didn’t include opinion (which, by Knife standards, is ideal). However, neither Reuters nor The Daily Caller pointed out the limitations in the FBI’s report — an element that’s standard in scientific writing. Now, the FBI’s findings are likely valid and accurate within that data set, but there’s other information available that, if considered, might change the way we view the report. For instance, HuffPost notes that more than half of hate crime victims don’t report these incidents to law enforcement. This single data point suggests we may only be looking at half the picture, if gauging hate crimes in the U.S. by the FBI report alone.

2. Emphasizing one group more than others

In its headline, The Daily Caller singles out “anti-white” hate crimes, and Vox does the same, except with Muslims. This may seem trivial, but it could contribute to the problem, in that we might see a particular group as greater victims of hate crimes compared to others (and possibly some groups as greater victimizers than others, depending on our prejudices). From a humanity standpoint, all hate crimes are equally destructive.

3. Omitting the bigger problem

None of the outlets mention that, while group or bias type distinctions are useful, hate and violence transcend issues of race, gender and creed, etc. Some people believe, for example, that some forms of violence are “race related,” suggesting that race is not just a factor, but a cause. If a causal connection indeed existed, that would mean all people of a given race would be violent towards members of another, but that’s never the case. Hate and violence are human problems that existed before we created distinctions like race, religion and gender identity. Believing hate crimes or any other form of violence is issue-specific may actually limit the way we approach the problem.

4. Political bias

Vox juxtaposes the Trump campaign and presidency with the FBI’s findings, suggesting he’s to blame for the recent rise in hate crimes. As noted in our August op-ed, “hatred and violence exist in America independent of Trump.” It’s useful for the media to report on the Trump administration and its effects. However, shifting blame in this situation distracts from our solving what is essentially a societal problem, and it may encourage faultfinding, rather than self-reflection as to how we all participate in it.

The media can inspire new approaches to the problems of hate and violence. Eliminating bias that promotes divisiveness, showing readers the limitations in data and drawing attention to the root causes, rather than the effects, are a few simple but important steps in that process.

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 10% Spun

  • 14% Spun

  • 26% Spun

  • 30% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

HuffPost

“There were a staggering 250,000 hate crimes each year in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015, according to the [U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics] survey.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, there were 250,000 hate crimes annually in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015.

The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

View Technical Sheet >

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

1. Last year, the number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67 percent, increasing to levels not seen since the period directly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (HuffPost)

This information inaccurately inflates the increase in “anti-Muslim incidents” that the FBI reported for 2016. The number of incidents against Muslims in 2016 increased by 19.5 percent compared with 2015 data. HuffPost may have been referring to the FBI’s 2015 data, which did show a 67 percent increase in incidents against Muslims when  compared with the agency’s 2014 data.

2. The FBI counted four murders in 2016 that it considered to be hate crimes. (HuffPost)

The FBI reported nine murders in 2016, not four. Again, HuffPost may have been looking at the agency’s 2014 “hate crime” data, which did list four murder offenses.

1. Five total [hate crimes] were murders. (Vox)

This may misrepresent the number of murders that the FBI considers to be “hate crimes.” It may be more accurate to say five hate crime incidents resulted in the murder of nine people.

According to the FBI, an “incident” may include more than one “offense.” So while five incidents involved murder, those incidents resulted in nine murder offenses.

2. Hispanics saw the second highest increase (18 percent) in hate crime offenses from 2015 to 2015 (sic). (The Daily Caller)

Aside from the minor inaccuracy when listing the year range, this statement may inaccurately suggest Latinos saw the second highest percent increase in hate crime offenses, rather than the second highest increase in the total number of hate crime offenses from 2015 to 2016 (see below for a comparison).

Percent Increase: When compared with 2015 data, offenses against people considered white, Latino, Arab, and Native-Hawaiian or Pacific Islander increased by 19.3 percent, 18.5 percent, 19.1 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Total number of offenses: When compared with 2015 data, the number of offenses against people considered white, Latino, Arab, and Native-Hawaiian or Pacific Islander increased by 142, 70, nine and three, respectively.

1. What crimes qualify as hate crimes varies by state. The federal government has a hate crime law that bans crimes based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Some places don’t have such laws at the state level. (Vox)

This information may provide insight into the differences in “hate crime” reporting at the state and federal level, and how these crimes are defined. Vox also noted that the federal government doesn’t have the resources to enforce “hate crime” laws nationwide, which could mean states without such laws may not report on or punish “hate crimes” that would otherwise be prosecuted as such on the federal level. Reuters, The Daily Caller and HuffPost did not include any of this information.

2. Over 3,000 law enforcement agencies don’t report on hate crime statistics on a yearly basis. (HuffPost)

Mentioning the data missing from the FBI’s report may help contextualize the information by showing its limitations.

While Reuters reported on the number of agencies that voluntarily participated (15,000) in the FBI’s collection efforts, it didn’t mention the number of agencies that did not participate, and it didn’t mention other hate crime reports exist. Vox didn’t list the number of agencies that participated in the FBI’s report, although it did provide an estimate for the total number of “hate crimes” annually, based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Daily Caller didn’t provide any such details of the FBI’s report or how its information may be incomplete.

3. According to the FBI, about 29 percent of hate crimes last year were acts of intimidation; 26 percent were acts of destruction, property damage or vandalism; 23 percent were assaults; and 12 percent were aggravated assaults. (HuffPost)

A detailed breakdown of the FBI’s “hate crimes” may better inform people of the types of offenses the report covers. It may also dissuade premature assumptions about the nature of the crimes listed in the report. Vox also mentioned the number of “hate crimes” related to intimidation, property crimes and assault. Reuters and The Daily Caller didn’t include any of these distinctions.

1. Of those religious-based incidents, 25 percent were anti-Muslim. (HuffPost)

The outlet inaccurately attributes its math to the number of incidents that occurred, rather than the number of offenses, which may perpetuate a minor numerical inaccuracy. Calculating the percentage of religious-based “incidents” against Muslims equals 24.1 percent. The number of religious-based “offenses” against Muslims is 25 percent.

2. There were 6,121 hate crime incidents recorded last year, an almost 5 percent rise from 2015 and a 10 percent increase from 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crimes Statistics report said. (Reuters)

Reuters includes a minor numerical inaccuracy in its 2014 comparison. Based on the FBI’s reports, the number of hate crime incidents in 2016 increased by 11.7 percent when compared with 2014 data.

Headlines

An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Doesn’t say who, when, where, why and exactly what.

This headline doesn’t provide details, such as the exact increase in crimes the FBI reported, or the fact that the information came from an agency report. If we don’t read beyond this headline, we may accept the idea that hate crimes have risen, without any data or context to back it up.

Implies the statistics may not be reliable.

The headline doesn’t explain what the basis of the “distrust” is. The FBI’s statistics are valid or reliable within a certain context or data set; however, it is important to note that additional data may recontextualize this set of findings.

Summarizes the main points of the news.

This is the essence of the news with no exaggeration or overemphasis.

Balance

Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • The FBI’s report shows that hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., which is a problem.
  • The rise in hate crimes is likely fueled by President Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters, as the increase has continued during his presidency. (HuffPost, Vox)
  • Increases in hate crimes show that certain groups are particularly targeted, and we should be especially concerned about them: white people (The Daily Caller), or minorities such as Muslims, Jews and African Americans (Vox, HuffPost, Reuters).
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • The FBI’s data is limited to what local and state departments provided, and those departments are further limited to the number of crimes victims reported (some didn’t), so this report may not accurately reflect the changes in hate crimes in 2016. We’d need more context to evaluate whether the FBI’s reported increase is happening on a larger scale — such as how it compares to overall crime rates, overall populations and historic trends.
  • There are many factors that contribute to crime rates, so focusing only or mostly on one factor (Trump, in this case) could be misleading. It may discourage evaluating other systemic factors, such as education, employment and economic makeup.
  • Hate crime rates reported to the FBI increased 5 percent over the last year, and there are specific numbers corresponding to different ethnicities, religions and races. Focusing on select groups without greater context for comparison might not give a well-rounded view of prejudice and related violence in our society.