When journalists of the fashion rhythm accepts the generally accepted notions of fact and do not look too carefully at whether the trends they describe are real, the worst thing that happens is instability. When reporters covering addiction, homelessness and mental illness do the same, it can lead to policies that do enormous damage, especially when the mass media does not adhere to the idea that cops and coercion are always the most effective way to deal with these. problems and refuse to comply with the abundant research that shows the opposite.
To promote a policy that actually works, journalists and editors need to act more like science journalists and less like stenographers who – implicitly or explicitly, accidentally or intentionally – support political campaigns that use ignorance to provoke fear.
It would be difficult to find a better example of this problem than Nelly Bowles’ recent one essay in The Atlantic Ocean, who claims that San Francisco is a “failed city”, largely because liberal policies have exacerbated addiction and mental illness. These policies continue, she suggests, because local politicians refuse to confront the empty-headed but well-meaning delusions of hippies and their descendants who simply want to leave him. She also claims that the recall of progressive district prosecutor Chesa Budin in the June 7 elections shows that the city is finally waking up from this dizziness.
Bowles’s work is far from unique in his inability to examine the evidence of the effectiveness of different policies when discussing the policy around them. In a 24-hour period in June, a columnist for The Washington Post disputes that “Buden’s withdrawal proves that Democrats have lost public confidence in crime” – without mentioning which policies work best. Similar news analysis Fromm New York Times also does not mention real data. And a new York magazine essay on “Chesa Buden and the Defeat of Urban Left Policy” similarly ignores the question of whose preferred approaches are supported by evidence – and which are not.
Bowles writes that her hometown “has become so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of politics requires accepting – or at least ignoring – devastating results.” She described the de facto city-controlled injection site in Tenderloin as a place that looked like “young people destroyed on the sidewalk, surrounded by half-eaten packed lunches”.
Her argument falls apart in the face of scientific evidence. Hundreds of studies support the “harm reduction” approach used in clean needle programs and controlled injection sites – and none of them show that this worsens drug use or civilian life.
In fact, harm reduction was deliberately based on scientific evidence, not the banalities of the 1960s. Further undermining her analysis, the research largely illustrates the counterproductive nature of the use of cops and coercion in the first place. On the one hand, the red states with tough old-school prosecutors actually have worse crime rates than liberals like California.
However, because Bowles apparently suggests that harm reduction tactics have been adopted because they look great, she ignores this research base. (Which, ironically, is the kind of pointless approach she criticizes for the politicians in San Francisco they’re supposed to have used.) What she and many other journalists describe as a failure to reduce harm is actually a failure. of criminalization.