Truth and knives

The press is in the grip of a moral panic at the moment. If you believe the papers, especially the tabloids, you can expect to be stabbed if you dare to leave your house. Try to get up the street and you'll have to dodge marching hordes of brainless hoodies relentlessly plodding towards you thrusting kitchen knives back and forward, like in some weird 80s videogame.

Of course, as unacceptable as any level of stabbings and murders is, the truth isn't exactly as worthy of panic as we're led to believe. The number of homicides by sharp instrument has been at roughly the same level for five years, and violent crime resulting in injury has decreased by 49% since 1995. Crimes involving knives make up only 7% of violent crime.

Still, it's difficult to open a paper without having the shit scared out of you about the danger and lawlessness of it all. The front page of yesterday's Mail screamed 'SCHOOLGIRL STABBED TO DEATH ON HER WAY HOME'. Today's has the first picture of the schoolgirl and the promise of a two page spread inside. That's where this particular moral panic gets merged with another more familiar one.

The big splash headline yells 'Stab girl 'failed by police''. That headline stretches across the story and past it, covering another story given the same billing. It's the story I looked at yesterday, with a different headline.

'The migrant knife culture, by police chief' it says, above a nice picture and an article that isn't actually by the police chief. Nice to see that the alternative headline is as misleading as yesterday's. There's also a cached version with 'mailonsunday' in the URL, suggesting a version has been sitting around on the website for four days, waiting for a good stabbing story to tie it in with.

The intent of this is clear. Chief constable Julie Spence's comments are supposed to prove a connection with 'mass migration' and the stabbings we see most days in the paper, the coverage relentlessly repeated and rehashed until the next stabbing.

Yesterday's paper edition had news of a man being arrested for the last murder splashed across the papers, of an anti-violence campaigner. Unfortunately for the Mail, the suspect is the victim's grandson and not an immigrant. Which might explain why the coverage was tucked away on page 31.

In any case, the link the Mail's trying to make between Spence's comments and the compassionately renamed 'stab girl', as well as the many other stabbings we've been hearing about, is complete rubbish. Here's what she actually said:
'We have had the Iraqi Kurds who carry knives and the Poles and the Lithuanians who carry knives. If it is normal to carry them where you come from, you need to educate them pretty quickly. We have done a lot of work to tell them not to, and we have seen it go down.'

She was talking about people carrying knives because they don't realise they're not supposed to. She was, quite clearly, not talking about anyone being stabbed.

There's a direct connection between this kind of reporting and the BNP knowing it can capitalise on it with things like Barnbrook's 'Blame the Immigrants'. Sure, it's not this exact story, but it isn't as if this was the first time the Mail or other papers like the Express has tried to exaggerate the amount of crime committed by immigrants. And it won't be the last.

It's dog whistle stuff. The reader is encouraged to make a connection without the paper actually making a definite claim. Complain to the PCC and the Commission will only look at the content of the Spence story - but readers can be relied on to get the paper's message.

And the whistle will make some readers hear 'black and Asian people' in place of 'immigrant'. Barnbrook makes a rather more heavy-handed connection with his 'immigrants and the sons of immigrants' schtick, but it's not long before commenters on his post are talking about the number of black people in prison and the genetic differences between black people and the 'indigenous British'.

It's no wonder the BNP like the Mail, and it's no wonder that the party's members are bewildered about the paper not going far enough. Which reminds me of the scene in 'Bad News' where Adrian Edmonson pretentiously tells his interviewer that the band aren't really heavy metal, and Nigel Planer storms off almost in tears, sobbing 'I only joined because you said it was heavy metal'. The paper doesn't have to explicitly say the things the BNP wants it to in order to give us that message.

Which makes it's recent coverage of the BNP more curious. Why, if the paper hates the BNP so much, does it carry on pulling this kind of stunt? We know one thing - the editor interprets his job as being to sell as many copies as possible by voicing his readers' concerns. Some of those readers are the 'I'm not racist, but...' crowd, who can convince themselve's they're not racist or xenophobic because they don't like the BNP. Others are actually the BNP. And when it comes to xenophobia and borderline racism with a veneer of phoney concern and respectability, there's no other game in town. They'll keep slavishly buying the paper no matter how much it attacks them.

The proof is Barnbrook's blog. Despite two big hatchet jobs about Barnbrook himself, one of his three blog posts is based mainly on stories he's read in the Mail. One of the others is making the exact same claim as the Mail is here, but without the finesse.


Chris said...

The real tragedy is that while the paper continues to imply connections between immigrants and knives, some immigrants will continue to feel threatened from Brits. As a result they'll carry knives to protect themselves against possible attacks.

So not only does the Mail create it's own exaggerated hysteria, but it may actually be creating the very thing it's moaning about.
Would I be sounding cynical if I said that is probably the plan, so they can quite legitimately continue to rehash this story every so often?

septicisle said...

The paper is also quite obviously implying by putting that story there alongside the photographs of the grieving (black) family that the "migrant knife culture" is among those of the "dusky hue", which as Spence's evidence says, is completely untrue. An incredibly nasty piece of tabloid editing.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Chris: I don't know about the cynicism. The Mail would make up some old cobblers without actually having to influence behaviour.

Septicisle: I'd noticed that but got too caught up with the language of the Spence article.

There's no coincidence that the responders to Barnbrook's crazy blog moved swiftly to discussing the criminality of black people. The dog whistle has been loudly tooted.

The PC Brigade said...

"Would I be sounding cynical if I said that is probably the plan, so they can quite legitimately continue to rehash this story every so often?"

No, the express did exactly the same thing t'other year, when kids are asked why they carry knives the majority say the same, predictable thing - to protect themselves from other people carrying knives.

Sort of a stabby version of Metcalfe's law.

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks for the post. I hadn't realised knife crime has been stable for a while, although it's still worse than I remember when I was at school.

Radio 4 carried a report a week or two ago that the catering industry, with the backing of the illiberal Anthony Worral Thomson, is proposing a ban on all kitchen knives with points! Thompson cites Chinese cuisine as only requiring choppers, but as someone who's Chinese myself, I find them too big and cumbersome for the fiddly jobs. How you supposed to carve your beetroot and carrot roses? (Only joking - I have a life.)