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Tuesday, Jan 7, 2014, 8:08 pm

How Fox News Spun Chicago’s Murders

By Eric Boehlert

A mural in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood calling for an end to violence.
(Duncan/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Someone alert Bill O'Reilly, Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin and the rest of the right-wing media team that spent last year alternately belittling and hysterically hyping Chicago crime: their argument just fell apart.

Conservatives, led by O'Reilly, Drudge, and Malkin, callously used Chicago crime to attack President Obama and push back against his support for stronger gun laws. Pointing out that Obama's hometown is Chicago and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the city's mayor, they frequently highlighted the fact that the city struggled with well-publicized gang shootings despite some of the tightest laws in the country. The right tagged Chicago as a gun control test case and deemed it a miserable failure. (Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: "Slaughter in Gun Control Chicago").

O'Reilly has alternately compared Chicago's murder rate to "many Holocausts," and "Afghanistan." The Drudge Report linked to 134 "CHICAGOLAND" crime headlines last year, all meant to convey the image of a lawless city on the verge of bloody collapse. And Malkin let loose with her usual invective, denouncing Chicago as one of many Democratic-run "hellholes"; urban centers teeming with "juvenile delinquency, organized crime, ruinous government dependency, corruption and out-of-control spending."

Conservative conspiracists such as Rush Limbaugh even claimed Democratic politicians want the city's murder rate to remain high so they can use the killings to advocate for stronger gun laws. It's all part of a larger conservative media movement to portray Obama's former hometown as being driven under by murder and violence. They seem to want the city to become a symbol of doom and "urban decay," just as conservative pundits have enjoyed mocking Detroit's tough times.

It was also part of a larger, racially-tinged and hollow attempt in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial to accuse Obama of ignoring crime, which according to the conservative media telling is raging out of control. (It's not; it remains on a steady decline.)

But suddenly the Chicago taunts have gone quiet. Suddenly the claims that strict gun laws are useless and that Democratic mayors oversee killings zones have disappeared. No more "CHICAGO LAND" links or cries of "Holocaust," and Malkin has for now stopped referring to Chicago as "America's Bloody City."

Why? Because even world-class misinformers like those would have a tough time making a case against "Obama's Chicago," given the fact that the murder rate there last year fell to its lowest level since Lyndon Johnson was president while the booming metropolis welcomed a record number  of 46 million tourists last year.

That's right, despite the endless right-wing attacks on Chicago and the permanent conservative depiction of the Second City as a hell hole, Chicago last year experienced the fewest murders since 1965; 413 in 2013. (Context: Chicago at its worst tallied 943 murders in 1992.) The city's overall crime rate in last year fell to a level not seen since 1972, and every one of the Chicago's 22 police districts registered a decrease in crime last year.

"The drop is legitimately stunning," noted The Atlantic's Philip Bump.

Chicago's rapidly falling murder and crime rate stands as part of a larger pattern with major urban centers such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Detroit all posting sharp reductions last year. It's a trend that completely undercuts right-wing spin about urban crime under Obama, as well as the alleged futility of gun laws.

Indeed, the fact that New York crime has fallen to once unimaginable levels (i.e. the lowest in recorded city history) while governed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given the right-wing media fits. Seen as one of the most famous and powerful anti-gun violence advocates in America, the conservative press has tried its best to undermine his gun efforts and portray him as a hypocrite.

In Chicago, the police have been focusing on seizing illegal guns, confiscating more than 6,500 last year. The fact that getting guns off the streets in Chicago has helped decrease murders also frightens pro-gun ideologues. "Conservative critics," of course, insist gun law efforts don't effect the crime rate.

For years, Obama's critics have wanted to use Chicago as the centerpiece for a debate about guns and crime in America. With its crime and murder rate down dramatically, do O'Reilly, Drudge and Malkin still want to have that debate?

Their silence suggests the answer is no.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Eric Boehlert is a Senior Fellow for Media Matters and the author of Bloggers On the Bus: How The Internet Changes Politics and the Press, and Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. Previously, he wrote on staff for Salon and Rolling Stone.

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