Fox News: No Fairness or Balance in Coverage of San Francisco Cannabis Tax Suspension

Recently, officials in San Francisco, California voted unanimously to suspend the implementation of its voter-approved cannabis tax. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who sponsored the bill to suspend the tax, cited the “illegal market” and “out-of-control retail theft” as the reasons for the tax’s suspension.

On December 5, Fox News published a report on the plan with the headline: “San Francisco crime surge prompts city to suspend cannabis tax to help dispensaries versus drug dealers” and while the statement is generally accurate, it contains adjective bias with its use of the term “drug dealers.”

Presence of bias:

By using the term “drug dealers,” Fox is continuing to demonize cannabis as a dangerous “drug,” and purports that those selling cannabis without state- or city-issued permits are dangerous as well.

The Fox News report also completely ignores that this tax had been previously suspended due to the city’s logistical issues getting businesses the permits they need to sell cannabis legally. This creates a context bias by not including the fact that the city had already not implemented the tax and the city would remain unaffected by the second suspension.

Additionally, the Fox News article describes San Francisco as having a “staggering surge in crime during the past year,” however, the city’s own crime statistics indicate increases among some crimes, while reporting decreases in others – including a 5.1% decrease in robberies, a 13.2% decrease in rape, and a 3.1% decrease in burglaries from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 12, 2021. The statistics do show increases in homicides – from 46 the previous year to 53 this year – and assaults (2,075 in 2020 to 2,271 in 2021); but the overall increase in the city’s crime rate (10.2%) seems to be largely driven by larceny theft – from 24,474 to 28,947 (an 18.3% increase).

The crime statistics do, objectively, show a crime increase but, again, the Fox News article fails to address the contextual issues associated with that increase (and “drug dealing” is not one of them).

An Atlantic article from September dives into the “crime wave” increase claims from 2020 and concluded that “America is in the midst of what is specifically a violence wave, not a broad crime wave.”

“Even as violent crime rose, led by significant jumps in murders and aggravated assaults,” David A. Graham writes, “property crime continued a years-long decline.”

Philip Cook, a crime expert at Duke University described last year’s increase in crime as “no crime wave,” rather “a tsunami of lethal violence, and that’s it.”

Yes, in late November, there was a “wave of robberies” at cannabis dispensaries, including in San Francisco, as we at Ganjapreneur reported; however, the argument could be made that cannabis businesses are targeted due to federal law forcing them to operate mostly in cash, rather than attribute it to a national trend.

The Fox News article also employs a false-balance bias in their last graph, pointing to a “mob of thieves” in Oakland – not San Francisco – that targeted dispensaries and traditional pharmacies. High-end stores in San Francisco’s Union Square were, in fact, targeted by looters last month; however, Fox News doesn’t mention those crimes as they don’t fit their narrative that dispensaries and pharmacies are key targets (and are therefore dangerous for communities), making it appear that “drugs” are the culprit, rather than criminals.

Fox News also fails to link the increase in crime rates with unemployment as studies have indicated, when the unemployment rate rises, property crimes rate rise with it by 1.8% to as much as 4%.

How to remedy:

Fox News is always going to put its own spin on stories – and target ‘liberal’ cities in the process – but including some city statistics, evidence from the city it is covering rather than relying on other cities to prove its point, and using fair phrasing (unregulated sales versus “drug dealers”) would provide the fairness and balance Fox News purports to convey in its reporting.

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