14 November 2018

An Example of False Hysteria As A Political And Law Enforcement Tactic

In October of this year, news outlets across the nation published a story about a law enforcement operation to find missing children in Greater Detroit. One TV news headline, for example, stated:
Officials clear more than 120 missing children cases after human trafficking sweep.
The natural response to a headline like that one is illustrated by this Facebook comment to a post containing a link to this story:
Geez what is Michigan full of pedophiles
The truth, however, is that the millions of people who read that headline or another headline like it, without reading and understanding the full story, based upon the United States Marshals Service press release linked below that it was based upon were played. If you read the full text of the story and underlying press release, the situation was far less dire. The linked story explained:
At least 301 missing children cases were given another look recently, encompassed in an overall human trafficking operation to identify potential victims, but a small percentage of the children found were actually suspected of having been victims of trafficking
. . . Only four of the children found were still actually missing. The others were merely still listed as missing in police computers because a guardian never confirmed they were relocated after reporting them gone.
The underlying press release is even more deceptively titled (emphasis added):
New USMS Child Recovery Unit Recovers 123 Children During 1-Day Operation
The body of the press release actually says:
All of the children located were interviewed about potentially being sexually victimized or used in a sex trafficking ring during their period of time that they were deemed missing. Three cases were identified as being possible sex trafficking cases, and one homeless teen was transported back to the command post after it was discovered that he had not had anything to eat in three days. He was then debriefed and turned over to Child Protective Services for aftercare.
Saying that 123 children were "recovered" in the press release headline was grossly misleading and intentionally inflated the situation to look much more dire than it was in fact.

Three missing kids being abused sexually and one kid being homeless is still bad. But, they recovered four kids. In the 119 other cases that they cleared they merely learned that the kids weren't actually missing and had already been located. There were no kids to recover in those cases and those kids were never exposed to trafficking.

This is a typically tactic to exaggerate what was really a pretty unexceptional effort and to create irrational and unjustified fear in the public when they only read the headlines. It is a tactic that should be actively discouraged by members of the media, instead of aided and abetted by them.

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