Epilepsy vs. Race Baiting: Who’s Worse? Souhan or Lewis?

292px-Bele BW star trekThis is the tale of two toxic editorials published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Rather, this is the story of two toxic editorials that got two very different reactions.  One editorial by Joe Souhan  advocated the dismissal of a coach who suffers from epilepsy. The other by Jason Lewis was a blatant exercise in race baiting and fear mongering that maligned and entire ethnic minority. Guess which editorial provoked the outrage and protest amongst the good citizens of Minnesota?

When he wrote “In Category of Health, Kill Falls Too Short to Continue” Souhan ignored the basic tenets of human decency (Not to mention the basic tenets of grammar when writing a title) on behalf of a profoundly unbalanced set of priorities. Jerry Kill is the head coach for the MN Gophers football team. Last Saturday he had a seizure during a game to wit Souhan writes:

“No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.”

Souhan’s disgust at the spectacle of an epileptic seizure is so powerful that he demands Kill’s resignation presumably so that someone with a less visible problem could take over. Souhan reminds us that the current environment of blowhards broadcasting toxic commentary was begun by the sports shock jocks of the mid-1980s. The only response I can muster for Mr. Souhan is a simple suggestion that he consider growing up and acting like an adult someday.  Beyond my response Souhan and the Strib got an earful. By the end of the day Souhan’s ill-mannered rant had provoked protest and condemnation throughout the land.  One of the better responses appeared on Minnpost. The protests and condemnations got so bad that the Strib ended up apologizing on Souhan’s behalf.  Souhan himself offered one of those non-apology (i.e. I’m sorry you read what I actually wrote instead of what I meant to say) apologies but it failed.

Where Souhan was boorish and immature Lewis was deliberate and calculating. The difference is Lewis got a complete pass.

Guys like Lewis like to pretend they work at an academic level but without the pretense, as if they’re intellectuals. In fact if Lewis were an actual academic he’d be an academic fraud.  His commentary:  Black on White Crime in America” is a perfect example of intellectual dishonesty and racism passing itself off as courageous journalism.

Lewis’s opening volley stretches all the way back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s ( Who was a Democrat by the way)  1965 claim that the “Negro” failure to establish nuclear families was at the heart of their economic woes. Moynihan’s genius was that he relied on Labor Department data to draw his conclusions. Moynihan’s failure was that he relied on Labor Department statistics.  If poverty in 1965 had been a simple matter of labor data he might have been onto something but as it turned out he merely launched decades of racial stereotyping that guys like Lewis have been relying on ever since. The truth is that for decades, contrary to Moynihan’s predictions, despite their lack of nuclear families, Black poverty dropped dramatically almost by almost 50%.

poverty by race historical

Charles Murray (The brain behind: “The Bell Curve”) picked up Moynihan’s idea (but very little in the way of reliable to data) and ran with it. In the early 70s Murray created the myth of the welfare queen and gave Jim Crow attitudes a new lease on life. 

Murray has long history of releasing big thick non-peer reviewed books that raise alarms about everything from education to “family” policy. The problem with not actually being an academic however is that despite education (Murray and Lewis both have advanced degrees) no one’s around to check your work. Consequently almost the entirety of every one of Murray’s arguments is based on an elementary statistical error. He constantly mistakes statistical correlation with causation.

This is what Moynihan got wrong back in 65. If you look at black families there are dozens of variables that describe black people and black families. Many of those variables will correlate with black poverty because so many black families live in poverty. The problem is that there are a multitude of factors that have nothing or little to do with “Blackness”. To make this simple it would be like asking: “Why were so many blacks slaves before the civil war?” and coming to the conclusion that it was because so many of them were descendants of Africans. Yes, you would find a really high correlation between African descent and slavery in pre-civil war America, and if that’s all you looked at you could conclude that Africans caused slavery in America, and like Murray, and Moynihan before him, you’d be wrong.  

40 years later Lewis is still peddling those myths and committing his own equivalent of academic fraud. Having attributed black poverty to a regurgitated, decades old, and long since discredited theory, Lewis takes up the issue of black crime. Lewis’s intellect is no more up to the task of analyzing crime data than poverty.  He concludes that blacks are targeting whites at an alarming rate.

This is flat out race baiting, and it’s completely false. Here’s what Lewis actually says:

“While most violent crime is indeed interracial, 26.7 percent of homicides where the victim is a stranger are interracial. And in 2008, the offending rate for blacks (24.7 offenders per 100,000) was seven times higher than the rate for whites (3.4 offenders per 100,000), according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Accounting for population differences, whites are simply far more likely to be victims of interracial crime than blacks.”

I’m pretty sure I know where Lewis got his statistics, he mentions the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice and those are contained in a 2011 report, you can see that report for yourself here. This is the relevant passage:

Most murders were intra racial

 From 1980 through 2008–

 * 84% of white victims were killed by whites (Figure 19).

 * 93% of black victims were killed by blacks.

 Stranger homicides were more likely to cross racial lines than homicides involving friends or acquaintancesFor homicides committed by–

 * a stranger to the victim, 26.7% were interracial (Figure 20a)”


You can see Lewis’s 26.7% figure here, but just above that you can see the actual percentages of interracial homicides. If you do the math it works out to 16% for whites and 7% for blacks, that’s a difference of 9%. Sure you can say whites have twice the rate percentage of black interracial murder, but its 9%. Does that make whites “far” more likely to be a victim of interracial murder? In a word: “no”.

If Lewis wants to talk about “ likelihoods” then he needs to calculate rates and odds, not merely ignore actual percentages. To begin with the homicide rate for whites is 6 times lower than that for blacks so right out of the gate whites have lower odds of being murdered. The murder rate for whites is 3.3 per 100,000 and the murder rate for blacks is 19.6 per 100,000. We know 7% of those 19.6 murderers are not black and that works out to 1.3 non-black murderers per 100,000 blacks murdered. Meanwhile 16% of 3.3 works out to .53% or .53 non-white murderers of white people. That means even though a smaller percentage of blacks are murdered by non-blacks, a black person is still more than twice as likely to be a victim of interracial crime than a white person.

The other problem with Lewis’s information is that he seems to be assuming that blacks are the ones doing all those interracial murders of whites. In fact all we know is that those murders are not white, we can’t assume they’re all black.

If Lewis’s racism were limited to shoddy math and selective data picking we might be able to cut him some slack. The problem is Lewis doesn’t stop (or even begin) there. He lists several examples of heinous black on white crimes as if black criminals are more vicious than other criminals. In the end Lewis concludes that:

“ ‘gangsta culture’ is responsible for greater self-inflicted wounds among young African-American males than the remnants of racial bias”

Lewis is not referring to Italian gangsters.

Lewis is making a calculated attempt to provoke white fear of black Americans and he’s arguing that to the extent that black families have problems, they are self-inflicted. The information he uses to make this argument isn’t simply wrong, its dishonest, and as far as I can tell, its deliberate.  

So why did Souhan’s boorish article provoke so much more controversy than Lewis’s race baiting? You tell me. I merely note that unlike Souhan’s article in the sports section, Lewis’s article in the editorial page had the “comments” turned OFF.

Then there’s this; the reader might be interested to know that the phrase: “Blaming the victim” was actually coined by the psychologist William Ryan… in his response to the 1965 Moynihan Report.

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One Response to Epilepsy vs. Race Baiting: Who’s Worse? Souhan or Lewis?

  1. carter says:

    Lewis and the Strib should consider themselves smacked down and justly so. Curious that the Strib turns comments off on Lewis when the controversy he is paid to stir up with his half-baked “facts” would (or is supposed to) get more people to buy Strib or visit their site. They’ve apparently misunderstood their own strategy in giving his hateful notions an ongoing platform. Luckily Souhan’s bigotry carried them through this time.

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