There are probably fewer pundits more consistent at their intellectual dishonesty than James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal. This week he topped himself -- no easy task.
The headline, responding to the recent reports of a woman in Wyoming who perpetrated a hoax pretending to have been threatened with rape by a right-wing hater, read:
'Hate Crime' Hoaxes
Why are they so common, especially on campus?
And indeed Taranto goes on to ask:
Why are phony "hate crimes" so common, especially on college campuses?
Oh really? Phony hate crimes are common? Taranto arrives at this conclusion from ... a single case? (He later cites two cases of phony hate crimes ... from thirty and twenty years ago, respectively. Neither were on a college campus.)
Where is the data to back up this claim? Can Taranto show us any more cases of phony hate-crime reports from college campuses? Yes, there have been some (we know of a few others), but just how many are there? Enough to claim that it's "common"?
Contrast this to what Taranto says about real hate crimes:
Oppression of minorities, and certainly of women, scarcely exists in America in the 21st century. Genuine hate crimes happen, but they are very rare.
In 2011, U.S. law enforcement agencies reported 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses, according to our just-released Hate Crime Statistics, 2011 report. These incidents included offenses like vandalism, intimidation, assault, rape, murder, etc.
So, in order for hate-crime hoaxes to be "common" they either have to number quite a few more than 6,222 a year (when in fact the number is probably closer to 6), or Taranto has to be claiming that the vast majority of hate crimes prosecuted in this country annually are "hoaxes." I'm sure the prosecutors and police who pursued those crimes and reported them to the FBI's database will be interested to know the latter, if that's the case.
Or more likely, Taranto is just indulging in his favorite right-wing pastime: Inverting reality on its head by trumpeting anomalistic incidents as representative.
In reality, those 6,222 hate crimes reported in 2011 by the FBI are seriously under-reported:
Federal law has required states to collect hate crime data since the early 1990s. Congress has defined a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation."
But states don't have to report their data to the FBI if they don't want to. Four states -- Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio -- don't even have a Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.
The result, critics say, is a federal data system that costs $1 million-plus but offers very little help to authorities who investigate, identify and track hate crimes.
"We can only report by the numbers we are given," said the FBI's Michelle Klimt, who says the lack of data could be because of a lack of state funding.
In states that do have UCR programs, the FBI offers training for state and local law enforcement on how to collect and report hate crime data.
On Capitol Hill, 26 senators have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to expand UCR programs to include tracking of hate crimes against Hindus, Arabs and Sikhs. Last year's deadly attack on a Wisconsin Sikh temple raised awareness about crimes targeting Sikhs.
"Without accurate, nuanced reporting of these crimes, it is more difficult for federal, state, and local law enforcement to assess and respond to the particular threat that the Sikh community faces," the senators said last month in a letter to Holder.
If authorities don't know how many hate crimes are committed, it's difficult to get an accurate picture of whether hate crime laws are effective.
No, James Taranto, the real question is: Why are phony hate crimes such an object of fetishization by right-wing apologists, when in fact they are relatively rare?