Tesnim Zekeria and Judd Legum of Popular Information write about how the media accepted the storyline from retailers that shoplifting was rampant without checking police reports and statistics.
Zekeria and Legum write, “Mainstream media has historically gravitated toward sensationalist crime coverage that often obscures reality. With Walgreens, a similar pattern emerged: the drugstore chain’s dubious narrative was spread unchecked by some of the largest news organizations in the country.
“One of the first viral stories on Walgreens’ alleged theft issue was published by the New York Times’ San Francisco Bureau Chief Thomas Fuller in May 2021. ‘The mundane crime of shoplifting has spun out of control in San Francisco, forcing some chain stores to close,’ read the subhead. In the piece, Fuller recounts a time in 2016 he saw a man grab ‘a handful of beef jerky’ and walk out of a Walgreens. Based on this five-year-old anecdote and a statement from Walgreens, Fuller declared a ‘shoplifting epidemic’ and called into question a sentencing-reform measure that reduced some thefts from felonies to misdemeanors. The piece, notably, does not include any data on crime rates in San Francisco.
“The New York Times’ coverage of Kehoe’s comments acknowledged that ‘Walgreens received national attention in October 2021 when it announced that it was closing five stores in San Francisco, citing shoplifting as the reason for the closures.’ The story acknowledges how Walgreens’ shoplifting claims ‘fed into political debates about crimes.’ The piece, however, fails to mention the critical role the Times itself played in amplifying Walgreens’ claims without supporting evidence.
“Since May 2021, the New York Times has published at least six stories warning readers of retail theft. Over the same time period, other outlets provided even more voluminous coverage of the issue. The Wall Street Journal published at least 13 stories on the retail theft ‘epidemic,’ including four from its editorial board. CNN published at least seven articles on the ‘wave’ of retail theft. And Business Insider published at least 18 stories on how retail theft has ‘ballooned’ into a billion dollar problem for companies. According to the Center for Just Journalism, the number of stories featuring the keywords ‘organized retail crime’ or ‘organized retail theft’ increased by more than 270% between 2020 and 2021.”
Read more here.