The Police Blotter Theory
When Kid Various was working on a particular political campaign last year, he was tight with a certain Mayor B. who was helping him out.
This particular Mayor had recently got into a fracas with the local press because he ordered the police to stop releasing arrest information to the local papers. This pissed off the local papers because one thing local press loves to do is publish the “police blotter.”
Mr. So and So was arrested last night at 11:30 pm on a pandering charge. Etc. etc.
Mayor B.’s theory in shutting down the police blotter went like this. His town was a good town with a pretty low crime rate. But the police blotter only shows the town in a bad light, that is, you only see the criminal activity in the paper in the morning. Pretty soon, people come to think of your town in that fashion. People stop moving in. You lose your tax base.
And that’s why Austin Bay’s latest essay about why we are winning in Iraq, but no one knows about it struck me as telling.
The biggest display, that morning and every morning, was a spooling date-time list describing scores of military and police actions undertaken over the last dozen hours, Examples: “0331: 1/5 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division, arrests two suspects after Iraqi police stop car"; “0335 USMC patrol vicinity Fallujah engaged by RPG, returned fire. No casualties.”
The spool went on and on and on, and I remember thinking : “I know we’re winning. We’re winning because –in the big picture– all the opposition has to offer is the past. But the drop-by-drop police blotter perspective obscures that.”
Collect relatively isolated events in a chronological list and presto: the impression of uninterrupted, wide-spread violence destroying Iraq. But that was a false impression. Every day coalition forces were moving thousands of 18-wheelers from Kuwait and Turkey into Iraq, and if the “insurgents” were lucky they blew up one. However, flash the flames of that one diesel rig on CNN and “oh my God, America can’t stop these guys” is the impression left in Boston, Boise, and Beijing.