If you thought The Rake Vermont was above writing articles about corporate media’s favorite seasonal topic — discussing political issues at the Thanksgiving table — think again! In this special edition of Ask A Leftist™, we won’t tell you to be reasonable with your ever-present MAGA uncle or your reactionary liberal aunt with both an “In this house…” sign and a hatred for the unhoused. In fact, we encourage you to be completely combative and hostile, if only to remind you why you see these people twice a year at most.
This year we’re coaching you on the New York Times’ article “The Bike Thieves of Burlington, Vermont.” For the terminally online, this discourse has been done to death, but if you’re the token Vermonter at the dinner table this topic will likely come up. We want to prepare you for this possibly drunken, certainly awkward conversation.
Let us serve you some solid rebuttals to the article’s reactionary, pro-police, tough-on-crime framing so that you can let your neurotic suburban relatives know that Burlington has not, in fact, become some crime-ridden Mad Max hellscape. Rather, like everywhere under capitalism, what is sensationalized is simply a symptom of a society failing to meet our basic needs.
In the country’s paper of record, however, the cause of that symptom is nowhere to be found. Legacy media like the NYT exists to reinforce inequality and launder reactionary ideology for readers who are fundamentally happy with the status quo, but would still prefer the quiet part were said quietly.
So join us in drenching the dry casserole of misinformation with some hearty gravy of truth:
- Mention what the reporter heard but ignored. For example, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George tweeted that NYT reporter Michael Corkery spoke to her and yet didn’t include her comments “about the housing crisis in BTV and our failure to meet many folks basic needs.” However, it’s important to remember that even “progressive” prosecutors like George are cops, responsible for bringing charges against people, and that even George’s office continues the US legacy of targeting Black Vermonters while also sending people into our violent and exploitative prison system.
- Point out the poor reporting work. Alec Karakatsanis of the Civil Rights Corps correctly points out that NYT relies on unsubstantiated anecdotes from politicians and cops to argue that bike theft is what leads to violent crime. The article does not address rising inequality, housing costs, or the inaccessibility of healthcare. Instead, it is garden-variety copaganda, letting Chief Jon Murad of the Burlington Police continue to spew falsehoods without question. This includes false claims about “defunding” the police. The author interviews Burlington’s police union president without mentioning that he is currently facing civil rights lawsuits. Read Karakatsanis’ full rebuttal on his Substack.
Kate O’Neill, a local freelance writer who penned a year-long reporting project on Vermont’s opioid crisis for Seven Days writes on Twitter that the article is a “mess of biased reporting that doesn’t meet the standards of journalism.” Seven Days, meanwhile, responded to the Times by writing an article… about the article.
- Talk about the context. In this Twitter thread, podcaster and former reporter Michael Hobbes calls the piece “reactionary bullshit,” pointing out the irresponsibility of doing a full feature on petty theft in a small town of 45,000 people. We’d quibble with his claim that the article would veer liberal suburbanites to the right, though: most suburbanites have always been reactionary on this topic. It is also worth pointing out the seeming oddity of how in the last year, Burlington has been the subject of two national stories on how the “progressive city” is now a crime-ridden shithole. Murad is featured in both. (It’s almost as if having a local head of police who used to help the brutal and racist NYPD get favorable press coverage might have a hand in getting these articles published.)
- Provide actual data on Burlington crime! This thread by Burlington resident Tyler Littwin has a few points that Corkery easily could have looked up and included but didn’t.
- Remind people of what real life looks like. People seem to forget that all cities have crime and that urban areas have far lower crime rates than the suburbs. They forget that Burlington, while small, is not currently owned or operated by the Walt Disney Corporation and that poor and unhoused people are still legally, technically allowed to exist within city limits (despite the best efforts of some).
So there you are! As mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce are handed across the table, now you can ensure that misinformation won’t be passed along as well. Hopefully this keeps your aunt at bay — at least until the next wave of anecdote-hungry reporters descends upon us.
A Leftist is the author of the wildly popular advice column “Ask A Leftist™”.