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OPINION: If It’s On The News It Probably Ain’t Common

The news is about the extremes of a place — not what it’s really like.

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Yesterday, I ended a blog post with this:

In the United States, the cops will beat you but they generally won’t rob you, extort you, or demand the payment of bribes.

Then my buddy becida — who has lately been Vagabond Journey’s number one commenter — mentioned that cops rob people in the USA too, and then linked to some articles to back up his claim:

Armed robbery by the police is legal in the USA as long as they give you a receipt for what ever they take and they say they “suspect” it’s ill gotten gains. It’s called ‘seizures”. You hire a lawyer to try & get it back. I read one article where one city police had “seized” $20 or less from thousands of individuals.

And he was right, cops do rob people in America too.

But here’s where my opinion diverges:

If it’s on the news then it’s probably not common.

The news is about the peaks and valleys of any given place, not the relatively smooth ground in the middle. The news is about the polar extremes of a place, not what’s happening 99.9% of the time in the streets.

What’s happening 99.9% of the time is normal, and normal is never news.

TV is a good place to see the outlying aspects of the world, not the everyday — not the things that you’re liable to see, not what you’ll likely experience: the everyday that makes places and cultures what they really are.

When someone shoots someone in the leg in Australia it is a top news item across the country, when a guy in a rough area of Chicago blows someone’s brains out it’s hardly even covered in the local press. When cops rob people in the USA it’s the stuff of a big Washington Post executive report, when the police in Southeast Asia or Latin America systematically extort cash from entire societies it’s hardly anything to even talk about, let alone broadcast.

Everything happens everywhere, but something doesn’t really become a factor until it becomes a pattern, until it becomes everyday — whereupon it will no longer be news.


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Filed under: Opinion, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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