Sweden and the Media: A Tale of Two Realities

You wake up to a world divided into two realities. One reality where things are, and another reality where things aren’t. In one reality, the influx of migrants and refugees into Sweden has led to a rise in crime. In the other reality, this rise in migrant crime never happened and the Swedish government and media dispute any claims otherwise. These disparate states of reality remain in perpetual conflict with each other and yet co-exist at the same time. This paradox could only exist here in the Twilight Zone.

Ok, I am not Rod Sterling. This is not The Twilight Zone. However, if one monitors the news and social media on what exactly is going on in Sweden, it may seem like we are living in an episode of the classic, mind-bending television series.

It all started with a report on Friday’s episode of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Discussing the number of migrants Sweden has allowed into its country, images of violence and cars on fire from filmmaker Ami Horowitz were shown to suggest that migrant crime is not only on the rise, but spreading. Horowitz interviewed two men (not identified in the segment) who suggested that the crime rate has risen “exponentially.” Horowitz specifically mentions a rise in gun violence and rapes.

On Saturday, February 18, Donald Trump held a rally in Florida, during which he said, “You look at what is happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden — who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

What threw people off was when Trump referenced something that happened the previous night in Sweden, while also talking about well-known terrorist attacks like Brussels and Nice. There was not a terrorist attack in Sweden on Friday night. What he was actually talking about was the Tucker Carlson Tonight segment he watched the night before, and it set off a firestorm of confusion and rebuke online and in the media.

Source: The New York Times
Source: NBC News

One tabloid paper in Sweden even published a timeline of things that happened on Friday night, likely to mock President Trump.

Source: Aftonbladet

President Trump attempted to clarify what he said on Twitter Sunday:

He followed up on Monday:

Trump wasn’t alone in defending his comments. Over the weekend, many people went on social media to document the rise in migrant crime going on in Sweden.

Fox News even followed up with a defense of its initial report:

Source: Fox News

However, on the other side of the news, these claims are being refuted completely.

Source: The New York Times
Source: The Guardian

One report from Reuters says, “Sweden’s crime rate has fallen since 2005, official statistics show, even as it has taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.”

And this is where we are. We have two sides that are pointing to their own evidence about the state of reality in Sweden, and both sides point to polar opposite conclusions.

The op-ed from Andrew Brown says Sweden has always played a role in the fantasies of the world that reinforce a preconceived notion about the way things are:

“The wonderful thing about Sweden is that you can believe what you like about it. For much of the 20th century it was a place where foreign progressives could only believe that everything ran perfectly smoothly and everyone got laid, thanks in part to the exploits of Ingrid Bergman and the Swedish arthouse film I am Curious (Yellow). In the 21st century it has become the country where foreign rightwingers can believe that nothing works and that rape is widespread.” – Andrew Brown

He is right. When progressives in the U.S. want to make the case for universal health care or a greater governmental role in public education, Sweden is typically exhibit A of a country benefiting from both policies. When people on the right want to make the case for tougher immigration policies and travel bans, they point to Sweden.

The debate is no longer an ideological one between two sides of the political spectrum. Partisans in Washington and in the media are now debating reality itself. We live in a world where Sweden is both on fire and is not, with many committed to the way they view the world — i.e. their own confirmation bias.

We have drifted into uncharted and — frankly — dangerous territory with the state of news and information dissemination. Policy cannot effectively move forward one way or another if we cannot agree on reality itself. We cannot even have a real political debate on the biggest issues facing our nation if we cannot first agree that the sky is blue.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Photo Credit: AFP/ NICHOLAS KAMM