NEW YORK – A conservative filmmaker wanted to call attention to what he claimed is a “surge of violence” caused by immigrants in Sweden.
He has succeeded — even President Trump has heard about it — although some of the facts in the short film haven’t held up under scrutiny.
Now the Swedish foreign minister is decrying inaccurate reporting, Trump is defending his concerns about immigration, and Fox News is soaking up the page views.
Observers are able to choose from two versions of the truth — a dark view of a crime-ridden Scandinavian country or a brighter view of a society supporting refugees and migrants.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a general upward trend in inaccurate information,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said Monday.
On YouTube, the filmmaker, Ami Horowitz, described his ten-minute film this way: “Rape and violence has exploded across Sweden due it’s immigration policies. Watch to see what Sweden has done to itself.”
The film, called “Stockholm Snydrome,” reached a small audience when Horowitz posted it in December. It suddenly gained international attention thanks to a Fox segment on Friday and a presidential mention on Saturday.
The Fox segment was on one of Fox’s opinion shows, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” When the segment was featured on FoxNews.com, it was framed as a story about “what U.S. can learn from Sweden’s refugee crisis.”
The message to viewers was unmistakable. Fox showed portions of Horowitz’s film, including cars on fire and surveillance video of a 2010 bombing in Stockholm. The graphics on screen said things like “Filmmaker documents refugee violence in Sweden,” “Is Sweden proof of problems with the refugee program?” and “What is causing the rise of rape & violence in Sweden?”
The president, an avid cable news consumer, was apparently watching. At a campaign-style rally on Saturday, while talking about his efforts to keep Americans safe, he cited terror attacks in European countries and referenced “last night in Sweden,” suggesting something had happened on Friday in the country.
But there was no attack in Sweden on Friday, so some journalists surmised that he was talking about the Fox News segment.
Trump also said at the rally, “They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
On Sunday, amid questions from journalists and complaints from Swedes, Trump confirmed via Twitter that his comment “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”
The disturbing depiction of Sweden in Horowitz’s short film matches what some right-wing bloggers and commentators say about the country. But it is contradicted by crime statistics and other sources.
On Monday, CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson reported from Stockholm that some Swedes were baffled and amused by Trump’s comment.
The U.S. State Department “does an annual report on crime here for travelers. It says that the crime rate certainly, in 2015, was lower than in the U.S. That there had been an increase in crime from 2014 to 2015 of some 4%. But most of that had to do with computer fraud,” Watson reported.
Horowitz and others on Fox have suggested that officials are “suppressing” some crime stats.
(The filmmaker has also alleged this in the past. On Fox Business Network last September, he said “Sweden has done a phenomenal job of trying to cover it up.”)
Carlson came on Fox’s conservative-oriented morning show on Monday and emphasized the rising crime rate and “political turmoil” in the country and throughout Europe.
“There has been a massive social cost” associated with the influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Carlson said. He suggested that some people conveniently ignore the situation and called for an “honest conversation” about immigration.
Carlson repeatedly said that “presidents ought to be precise in what they say,” critiquing the president for implying there might have been a terror attack in Sweden on Friday.
But a big chunk of Monday’s segment was about other news outlets’ reactions to the president’s error. An on-screen banner said “MEDIA GOES WILD OVER TRUMP’S SWEDEN COMMENT.”
The president weighed in an hour later, writing on Twitter, “Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”
In fact, many news outlets have accurately described how immigration has posed challenges for the country.
“There is a political issue here having to do with more than 100,000 asylum seekers who have come into this country,” Watson said on CNN Monday morning. “That is not popular in some circles, that large influx in recent years. And it’s helped give rise to a right-wing party here that has some anti-immigrant views.”
In Sweden, there are concerns about crimes committed by immigrants, and there are also concerns about Islamophobic crime. Fox published a news story on Monday morning that touted a “migrant crime wave,” but didn’t mention the rash of attacks against migrants. Fox’s story centered around a single Swedish police officer who posted a “viral rant” on Facebook about crime in the country.
By Brian Stelter, CNNMoney