On Mass Murder -- AP Prints Truth, Fails to Notice

April 22nd, 2007 11:13 AM

WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC, was one of hundreds of news outlets to publish an AP story on 21 April, entitled "Mass Shootings More Common Since 1960s." The pathetic aspect of this story is that the reporter found and included the truth of the matter in paragraphs nine and ten, but otherwise acted as if he had never seen it.

Both the title and the lede warn of burgeoning mass murder in the US. The lede says that, "Mass public shootings have become such a part of American life in recent decades that the most dramatic of them can be evoked from the nation's collective memory in a word or two: Luby's. Jonesboro. Columbine."

Buried late in this article that is filled with assorted speculations about the causes of this tide of mass murder, is this finding from Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections:

"Duwe found that the prevalence of mass murders, defined as the killing of four or more people in a 24-hour period, tends to mirror that of homicide generally. The increase in mass killings during the 1960s was accompanied by a doubling in the overall murder rate after the relatively peaceful 1940s and '50s.

"In fact, Duwe found that mass murder was just as common during the 1920s and early 1930s as it is today."

The article gets breathless over the question, "What is it about modern-day America that provokes such random violence?" The reporter speculates on decline of morals, violence on TV, availability of guns. Even economic insecurity and income inequality come in for a share of the blame. Duwe, on the other hand, looked at the facts on murder and mass murder, and concluded, "the availability of guns was not a factor."

Here’s the cite on this story: http://www.wral.com/news/national_world/national/story/1283718/

In short, this AP story is a classic example of a reporter who went out to report a story, got the story, but then buried the lede and blew the story. Why did he do that? Probably because the truth did not square with his political prejudices, or of the editor, or the AP itself.

The next to last paragraph of this article comes back close to the truth when it says, "Ultimately, it is impossible to attribute the rise in mass shootings to any single cause. The crimes only account for a tiny fraction of homicides." But even this contains a falsehood by failing to note that the "rise" of mass murders is identical to that of other murders.

Unfortunately, as a Google search will reveal, hundreds of news outlets have carried this AP story. Only a handful of the readers will realize that paragraphs nine and ten of the article establish that the rest of the article is a fact-free recitation of false premises.