John Hinderaker at Power Line writes:
I noted here that the news media's performance on the Sandy Hook elementary school murders has been terrible, with news outlets committing one factual error after another. Yet in all the calls for "soul searching" that have followed Adam Lanza's rampage, I haven't seen a single one suggesting that reporters and editors should reflect on their own conduct, either in publicizing (and thereby encouraging) mass murderers like Lanza, or in making sure they have their facts straight before going public with information.See what Hinderaker did there? Yes, a lot of people have been talking about "soul searching" in the wake of the Newtown massacre, but they're doing it in the hopes of reducing the number of future incidents like this in which large numbers of people die. They're arguing that the president and legislators and the firearms industry are literally killing people with the status quo on guns. Hinderaker suggests that the the press is also killing people, by mentioning the Newtown shooter by name and writing about him (he's not alone in that -- even I've written about the notion that publicizing the shooters encourages more shooters, though, on reflection, I regret that) -- but then he implies that just getting facts wrong as a breaking story is developing ought to occasion the same sort of moral self-examination as being in government or the media when a mass murder occurs.
And what sorts of inaccuracies ought to inspire a mea maxima culpa from the press? Here's one of Hinderaker's examples. He quotes a New York Times correction:
An article on Sunday about the way in which the gunman in the Connecticut school shooting blasted his way into the building on Friday and shot his victims multiple times misstated, in some editions, the caliber of two handguns found at the school. The guns were a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer -- not .10-millimeter and .9-millimeter.Hinderaker's gloss on this:
[This] correction reflects the ignorance of firearms, and mathematics, that dogs "mainstream" reporting on gun issues. Have the Times's reporters and editors seriously never heard of a 9 millimeter pistol? And do they really not understand how microscopic a .9 millimeter bullet would be? When people know so little about firearms, how do they presume to lecture the rest of us on public policy relating to guns?That's right -- if the Times, under the pressure of a 24/7 news cycle, misplaces a couple of decimal points ("in some editions"), the paper absolutely forfeits its right to address the issue of firearm violence.
That makes sense, right? After all, what if you'd been writing about the 1995 sarin nerva gas attacks in the Tokyo subway and, facing a deadline, you'd published an assertion that each attacker carried 90 milliliters of sarin, rather than the correct amount, 900 milliliters? What an idiotic mistake! Wouldn't it completely disqualify your paper from expressing a moral opinion about bioweapons attacks or the proliferation of biological agents? Why, you'd have no standing whatsoever to say that bioweapons attacks are bad! Isn't that obvious?
This, by the way, is a standard rhetorical gambit from the gunners: you city slickers think you're so smart, but you don't even know the first thing about guns. This, of course, comes from the same wing of our politics that brings you climate-change denialism, young-earth creationism, and the thirty-years-and-counting notion that cutting tax rates increases tax revenues and reduces the debt. Alas, the mainstream press and gun-control advocates have to do better at nailing the facts about guns, because it's a precondition for being taken seriously by the gunners. But the gunners are crazy to think inaccuracies of this kind disqualify anyone from talking about the overall problem of gun violence.