Lott’s favourite example of the “Bias Against Guns” is the story of the shootings at the Appalachian School of Law. Lott performed a superficial analysis of the news stories about the shootings and found that very few of the stories mentioned the fact that two of the students involved in apprehending the killer were armed. Lott concluded that reporters deliberately left out this fact because they were biased, but my more careful analysis finds that the first stories drafted did not mention the guns because the reporters did not know about them, while the later stories were about different aspects of that matter.
Bernard Goldberg has a new book Arrogance where he makes the same argument and repeats Lott’s superficial analysis. He was interviewed on CNBC by Tim Russert on Nov 15:
Mr. GOLDBERG: That’s—that story, Tim—you know, I told you I don’t believe in conspiracies, but this one makes me wonder. Early last year a student at the Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Virginia, went on a shooting spree. He killed a bunch of people. He killed three people, including the dean and a professor and a—a student and shot and wounded three other students. It’s a blue-collar law school, so a lot of the students there have jobs. And two of them had jobs in law enforcement. When they heard the shooting—and the campus was running all over the place. People were ducking for cover and everything. This guy was just shooting up the place. They went to their cars and got their guns—and—and I did a lot of reporting on this, and tracked down one of the major figures involved, and they walked up to the guy with their guns from two different directions, these two students, and they said, ‘Put down your gun,’ and—and then they wrestled him to the ground.
In fact, only one student, Tracy Bridges said that he pointed his gun at the killer. Goldberg neglects to mention that Bridges’ account is disputed by Ted Besen, who says that the killer put his gun down before Bridges arrived and that there are no witnesses who saw Bridges pointing the gun.
I got a call from a criminologist, a scholar—a scholar, who said that he had done a search on the computer and found 204 stories on this, and only four mentioned that the students who subdued the gunman, who tackled the gunman as—as all the papers and networks put it, also had guns. I didn’t believe that. That could not be true; four out of 200. So I did a little research on my own, and I found some guy at the University of Iowa who ran two separate studies, and he came up with pretty much the same numbers, pretty much. I didn’t believe it. I did my own study. I went to Nexis and found the 100 biggest news organizations in America, which included the networks and the—and all the big papers, that covered the story, and I found six. Four of them in the area, making it a local story for them—six that reported that the two gunmen—that the two students also had guns to subdue him. They didn’t simply tackle him. They didn’t simply subdue the guy. They used guns.
Of course, the scholar he refers to is John Lott.
And I was—I was saying to myself, ‘Why would you leave out such a crucial piece of info—that is crucial. All I could come up with is that, since many reporters are liberal—most—almost all are liberal—and since many liberals don’t just not like guns, but they’re anti-gun, to—to do a story that says guns sometimes—sometimes are used to prevent more violence, sometimes guns are used defensively for good, that just didn’t fit the preconceived notions. And by the way, that’s what the book is about, the preconceived notions that reporters come to the story with. And on guns, the preconceived notion is simply guns are bad.
Or if he had taken a little care in his analysis, he might have noticed that, for example, reporter Rex Bowman did not mention the guns in his Jan 17 story but did mention them in his Jan 18 story and figured out that Bowman didn’t mention them on Jan 17 because he didn’t know about them. But then Goldberg would not have had this example for his book.
By the way, I think America is broken up into two groups about guns, so I’m going to give you my own bias. I’m not a gun person. I don’t like guns. But I’m not anti-gun. I wish everybody on my street, where I live in Miami, has a gun. You know, I think it would be a safer place if everybody had a gun. But that—that goes beyond, you know, just group think. That almost goes to group lying.
RUSSERT: But now when you raise this issue—I’m immediately curious, did the students actually fire their guns?
Mr. GOLDBERG: No.
RUSSERT: Were their guns in their cars?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Yes.
RUSSERT: Were they bringing their guns to school?
Mr. GOLDBERG: Yeah.
RUSSERT: Were they licensed guns? I mean, it’s a whole sidebar story.
Mr. GOLDBERG: That’s right. By the way, the—there’s a sidebar I did not put in this book, but I’ll tell you—and I should have. I didn’t learn about it till later. When—when somebody involved in looking into this called the Associated Press and spoke to a major, major editor there, and said, `Your guy didn’t'—talking about the Associated Press, ‘Your guy didn’t put this in his story,’ the editor was shocked, but not shocked because his reporter left it out of the story, shocked that these other students had guns that they brought to campus with them, and then put—took them out of their car, and God knows what might have happened if these two guys started shooting. That’s what he was shocked about.
Now this comes from a story (registration required) by Rick Montgomery in the Kansas City Star on the controversy about the media coverage of the shootings. Unlike Goldberg, Montgomery presents both sides of the debate, so Goldberg must be well aware that Besen contradicts Bridges’ account and that reporters did not mention the gun because they did not know about it. If Goldberg had bothered to tell his readers about these facts it would have undercut his message about media bias, so he just left them out. Montgomery’s story presents both sides of the question, while Goldberg’s is deliberately one-sided. Goldberg complains about media bias when the bias is his own.
You know, Tim, I said there are slivers of sunshine, but when I even hear myself telling stories like this, I say these guys are so arrogant. They better wise up. They better wise up because if they don’t change, they’re going to become the journalistic equivalent of the leisure suit; harmless enough but hopelessly out of date.
Goldberg needs to wise up. He can no longer get away with deliberately distorted accounts in his books because some blogger will check the facts and expose him.
RUSSERT: It is so important when you have an issue like guns, now matter how you feel, the fact is, the National Rifle Association does represent a sizable number of Americans…
Mr. GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah.
RUSSERT: …state their opinion accurately, and Americans for Gun Control have their view. Put both views out there and let people make their own decision as to how—where they come down.
Mr. GOLDBERG: But people get angry. There was one guy who went on a Web site and he really started putting stuff out that the gunman had already put his gun down before the students went up with their guns. That’s not totally true. The students came up with their guns. They said, ‘Put your gun down.’ The st—the guy had run out of bullets, was in the process of putting his gun down. He may have been going to the car to get more bullets. The fact that they had guns, these other students, no journalist could argue that that’s not relevant. Yet only six news organizations out of the top 100 reported that the subduers, the tacklers—tacklers—had guns.
“One guy who went on a Web site”? That would be me. (If you google for “Appalachian School of Law”, my blog shows up in the first page of results.) Notice how he just says “putting stuff out” rather than saying that I was reporting the eyewitness account of Ted Besen. And if Goldberg had bothered to read all the stories about the shootings he would have known that the killer did not have more ammunition in his car.
In another interview, Goldberg repeats the story and adds this detail:
And then I found one of the guys, Tracy Bridges, one of the students and had a long talk with him. And he told me—he said, ‘I spoke with about a hundred reporters. I told every one of them what happened.’
This is interesting. Last year Bridges said he spoke to over 50 reporters. Now the number has grown to a hundred. If Bridges embellished his account of the number of reporters how do we know he didn’t embellish his account of his gun use? After all, the first time he told it, he didn’t saying anything about pointing his gun at the killer.