Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Know your weapons. Every newsroom in the United States should post the order; every reporter should be required to learn about firearms before covering any story involving a gun.

Monday's shooting spree at Virginia Tech exposed several unpleasant truths about the media, especially the 24-hour cable networks:
•When facts are in short supply, fill time with speculation.

•A one-source story is all right, even when it's all wrong.

•Guns are mysterious and scary.
Many bloggers, including Tony Messenger and Fat Jack, criticize reporters for jumping to conclusions without certain knowledge. We can buy that argument, but only to a point. First reports from spot-news situations are often wrong -- at Columbine, several eyewitnesses swore they saw more than two gunmen; at Oklahoma City, Middle Eastern men were the first suspects. Reporters should do all they can to verify facts before running with them, but history's first rough draft will never be perfect.

There is no excuse, however, for the national media's lack of knowledge about guns. For much of Monday, we heard reporters wonder aloud how one man with two guns could kill so many people. A camera-phone video captured the sound of more than two dozen gunshots; reporters from all three cable-news outfits expressed amazement at how quickly the shooter was able to squeeze off so many rounds in such a short period of time.

On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera said a "guy with automatic and semi-automatic weapons is a weapon of mass destruction." No one was claiming the shooter had an automatic weapon. On CNN, a reporter spoke of the gunman's "22-millimeter" handgun.

Newsrooms are shot through with a lack of gun knowledge. People killed with rifles are the victims of "shotgun slayings." It sounds good, you see.

Cheese and rice, as a friend's kid used to curse. Cheese and rice.

Because too many reporters know too little about guns, we believe they're more inclined to take simplistic approaches to stories involving guns. They're too easily lassoed into stories like this one about the country's "gun culture."

When 32 people are shot dead by a man who then turns the gun on himself, the story isn't about questioning the legal way the shooter got his weapons. The story isn't about blaming guns (or video games, or foul language, or societal decay).

The story is about men like this Holocaust survivor who helped save several students by giving up his own life.

The blame doesn't rest with the guns. It rests with this guy.


Anonymous said...

Personally I wish the media could at least figure out the difference between a clip and a magazine. All day long news orgs have been talking about "high capacity clips" and that the shooter had "multiple clips".
They are referring to magazines which are the box-like mechanism that contains and feeds the ammunition into the firearm.
A clip is a device which is used to load a magazine or revolver. Big difference.

Larry Burkum said...

I see that Michael Sneed at the Sun Times has changed his story, without admitting he was wrong wrong wrong! Here is what he initially wrote:

"Authorities were investigating whether the gunman who killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history was a Chinese man who arrived in the United States last year on a student visa.

The 24-year-old man arrived in San Francisco on United Airlines on Aug. 7 on a visa issued in Shanghai, the source said. Investigators have not linked him to any terrorist groups, the source said."

Chinese? WRONG!
24-year-old? WRONG!
arrived here last year on a student visa? WRONG!

Sneed's one-source story led stupid fucking bigoted racists like Debbie Schlussel to whine about "letting in so many foreign students."

Will Michael Sneed or Debbie Schlussel apologize? I won't be turning blue waiting.

Anonymous said...

The Associated Press Stylebook lists these definitions under weapons:

Gun is an acceptable term for any firearm. Note the following definitions and forms in dealing with weapons and ammunition:

assault-style weapon Any semiautomatic pistol, rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or police use with a large ammunition capacity. Also, firearms that feature two or more accessories such as a detachable magazine, folding or telescopic stock, silencer, pistol grip, bayonet mount or a device to suppress the flash emitted while shooting in the dark.

automatic An autoloading action that will fire a succession of cartridges while the trigger is depressed or until the ammunition supply is exhausted. The form: a .22-caliber automatic.

bullet The projectile fired by a rifle, pistol or machine gun. Together with metal casing, primer and propellant, it forms a cartridge.

caliber A measurement of the inside of a gun barrel except for most shotguns. Measurement is in either millimeters or decimal fractions of an inch. The word caliber is not used when giving the metric measurement. The forms: a 9 mm pistol, a .22-caliber rifle.

clip A metal container for cartridges, inserted in certain types of firearms.

gauge This word describes the size of a shotgun. Gauge is expressed in terms of the number per pound of round lead balls with a diameter equal to the size of the barrel. The bigger the number, the smaller the shotgun. Some common shotgun gauges:

Gauge Interior Diameter
10 = .775 inches
12 = .729 inches
16 = .662 inches
20 = .550 inches
.410 = .410 inches

The .410 is actually a caliber, but commonly is called a gauge. The forms: a 12-gauge shotgun, a .410-gauge shotgun.

magazine The chamber on a rifle or pistol from which cartridges are fed.

pistol A small firearm or handgun, it can be a single shot, a semiautomatic or a revolver. Its size is measured in calibers. The form: a .45-caliber pistol.

revolver A handgun. Its cartridges are held in chambers in a cylinder that revolves. The form: a .45-caliber revolver.

rifle A firearm designed or made to be fired from the shoulder and having a rifled bore. It uses bullets or cartridges for ammunition. Its size is measured in calibers. The form: a .22-caliber rifle.

shotgun A small-arms gun with a smooth bore, sometimes double-barreled. Its ammunition is shot. Its size is measured in gauges. The form: a 12-gauge shotgun.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, cause when I'm down at the range we always refer to the AP Style Book to get our terms straight.
The AP Style Book is for defining protocols and usage and should not be a substitute for proper editing, especially when it is not even internally consistent or correct.

thom said...

BTW I'm not dissing you anon, just the media's inexcusable ignorance of the topic.

dirtsister said...

On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera said a "guy with automatic and semi-automatic weapons is a weapon of mass destruction."

Evidently, so are box cutters and fertilizer bombs.