A lot of people have trouble with the concept of deceit, which is the intentional use of apparently true statements to deceive. Now I have a wonderful example to give them, thanks to Slate’s use of the most sneaky of lies as its recent contribution to the Post Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck, Media Anti-gun Propaganda Division.
Slate compiled a list it called “How Many People Have Been Killed By Guns Since Newtown,” and illustrated it with an “infographic.” The list was widely used in the current “those crazy Republican gun nuts have blood on their hands” campaign led by the President, the Vice President, Mayor Bloomberg and others. The list is unreliable, however, as an advocacy device, since one of the names it includes is Boston Marathon terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a shootout with police. How many other gun casualties are on the list that are perfectly justified, legally and ethically, unless one is an anti-gum absolutist who thinks neither the police nor other law enforcement should have access to firearms either? Quite a few, it turns out.
The only explanation for including Tsarnaev (and the others) is to mislead the public and inflame fear and passion by maximizing the raw number of names on the “shooting death list.” Yes, this is literally an accurate (I guess) list of every gun death since Newtown, but if the purpose of the list is to dramatize the need for anti-gun measures in the wake of the Sandy Hood shooting, why is a Boston Marathon child-killer on the list? What does his death have to do with the defeat of gun-control legislation in the Newtown aftermath, or the Newtown massacre generally? Nothing…except that it inflates the number, to be used in fear-mongering and misrepresentation. And that is exactly how Slate’s list is being used…as if it didn’t know. Those defeated, Newtown-inspired anti-gun measures would not have have saved the terrorist, nor does anyone sane wish they could have.
Slate has been slammed for this transparent ploy, and published a disingenuous, “What? Us try to deceive anyone?” defense:
“The Atlantic Wire and others are asking: Should Tsarnaev’s name be on that interactive? Of course it should. The interactive is not a list of “victims” of gun violence—in fact, the interactive never uses that word, for this very reason. It is a pure accounting of deaths, provided, as our original partner in the project @GunDeaths notes, “regardless of cause and without comment.” The interactive includes a link to a news story about every death, so that anyone reading it can check the sourcing and see how the death happened. Tsarnaev makes the list because he was killed by gunfire—the linked story clearly explains that he was a bombing suspect killed by cops in a gunfight. The list also includes other wrongdoers killed by law enforcement, people who committed suicide, people who died in accidents, and people killed by criminals. And it includes Sean Collier, the MIT cop allegedly murdered by the Tsarnaevs.”
The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto neatly eviscerates Slate, writing,
“That’s about as disingenuous as it gets. The “interactive” may not use the word “victim,” but it uses the word “Newtown,” which conveys the same idea with far greater emotional force. If this were simply an exercise in objective presentation of fact, the question would have been framed neutrally–e.g., ‘How many people have been killed by guns since mid-December 2012?'”
Indeed, virtually every purveyor of deceit can make the same claim Slate does—“Why, all you have to do is examine the details, and you won’t be deceived at all!” But the deceit-master counts on the fact that most people do not take the time or make the effort to consider what is being represented. Tsarnaev’s name did not belong on a list developed to make the case that gun violence in the U.S. requires stricter regulation. Slate knew it, and knows it. Its cynical claim of innocence just compounds the ethics offense.
Pointer: James Taranto