Slate Gives Us A Lovely Example Of Deceit

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Thanks, Slate!

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

Source: Slate 1, 2, WSJ

29 thoughts on “Slate Gives Us A Lovely Example Of Deceit

  1. Even more disgusting:

    Didn’t the newly formed “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” (I think that is their ridiculous name) read the list aloud at a ‘memorial’ to victims of gun violence and didn’t bat an eye when they got to tsarnaev?

      • I heard about that, too. We have an epidemic of raw, conscienceless deceitfulness among public figures these days. What can you do with these seemingly limitless hordes of “public figures”- many being elected officials- who have no moral qualms about repeatedly lying to those they profess to serve as a means of political advantage? That they’re rarely taken to task for it by the press or their colleagues is bad enough. But that they seem to think they have a free license to do so is even worse.

  2. Jack, seems like you fell into that mental trap of people changing the subject to divert attention from the real issue at hand.

    Every year there are about 400 killed by American Law enforcement officials, or 1.6% of total gun deaths (25,000).

    Now why would you or anyone focus and ponder whether the death of ONE perp, Tsarnaev, should be included? They are a tiny fraction of the number of Americans killed by guns every year. What would be the point of having someone scour ALL the gun deaths and determine whether police or even private citizen justfiably shot criminals, and delete that from the total? Doesn’t change the argument for either side.

    I reviewed one month of police shooting data. And in almost every case the person killed had a gun. It could be said that the preponderance of guns led to their own deaths.

    So let’s keep our eye on the ball.. The inclusion of horrible criminals in the data is immaterial to those of us who have lost loved ones to gun violence, homicide or self inflicted.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States_2012

    • This is a bootstrapping argument if I ever saw one, as well as a justification of dishonesty for a “good cause.” I’ll repeat the same response I made to deery above:

      Explain to me the point of the list. Why is “Newtown” the focus? You seriously don’t see the deceit in this? Are you that blinded by bias? If I published a list of murders committed by African Americans since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, what point would I be trying to make? If I posted a list of 50 home run seasons since the institution of baseball’s new drug testing agreement, what point would I be making? If I made a list of U.S. Presidents whose second terms collapsed since the Presidency was limited to two terms, what would be the point? Would it be fair to include Richard Nixon in that list, whose term collapsing had exactly nothing to do with his lame duck status?

      It’s not a “bait and switch, ” it’s a dishonest advocacy technique, lumping apples and oranges together in a statistics based argument in which only the oranges are relevant, and claiming innocence because “I never hid the fact that the apples were in there too—you should have ignored them!”

      Ridiculous, and you should recognize and acknowledge it.

  3. I think they are making a good point. Police kill as many people each year as are killed by ‘assault’ weapons. Almost none of those people had been convicted, therefore, they are innocent ‘victims’.

    Lets play some more. For every firearm death in the US, there are 100 justified uses of firearms for self-defence (Clinton administration statistic). For every accidental death by firearm of a child, there are 15 drownings, and one accidental death by physician. For every death by firearm, there are 10 deaths by medical mistake.

  4. So the list quite literally outlines what it says it’s going to outline in the title, no more, and no less, and gets reprimanded for it? It hardly seems like a bait and switch, except for the reading comprehension challenged.

    • Oh, please. Explain to me the point of the list. Why is “Newtown” the focus? You seriously don’t see the deceit in this? Are you that blinded by bias? If I published a list of murders committed by African Americans since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, what point would I be trying to make? If I posted a list of 50 home run seasons since the institution of baseball’s new drug testing agreement, what point would I be making? If I made a list of U.S. Presidents whose second terms collapsed since the Presidency was limited to two terms, what would be the point? Would it be fair to include Richard Nixon in that list, whose term collapsing had exactly nothing to do with his lame duck status?

      It’s not a “bait and switch, ” it’s a dishonest advocacy technique, lumping apples and oranges together in a statistics based argument in which only the oranges are relevant, and claiming innocence because “I never hid the fact that the apples were in there too—you should have ignored them!”

      Ridiculous, and you should recognize and acknowledge it.

      • The stated agenda of the authors was to come up with a list of gun deaths in America since Newtown, a list that the authors claim is very hard to come by from other sources. They explicitly say that they are only looking at cause of death, and not motivations/blames for deaths.

        Having a fit because the list includes doesn’t include only “innocent” parties seems to me just about as sensible as blaming a coffee maker because it doesn’t microwave pizza. That’s not what it was made to do, nor did it ever say it was going to do that. If someone says that they are going to create a list of people who died in car crashes since Michael Hasting’s death, should I become angry that they also include people on the list who weren’t wearing their seat belt?

        You are imputing an agenda which the authors do not state, and then turning around and getting angry when it appears that the authors are not upholding that agenda which you created in your own mind. This is especially noteworthy when the authors have explicitly stated what their criteria is for inclusion upon the list. Does the Bomber fit the criteria? If he does, he goes on the list. It would actually be deceitful to not include him on the list if he fits the criteria. It seems the author(s) of the list are interested in a broad category, and are uninterested in refining the list down into “innocent” and “guilty” parties who died by gunfire (which by its very nature would be a formidable and very fuzzy task).

        • Baloney, and you either know it, or should. Ever since the Newtown massacre, the name has been a rallying point for emotionalizaing the gun control issue, and making the illicit claim that the victims of that tragedy were sacrifices to the current gun laws and gun culture. Children have been disgracefully turned into props, opposition to dubious gun control legislation has been compared to approving of and accepting the deaths of kids; Newtown parents, who have no substantive value to a rational gun policy discussion, were paraded before committees, weeping openly to make tears and sentiment, rather than real figures and fact, the basis for a gun control stampede. All of this occurred to the drum beat of “Newtown…Newtown…Newtown…Newtown…Newtown…Newtown…”
          And you have the nerve to say that Slate using Newtown as the benchmark for its list doesn’t warp the message, take it out of neutral statistics and place it squarely in the category of propaganda, and announces an agenda for anyone who is paying attention?

          You insult my intelligence, and your own.

          • So basically, you are angry for them for compiling the statistic in the first place, not for the inclusion of one of the Boston Bombers on the list? To go back to your civil rights example, I could quibble with someone making the statistic at all (though such a statistic is very easy to find, or compile on your own), but I could hardly protest on substantive grounds if indeed, the list included all murders committed by black people in America since 1968. Now if the statistic tried to slip in white murders as well, then that would be a problem. But that doesn’t seem to be the case that we have before us. The gun deaths statistics might be used for propaganda, or it might not (what if they find that gun deaths had decreased dramatically since Newtown, without the need for background checks? You never know if you can’t find the information.), but the knowledge is worth having.

            • I think you are being deliberately obtuse:

              1. I am not “angry.” I am flagging an ethical breach. If I got angry about 1% of what I write about, I’d be in a rubber room.
              2. The statistic, as a raw statistic, is swell. Picking any date and giving a rundown on the total number of anything that occurred is not an offensive act—masturbations by apes in the Bronx Zoo, eye blinks by Chris Matthews, foul balls in Shea stadium on the third base side, you name it. But published stats in a commentary website presumably has a purpose rather than random stats picked out of a hat. There is a purpose, and the purpose is not credibly “oh, we just thought it would be interesting to tally up gun deaths, that’s all.” The choice of date and the use of Newtown clearly means that the this set of statistics is intended to make a point, and the points is “look at all that carnage that has happened after we were on notice that guns were killing Americans! How can we stand for that?”
              3. In the context of that objective, and that was the message intended, then it was deceitful to include the death of a terrorist who shot and killed a uniformed individual, and whose death by gunfire was greatly to be wished, as well as not indicative of anything at all related to Newtown, and hence the list.

              • But published stats in a commentary website presumably has a purpose rather than random stats picked out of a hat. There is a purpose, and the purpose is not credibly “oh, we just thought it would be interesting to tally up gun deaths, that’s all.” The choice of date and the use of Newtown clearly means that the this set of statistics is intended to make a point, and the points is “look at all that carnage that has happened after we were on notice that guns were killing Americans! How can we stand for that?”

                So my original point stands. You impute to them an agenda which they do not state, and then go on to castigate them for not upholding the “bargain” that you had in your head. Especially puzzling when they, once again, explicitly state that they are trying to include *all* known gun deaths, including even suicides, if possible. The task that you are trying to set up for them to do, which is suss out “innocent” deaths from gunfire from people I guess who “had it coming” would be nearly impossible, from a statistical standpoint, given the finite amount of resources that they presumably have.

                • The agenda is plain to see. I will assume you are not an apologist for Slate or being intentionally obtuse and will optimistically try to help you see it (although Jack has been impressively persuasive without any help).

                  No rational person can deny that “Newtown” has been a rally cry not only against firearms, but specifically for the nebulous “assault weapon” and it’s murderous accessory the high capacity magazine. For some insight into Slate’s agenda you don’t have to look any further than the 3 ‘related stories’ at the bottom of the article for them to show their hand.

                  MORE FROM SLATE
                  Another “Accidental” Shooting. Another Child Dead. Another State Claims, Wrongly, That No One Is at Fault.
                  Is It Ever Really an Accident When a 4-Year-Old Shoots and Kills His Father?
                  A 4-Year-Boy Killed His 2-Year-Old Brother and the Father Was Convicted of Manslaughter. Good.

                  See the agenda? Guns are bad, gun deaths are avoidable and someone should be held responsible and punished. A tally of gun deaths coming from Slate that invokes the name “Newtown” and includes lawful and heroic measures taken by police officers (or anyone else for that matter) is intentionally misleading.

                  It is obvious now, right?

                  • Once again I will point out that people seem to have a problem with what they perceive to be the agenda behind the statistic, rather than the statistic itself. They set out to measure something, explained exactly what they were going to measure, and publish the results of that measurement. There is nothing at all deceitful about it.

                    Other people basically want the authors to measure something else (something which would be nearly impossible to measure), and criticize them when they choose not to measure it. It is a lot easier to simply glance at a coroner’s death certificate which reads “cause of death: gunshot”, than take individual gunshot case and try to determine whether it was warranted or not. Which is probably why the authors did not attempt to do so,. But there is nothing stopping the critics from using the author’s findings as a starting point to try to compile their own lawful v. unlawful gun deaths statistics. In this manner you can see how having such raw information is useful in it’s own right.

            • “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lied, and statistics.” -Samuel Clemens or Benjamin Disraeli

              Mark Twain understood this type of article.

  5. 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.

    About 600 in a year, according to the FBI stats, which would be maybe 350 at this point. Do you honestly believe the chart would look significantly different, or have been used by advocates any differently at all, if the total were “4891” instead of “5241”?

    I agree that it would have been better for them to state that they’re including justifiable homicides in their totals, since many readers skim without thinking. But to say that they were being intentionally deceptive is unjustified and over the top. Failing to anticipate a genuinely trivial misreading (the difference between “4891” instead of “5241” is not important for either pro-gun-control or anti-gun-control arguments) is understandable oversight, and not the same as intentionally lying. (If removing justified homicides would cut the total in half or something, I’d feel differently.)

    I suspect I know what your response will be: you’ll accuse me of being biased, a partisan hack, etc (a response you’ve already made 2 or 3 times this thread). I’d prefer you to respond based on logic and facts, rather than routinely going for the personal attack.

    • Given Slate’s procedures, by the way, there is no chance at all that 100% of justified homicides are being included in their total – they’re only including the ones they come across in press reports. Since the press doesn’t report every gun death, the real number of justified homicides included in their tally is unknown, but it’s certain to be lower than the real number.

    • That’s interesting, Barry–the first one in this thread to use the term “hack” is you.

      My response is as it has already been—of course it was intentionally misleading, and until you or someone else (it may not be bias, but I sure don’t read anyone who isn’t way left of the partisan divide defending Slate) explains how “Newtown” being used in the title of the list is anything but intentionally deceitful and an intent to force the list into the context of the implications the anti-gun advocates have attached to that word, this is sound and fury signifying nothing. And yes, without bias, I think your natural intellect and comprehension of what lies are would compel agreement with my analysis.

    • “I agree that it would have been better for them to state that they’re including justifiable homicides in their totals, since many readers skim without thinking. But to say that they were being intentionally deceptive is unjustified and over the top. Failing to anticipate a genuinely trivial misreading (the difference between “4891″ instead of “5241″ is not important for either pro-gun-control or anti-gun-control arguments) is understandable oversight, and not the same as intentionally lying. (If removing justified homicides would cut the total in half or something, I’d feel differently.)”

      A genuinely trivial mis-reading? Trivial to people who need these stats padded for their narrative.

      Also known as, “Ok, it’s a deceptive, therefore wrong, but it’s not that wrong!!!”

      Rationalization.

      If they were attempting to be fair, there would have been a clear break down of types of gun deaths because, in this topic, INTENT matters a great deal for both sides of the gun debate.

      On just the sub-category of justifiable homicide, the difference between 4,891 and 5,231 may be moot to you, but that is a significant discrepancy.

  6. I’d like everyone to have an educated discussion about guns and possible better regulation, but to do that we all have to work from the same facts. Gun deaths and injuries stats should be collected, but then they should be broken down by type of death, age, etc. I want to know if it was a suicide, self-denfense, etc.

  7. Personally,in light of police abuses of late,I’d like to see their guns and batons taken and replaced with water balloons. And according to what I’ve read gun deaths are way down. Or maybe it’s gun crime deaths. I don’t remember. Also,anti-gunners must know that taking away the guns of lawful citizens isn’t going to end gun violence. They must also know that the elites will keep their guns or they’ll hire body guards with guns.

    • Also,anti-gunners must know that taking away the guns of lawful citizens isn’t going to end gun violence. They must also know that the elites will keep their guns or they’ll hire body guards with guns.

      The only campaign that I am aware of that is more dishonest and invincibly ignorant than the anti-gun campaign is the Holocaust denial campaign.

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