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AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
FOR PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCH
THE BIAS AGAINST GUNS
SPEAKER: Dr. JOHN R. LOTT JR., AEI
Professor PAUL WALDMAN
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
Professor CARL MOODY
COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY
MODERATOR: Professor EUGENE KONTOROVICH
GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL
Monday, May 19, 2003
[TRANSCRIPT PREPARED FROM A TAPE RECORDING.]
P R O C E E D I N G S
PROF. KONTOROVICH: [In progress] An interesting thing to think about is that as soon as you make something like guns illegal, you're already going to have a bias in how people understand the phenomenon of the risks against the benefits, because when an honest citizen in a city like Washington, D.C., for example, where it's illegal to carry guns, defends themself with a gun in the most typical way, which is by brandishing it to ward off an attacker, that's never going to be reported, so it's never going to be picked up in either crime statistics or possibly even surveys. So even the act of making guns illegal creates a built-in bias on how we're going to perceive the costs against the benefits.
Another interesting thing in Dr. Lott's book is he shows that there is some bias of the same kind that the media has, in anti-gun bias, in going government studies, even, of guns and the benefits and risks of guns. And at first this would seem more surprising than a media bias, where media can have their own opinions, maybe, but the government should be fair and objective. On the other hand, keeping in mind the purposes of the Second Amendment, one might even say the government bias is the least surprising of the two biases, because the government, of course, wants to portray guns as bad since the government as an organization does better by reinforcing its monopoly on force in making citizens rely on it more for their protection. So the government has a built-in incentive to do that. We shouldn't be that surprised about it, though it is an interesting result.
That said, I will turn this over to Dr. Lott for further discussion.
DR. LOTT: Thanks. I appreciate you all taking the time to come here.
Guns can make it easier for bad things to happen, but guns can also make it easier for people to protect themselves and prevent bad things from happening. And I think the question that concerns all of us is what's the net effect that it has.
This new book tries to add to that discussion on a range of issues from how guns are used to commit terrorist acts to stopping terrorist acts to the benefits and risks of having guns in the home to looking at gun shows and so-called assault weapons bans, among other things. Yet I think the main reason why I wrote this book is to try to explain what I see as an apparent gulf that exists between what the research shows and what people's perceptions are about the costs and benefits of guns.
I've also heard over time that guns are one issue that facts don't matter, that emotions are just too strong on this topic for many people. And I think that's wrong. Facts do matter, but the facts have to be thought about much more generally than just simple numbers. Guns are one issue that we're just bombarded with information about. You can't pick up a newspaper in the morning or listen to the local or national television and radio news and not constantly hear about horrific events that happened with guns. And all this information can't do anything but help inform people about guns. If anything, guns are one issue where we might just have too much information.
But the question isn't the amount of information; the question is how accurately the type of information we have informs people about the costs and benefits of guns. I think people have a pretty good idea of problems that happen with guns. In 2001, according to government survey evidence, there were about 450,000 crimes that were committed with guns. Of those, there were about 8,000 gun murders. Yet our best estimates indicate that last year Americans also used guns defensively, a little bit over 2 million times a year. Ninety-five percent or so of the time, simply brandishing a gun was sufficient to stop an attack.
Now we're having guns being used to stop crime about four and a half times more frequently, at least, than they were to commit one. However, my guess is even people who pay extremely close attention to the media are unlikely to know anything about type of ratio that exists there. My guess is it's probably pretty hard for most people, when they think about it, to remember the last time that they heard on the evening television local or national news reports a case where someone actually used a gun to protect themselves or protect someone else.
I have to confess, before I looked at this systematically, I kind of expected there to be a fair amount of lopsidedness in terms of the coverage. Even I--I think I was fairly surprised by how unbalanced the news coverage actually is. You can take the major broadcast networks--ABC, NBC, and CBS--we looked at their morning and evening news broadcasts for those three networks, their national television shows, looking at stories that they had about gun crimes as well as stories that they had about civilians using guns to stop crimes, and you'd see Good Morning America had about 77,000 words on--involving stories involving gun crimes; zero with civilians using guns to stop crimes. ABC World News Tonight had about 13,000 words on guns crimes, zero examples of civilians using guns defensively. And you can go on through the other networks.
Basically you have about 190,000 words during 2001 on gun crime stories, and zero words being spent on any of those news broadcasts about people using guns to stop a crime or protect themselves or someone else.
Someplace like the New York Times, for example, had about almost 51,000 words on contemporaneous gun crime stories--so those aren't even stories about follow-ups in terms of trials or whatever, but just within a few days of a crime occurring. They had just one story, of 163 words in length, of someone--in this case, a retired police officer--using his gun to stop an armed robbery at a gasoline station. This was buried way back at the back of the newspaper. And my guess is they probably wouldn't even have reported that case if it hadn't been for the fact that the person was a retired police officer.
The Washington Post does relatively well compared to these other cases. It had about 47,000 words on contemporaneous gun crime stories. It had 953 from three stories citizens using guns to protect themselves. Someplace like USA Today had almost 6,000 words on gun crime stories; again, zero on civilians using guns to protect themselves.
I looked at basically the top 100 newspapers in depth, as well as some other newspapers, but one thing that was somewhat amusing was if you look at the top 10 newspapers, over 70 percent of the news stories that they do carry about defensive gun use are in two newspapers--the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle. And it's not exactly obvious to me--it wasn't, at least, to begin with--why that's the case, because you've really got survey data. It's not like defensive gun use has occurred at any higher rates in Texas than it does in the rest of the country. It's simply different reporting rules that they had for determining what they would publish.
Now, a lot of this unbalanced coverage, I think, is understandable, in the sense that suppose you're a director of a news bureau and you have two stories. In one case, there's a dead body on the ground, a sympathetic person like a victim. In another case, let's say a woman's brandished a gun, the would-be attackers run away, no shots are fired, no dead body on the ground, no crime actually committed. I think virtually anybody who would look at that would find the first news story to be considered a lot more newsworthy than the second. I don't think there's any debate about it.
But while I think you can explain a lot of this--you know, we may care about both of those stories in terms of policy, in terms of what types of things will save the most lives, but surely, in terms of what's newsworthy, the issue's pretty clear. Yet I don't think that this explanation explains some very important aspects of how the media covers guns. There are many crimes that are already deemed to be extremely newsworthy, that are already getting extensive national and international coverage. Well, when these crimes were stopped by someone with a gun, as opposed to some other method being used to stop the crime, that particular part of the story seems to be systematically left out of the coverage.
My guess is, for example, few people would realize--and understandably so--that about the public school shootings were stopped by citizens with guns well before the police were able to arrive. And the reason why they're unlikely to know that is that if you go through and do news searches on those cases, you'll find that only about 1 percent or fewer of the stories on those specific cases will mention that a gun was used to stop the attack. And even in those cases, they tend to be in smaller local media, even in that 1 percent, so most people are unlikely to know about them.
You know, there was one-- I go through this more systematically in the book, but I'll just give you one case that kind of struck me from last year, at the Appalachian Law School in Virginia, in which several people were killed. There were two students at the school who had law enforcement backgrounds, that when the attack started, they ran to their cars, got their pistols, came back, pointed their guns at the attacker, ordered him to drop his gun; when he did so, they tackled him and held him until police arrived.
Now, if you go and do a Nexis search, which is a computerized news search of news stories around the country, you find in the one week after the attack well over 200 separate stories about the incident. However, only four mention the students having a gun in any way, and only two of those four mention the students actually used their gun to stop the attack. The typical coverage was in the Washington Post, which said, "Students pounced on the gunman and held him until help arrived"; and New York Newsday, that said, "The attacker was restrained by the students." There are others which say, "Students tackled the man while he was still armed."
Now, one thing I decided to do in this case was to actually call up the reporters and to try to get some idea about two questions: One, whether they actually knew about the facts in this case; and two, if they did so, why they decided to cover it the way they did. And one thing that amazed me, before I go into depth in one of the reporters cases, is how consistently the answers were across the different people I talked to.
Maria Glod was one reporter I talked to at the Washington Post--I actually talked to several people there. But she had in fact talked to both students, had talked to Tracy Bridges for over 10 minutes and talked to Mikael Gross for not quite that long. And they had told her in depth about how they had used their guns to stop the attack. And when I asked her, then, why it was that she had merely mentioned that they had--get her right words here--that the students had pounced on the gunman and held him until police arrived, her answer was "space constraints." And that was basically the explanation that I got from other reporters.
Tracy Bridges, one of these students, told me that he had talked to reporters at over 50 different news organizations and as a law school student, he has access to Nexis and was kind of interested to see what people had written about him afterwards. Did a Nexis search on the different reporters that talked to him and he just said that he was "shocked" that all these reporters that he had talked to had systematically left out that particular part of the story.
Now, as I say, you know, one puzzle is that given that something's already newsworthy, why is it that this one particular aspect of the event is left out? And I think it's hard to explain on the basis of newsworthiness. You know, I would guess that saying students subdued an attacker or restrained him or pounced in the attacker is probably going to be less gripping to readers than if you were to actually go out and say that they used a gun to go and do it--though we may have other explanations from the discussants.
Another example that I think is fairly difficult to explain without some reference to some type of bias is how the media covers accidental gun deaths involving kids--something that obviously concerns a lot of people. And we probably all have seen the public service ads that were very prominent during the 1990s that the Clinton administration put out that would have the voices or pictures of children between the ages of 4 and 8, never a voice or a picture of a child over age 8. And the impression that we would get from these is that surely we're talking about young kids who died from accidental gunshots in the home and that we're talking about something that was essentially at epidemic-type rates. And it's not just the public service ads, but I think the media itself has contributed a lot to people's impressions about the rate at which these deaths are occurring.
Now, one thing I do is I go and I give talks at different universities--probably about a dozen in the last six weeks or so--and I often ask the students when I go there how many accidental gun deaths do they think occur for children in this age range, let's say under 10, that would match these types of public service ads that they've seen. About the smallest number I'd get is, like, 450. When I was at the Northwestern Medical School addressing the first-year class a couple of weeks ago, they were--you know, I think the smallest estimate that I got there was in the thousands.
And, you know, you'd go and tell the students they can go to the Centers for Disease Control website and look at their mortality and morbidity reports and get an extremely detailed breakdown of accidental gun deaths as well as many other types of deaths involving kids, and you'd find in 1999, the last year for which data was available when I did the book, there were 31 accidental gun deaths in the United States involving kids under age 10.
And then you'd ask them, well, what do you think is the typical case? And overwhelmingly what would come back is, well, it's a young child who gets a hold of a gun and either accidentally shoots themselves or another young child. And indeed, that's the type of case that you see reported in the media overall. But yet, if you go and do a Nexis search on each of these 31 cases--and we did so; Jill Mitchell, in the back there, basically spent a long time going through and doing these--that you find that if you break down these 31 cases, there was actually six cases in the United States in that year where a child under 10 either accidentally shot themselves to death or another child. If you go back through the data from '95 through '99, you find that there are between five and nine cases a year in the United States.
Whether it's five or nine or six or 31, obviously it would be far better if it was zero. But I think some perspective is needed here. You have to consider the fact that there are 90-some million Americans that own guns, that you're talking about 40 million kids in this age group. And I would argue it's pretty hard to think of virtually any other item that's as commonly owned in American homes that's anywhere near as remotely dangerous that has as low of a accidental death rate that's associated with it.
You know, you have motor vehicles--for kids under 10, you have 1,260; residential fires, almost 500; pedestrians killed by cars in this age group, 370; drowning in bathtubs, 93--almost all these are for kids under age 5. It's like 91 for kids under age 5. For bicycles, it was 81. Drowning in 5-gallon plastic water buckets--so this is just one type of plastic water bucket--you had 36 children. And then accidental gun deaths is 31, and accidental gun deaths when the gun was fired by a child under 10 was six. And, you know, something I'll get into more later, but the vast majority of these 31 cases involve adult males who have a long history of arrests for violent crimes and are more likely to be drug addicts or alcoholics.
Now, when I've asked the media about this--because I do get calls from time to time from the media when they're doing these types of stories on accidental gun deaths involving kids--one thing that I've asked is why is it that this one particular type of death gets so much coverage. You know. And, you know, it's tragic and horrible when a child dies from any means, but why is there so much focus on this one particular type of death? And the explanation I get back from the media is that, well, it's because it's so rare, that man-bites-dog is much more of a news story than dog-bites-man.
And I guess I have two problems with that. The first one is that, as we say, you can find lots of other common household items, lots of other ways that children die that are less risky, as risky, or more risky than accidental gun deaths in the home. I mean, you have gruesome ways--you have as many kids, or more, who die being literally caught up in combines on farms each year as you have children accidentally killing other kids. And yet a lot of those stories don't even get local news coverage, let alone national news coverage.
And the second one I think is probably even more important, and that is even if it's true that this is being covered because it's so rare, that's not the impression that people come away with. They don't go and watch the news reports or read the newspaper story and think, geez, that was being covered because it's such an unusual event. I think unfortunately people come away from that thinking these events are much more common than they actually are and have this perception that risks of having guns in the home are much greater than they are.
Now, just something to compare it to, and I only go through this a little bit in the book, but one thing that I found in the year prior to finishing the book was about 10 cases where young kids around the country had used guns to save lives--fairly dramatic cases where they'd saved either the life of their mother or grandmother or someone else. And yet when these cases got coverage--and I assume there are lots of them that never get any coverage at all--they'd get a small story in the local newspaper where the attack occurred.
And, you know, there are cases I could give you from a boy in Indiana, who was 11 years old, who saved his grandmother from being further stabbed by a gang dealer, former boyfriend of his mom who had deserted him. The grandmother had adopted him. And he was threatening to kill her. And his father, before his father had died from cancer, had taught the boy how to shoot a gun. And he was able to fire the gun and kill the attacker there before he killed the grandmother.
In another case in Louisiana, another young child, his mom was dying from cancer. She was down to less than 90 pounds. There was a gang. Apparently--this is amazing to me, but apparently there are gangs that will literally go and station themselves outside of cancer clinics to find people who are going in there for treatment, because they may have drugs like OxyContin or other things, that they'll go and then rob those people and then either use the drugs themselves or sell them to others. Anyway, this boy saw these four masked men coming up to the side of the house, heard them talking about how to break in, got the family shotgun, and when the attackers broke in, wounded one of them. The men were later arrested when they took their compatriot in for medical attention later on.
But one thing that was strange to me when I would look at these stories is I'd see that these reporters had also written other crime stories that had gotten picked up and covered by many newspapers around the country. The reporter in Indiana had written a couple of stories, you know--had one, for example, involving a cab driver that had been shot in a robbery. And I think that had been picked up in, like, 39 or so different newspapers. And so one thing I decided to do is just call up the reporter and find out why it was that she thought that this other crime, that you'd think would be relatively more common in terms of a cab driver being shot, would get such extensive coverage whereas this case where this kid had used this gun heroically to protect his grandmother would only get one newspaper story.
And the explanations that I got back from the reporters was that they thought the media was reluctant to give positive coverage to kids with guns because they were worried it would encourage kids to get access to guns; that they had this impression that having a gun around would result in many more problems than benefits. And they just didn't want to, because of that fear, go and present it in a positive light.
Now, my concern is kind of the snowballing effect that this has, that you greatly exaggerate the risks of guns, you don't publish the benefits that are there--and, you know, maybe for believable concerns it seems like a very believable explanation that I got from the reporters, that they would fear this. But then what happens later on? The fact that you have these deaths that were prevented that nobody hears about kind of cements in reporters' minds and other people in the media the relative risks of people having guns relative to the benefits. And my guess is the next time they have this type of positive story they're going to be even more reticent to publicize it than they were previously. And this type of coverage can't do anything but have important impacts on people's perceptions about the costs and benefits of guns.
I'm going to be running out of time in a little bit, but there are lots of other news examples that I could go and give. I'll just try to briefly go through one. Because it's not just how the media covers the news, but in many cases I think the media creates the news on guns, in many ways to make it sensational and ways that I think actually endanger people's lives.
And given the recent troubles with the New York Times, one of the stories that I go through in the book involves a major series of over 20,000 words that the New York Times had on so-called rampage killings. These were killings in a public place, where two or more people were killed. And the Times had claimed that over the last 50 years there were a hundred of these cases; 51 of them had occurred within just the five years from 1995 to 1999. And the New York Times had said we're having this massive explosion of these attacks and that it's imperative that we go and adopt new and stricter gun control laws in order to try to deal with it, even though many of these cases didn't involve guns being used in the attack.
You know, there's a sidebar where the Times briefly mentions that the series "does not include every attack." But the omissions are so extremely skewed here that they produce a ninefold increase in attacks between the 1949 and 1994 periods versus the '95 to '99 periods. And I don't know anybody who has looked at this data who would claim that there was this huge increase that seemed to occur right in 1995.
So I've done some work on this topic--and I know one of the other panelists has done some work on this general area--and I didn't see such a sudden surge occurring in 1995. You know, it's going up and down over time--'96 had a big increase, '97 it started to go down again. But one thing I did was I called up one of the reporters that did the stories, Ford Fessenden, and I told him I thought that while they'd gotten all the cases I'd had from '95 on, that they'd only gotten about less than a sixth of the cases that I had prior to that. And he assured me that, no, they'd been extremely careful in putting this together and that he couldn't believe that he had missed those cases.
And so I asked him if he had a few minutes to go through these things. And he said yes, so we started going through them. And by the time I'd gone through about the sixth case that I said that he had missed in 1994, he said, okay, they probably had missed a lot of these cases but, you know, they had been as careful as they could have. And I also asked him why they had stopped at exactly 100; it seemed like kind of a strange number to say had existed there at the time. And basically what they had done was they'd gotten all--they had been very careful to get all the cases from '95 through '99, and that matched what I had, but prior to that they had only gotten the "readily available" cases and had gone through that until they had come to a total of 100, and decided to stop at 100, that that seemed like a good round number to stop at.
And so one of the things I asked him was, well, you know, if you get all the cases from '95 on and only some of these readily available cases prior to that and stopping at 100, you know, maybe that could explain this huge, big increase that you have in 1995 in these attacks. So our conversation didn't last much longer after that.
But one of the other reporters that I talked to from the New York Times, Fox Butterfield, I met at a conference. And I was talking to him about it and asked him whether they had--because they have this whole list of different types of gun control laws that they argue should be adopted. And I asked whether they had looked at it in any type of systematic way to see whether those different laws that they were advocating had any impact on the types of crimes that they were looking at. And he said no, that they had been told by some academics that they were talking to that there's no way they'd find any statistically significant effects from the types of laws that they were looking at. And so my concern was if they really believed the statements that these experts had told them, and if they believed them enough not to go and look at it themselves, why that they would then go in their coverage and go and list out all these different laws that they would advocate should be adopted.
Now, there are other things that we can talk about, from government reports, as Eugene mentioned, to polling. Just one aside for the government reports, it's amazing to me--you can look at the last 15 years; I could not find one single government report from either Treasury or the Justice Department that looks at the benefits from guns. You see continually estimates of the costs. So, like, every year you'll have the top 10 guns used in crime. Well, why not one year have an estimate of the top 10 guns that people use defensively to stop crime. Or you have estimates of the injuries from guns and the cost that has for society. Well, why not one time on the injuries that are prevented? And the polling I could go and give a long lecture on by itself, but--you know, if you have questions during the question period, I'd be happy to talk about that.
You know, there's a range of different gun laws we can talk about here. I'll just mention a couple. One is related to something we were talking about earlier, and that is the perceived risks of having guns in the home. There are 17 states now that require that adults lock up their guns, and impose criminal penalties on them if a juvenile gets ahold of a gun and uses it improperly in any way. And the benefits from these seem pretty straightforward--that you believe they could reduce juvenile accidental gun deaths. And there are some that claim that it might reduce crime because, to the extent that you have a trigger lock or a barrel lock on a gun, if a criminal steals it, it might make it a little bit more difficult for them to go and use the gun in a crime--though I think most people who make that claim don't make it very strongly because they realize that those locks can be fairly easily removed.
Now, when you look at the data, though, you don't see reductions in juvenile accidental gun deaths and you don't see reductions in violent crime. In fact, you see increases in violent crime. And I think that when you look at the data it becomes pretty clear why you find those effects. In the case of juvenile accidental gun deaths, you have to realize, going back to our earlier discussion, that the rate of children dying from accidental gun deaths in law-abiding homes is essentially zero. You're talking about something that's akin to children in those homes dying from lightning strikes.
And to the extent to which these rare events occur, they overwhelmingly take place in what we call criminogenic households, where essentially someone with a criminal record, an adult, is accidentally firing the gun. And the problem that you have there is that when you pass these laws--and this is true for many different types of gun laws--who are the types of people who are going to obey these laws? And I think what the evidence seems to indicate, that it's the law-abiding households that lock up their guns or get rid of them. When these laws get passed, you'll see about a 5 to 6 percentage point drop in gun ownership that occurs right when they get passed. And over time, you'll see a huge increase in the rate at which people store their guns locked and unloaded. It goes from about in the low 30 percent range to almost 70 percent within five years after these states pass these laws.
So the reason why you don't see any change in juvenile accidental gun deaths is because the households that are locking up their guns, I would argue, are the law-abiding households where they're essentially zero risk. The households where these horrible instances occur, these criminogenic households, many of these people it's illegal, undoubtedly, for them to own guns to begin with. And they're also not the types that are going to go and lock up their guns. And besides that, it's not really evident to me that anybody believes that a lock on a gun is going to stop an adult male, whether he has a criminal background or not, from accidentally firing his own gun.
Here's just a chart that just shows the ratio of gun and handgun accidental deaths in these so-called safe-storage states relative to the states without these laws. And this axis down at the bottom just shows you the years before the law--one year before the law, two, three, four, five, six, and so on; one year after and five years after. And you can see, this top line here is the ratio of handgun accidental deaths in the states with the laws relative to-- So if it goes up, it means that the rate's increasing in the states with these laws relative to ones without it. And you can see, after the law it goes down slightly, then it zooms up, and then goes back down and is about the same level it was to begin with. Accidental gun deaths also go down, then go back up, and then go back down again to about the same level. And it's kind of hard to go and look at this and see that there's any type of systematic impact that this law seems to have on [inaudible] accidental gun deaths.
What we can see, though, is the impact that this seems to have on violent crime rates. And you can break it down by different types of violent crime. Again, this is the same type of graph. It's showing the ratio of violent crime rates in safe-storage states to the states without these laws. It's basically falling up until the point in time when states adopt these safe-storage laws, and then rising afterwards. And you can break this down more finely for some states in terms of crimes in the home, and I would argue, when you do that, it seems to indicate that in fact it's basically crimes in the home that are occurring, that criminals, after these laws get passed, were actually becoming more emboldened to attack people in their homes. And the likelihood of a successful crime occurring also increases.
There are other laws that we could talk about. I'll just briefly mention one, and that's the assault weapons ban, something that's been getting a lot of attention in the last week or so. And, you know, this is one area where I think labels drive a lot of the gun debate. Assault weapons conjure up images of machine guns being fired on American streets. And I think the media's often encouraged this by showing machine guns in their stories on this issue. Just last Friday and over the weekend, CNN played multiple times a piece that they had which led off the discussion on the assault weapons ban by a machine gun being fired. In fact, these aren't the types of weapons that are being covered at all by these laws. The guns that are being covered are semiautomatic weapons that are functionally identical to the vast majority of guns which are sold in the United States, which are semiautomatic weapons. None of these guns are machine guns.
With semiautomatic, it's one bullet that comes out per pull of the trigger. And it's the same bullets that are being fired in other legally owned guns, and do the same damage. The difference is that a set of guns, about 30, were banned either on the basis of their name or the basis of some type of cosmetic feature, such as whether they have a bayonet mount or some design with regard to their gunstock.
And I just mention one thing as an aside. One of the funnier--at least, to me; I was probably the only person who found this funny--talks that Clinton gave was in 1998, where he spent the first part of the talk going and attributing the drop in violent crime during the '90s to the 1994 assault weapons ban. And towards the end of his talk, he was very angry at the fact that the gun makers had either been, by changing the name of the gun, because guns were banned based on their names, and you could just change the name, or by making small cosmetic changes to the features of the gun, had been able to keep on selling those weapons. So it wasn't really clear to me how he could go and claim in the same talk that this had been responsible for the whole drop in violent crime during the '90s. And of course he had other talks where he would attribute it in different times to the Brady Act or to something else, and then at the same time go and say that all these guns had essentially kept on being sold, maybe under a different name or something like that. But I guess it just goes--a lot of these are show.
But the thing is it's hard to imagine, even using the Clinton administration numbers, where you're talking about fewer than 1 percent of state and federal inmates carried any type of so-called assault weapon. And when you look at the--there's basically been two studies that have been done. There's one that was done under the Clinton administration auspices, which looked at, like, the first 10 months of the law and couldn't find any impact; and what I'll show you here, and that is--you can look at this -- they've broken it down by the five states that had assault weapons bans through '98--California, Hawaii, Massachusetts--I'm going to forget a couple here--New Jersey and Maryland. And basically you just find randomness when you look at that. You can look at murder and robbery rates, though. Again, this is like the other graph. Robbery was surely increasing before the law was adopted in these different states and continued to go up. And while you could say maybe it's going down on average before and up afterward, if you break it down more finely, you'd see it had already been going up for a few years prior to the law. So it's kind of hard to go and see really much of a change that's going on there. And if I could show you the same things for rape and aggravated assaults, you'd see the same type of changes there.
One real impact that the assault weapons ban seemed to have was on gun shows. You saw about a 25 percent drop in the number of gun shows after these laws were adopted, which may seem to indicate that maybe collectors or others cared about more whether you had a bayonet mount or something like that than other people did.
Again, there are other things I can talk about--terrorism with guns in terms of multiple victim public shootings, and other things. But I'll leave that for later if we have some time.
Just some summaries on these things, and that is my research on this book convinces me of something that my earlier research had convinced me of also, and that was that lots of things affect crime. I don't think gun ownership is anywhere near the most important thing that affects it. I think the most important single factor that affects crime rates are the police--I think one thing the police understand themselves--in that they virtually always arrive on the crime scene after the crime's been committed. And that raises real questions about what do you advise someone to do when they're having to confront a criminal by themselves? And simply telling somebody to behave passively doesn't turn out to be very good advice.
The second point is that who benefits the most from owning a gun? And basically my research indicates to me it's people who tend to be the most vulnerable people in our society--people who are relatively weaker physically, women, the elderly--as well as people who are most likely to be victims of crime, and that tends to be poor people, particularly blacks who live in high-crime urban areas.
You know, just kind of as a last point, my guess is the debate that we have on guns right now would be dramatically different if even a few of the dramatic cases where people use guns to protect themselves and stop violent crime got some news coverage. But the fact that people constantly only hear about the bad things that happen with guns and never hear about the benefits mentioned is a real impact on people's perceptions and I think has a real impact on this debate.
All right, I think I'm about on time.
PROF. KONTOROVICH: Thank you very much, John. We're going to continue the discussion of the bias against guns with our two panelists. The first half of the book presents this kind of evidence that we saw up on the chart about media stories and journalistic coverage of guns. And the second half of the book presents econometric evidence about the impact of gun regulations on gun ownership, gun crime, and so forth.
Our two panelists are variously equipped to discuss both issues. Paul Waldman is the associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches and conducts research on media and politics. And immediately on my left, Carlisle Moody is a professor of economics and chair of the Economics Department at the College of William and Mary, where, amongst other things, he teaches econometrics.
So starting with Prof. Waldman, perhaps, and then continue the discussion.
PROF. WALDMAN: Okay. I'll try not to go over my 10 minutes.
There's no question there's a bias in media coverage of issues relating to crime and guns, but the question is what exactly is this kind of bias. The question is, are the people who produce the news actively distorting things in order to adhere to their own worldview, or their agenda.
Now, there's always a possibility that individual editors and journalists are doing that. And, John, some of your discussions with journalists might indicate that they are, my experience, and you might agree, is that while journalists are very thoughtful about sort of the big picture of what journalism is, it's hard to get them to admit they made a mistake.
But in any case, as you say, a murder is self-evidently more newsworthy than somebody brandishing a gun and fending off an attacker that way. And indeed, since most of those cases are probably never reported to the police, there's no way for reporters to find out about them. So they can't, by their very nature, show up in the news.
So there are a lot of different biases that the news has. It has a bias for the event over the non-event, the thing that actually happens as opposed to the thing that never happens; for the violent over the placid; for the dramatic over the mundane. So that, I think, is the most important reason why there's so much more news about things like murders when guns are actually used than when they're not used or used in a way that doesn't actually result in anyone's death or injury.
So that, I think, probably no one would disagree with, that, you know, the reason that, for instance, the New York Times of the Washington Post doesn't do a story about someone in Kansas City fending off an attacker by brandishing a gun is that they're never going to hear about it, they're never going to know about it. It doesn't have--just by the standards they use to judge what's news and what's not, it's never going to show up their radar screen to begin with.
And I think we should note also that for a lot of what's important, we're talking about local news, too. Now, you mentioned 8,000 murders. Most of those never show up on the national news. Some of them do, some of them more than others. You know, we've all heard a lot about Laci Peterson. But most of those stories are never going to get reported in the national news. They're going to show up on local news.
Now, local news has it's own biases. There haven't been a lot of studies of local news, but the ones that have been done indicate that it's pretty much soaked in blood wherever you go. You know, we've all heard the expression, "If it bleeds, it leads." And that is completely unrelated to any kind of real-world incidence of crime. For instance, in the 1990s, crime was going down throughout the decade, and the amount of crime that was appearing in local news was going up. The news was getting more and more violent, and there are a lot of consequences of that.
There is a whole line of research that indicates that there's something called the mean-world syndrome, where people who watch a lot of television get the sense that the world is violent and dangerous and end up sort of staying home--which may end up producing crime, in an odd way.
But in any case, John, you talk about children, and I think that's important because kids are used by journalists as kind of an easy device to lend emotion and drama to their news. And you wonder why children getting shot gets more attention than other kinds of deaths. I think it's because it's tragic and violent and dramatic all at the same time. And these are things that news is drawn to.
We also have an idea in our culture that there's something inherently dramatic about guns. If you look at--if you open up the newspaper, look in the Style section and see the ads for films. Every R-rated film that has any kind of action component has the star of the film posing holding a gun. Right? That's a signal that there something dramatic that's going to happen. So we have this equation of guns = drama. It's more dramatic even than another kind of violent death, like a kid getting sucked into a combine.
So there's a lot of different cases where you can find things that show up in news that don't really reflect reality. Very, very few children get abducted by strangers every year. It's an incredibly rare occurrence. But when it happens, it can become a national story. More children die of diarrhea every day than people who have been killed by SARS, for instance. But we don't hear about that.
So there's a lot of things that the news gets wrong that reflects the biases that they have, but it may not, in this case be necessarily an anti-gun bias.
I want to give one more example. You tell an interesting story about a boy who got shot on his birthday that generated a lot of coverage. And that, you know, there's nothing that reporters gravitate toward more than tragic irony--like moths to a flame.
So I want to talk for a moment about the debates that happen in Washington, because I think that's its own kind of animal when you're talking about news coverage. The coverage of debates over gun control is unfair to both sides in many ways, because, like most coverage of politics, it's centered around kind of the strategic tactical moves. You know, I was once talking to a White House reporter, and I asked her why she--why, not her in particular, but why reporters in general spend so much time talking about the kind of strategic moves and polls and who's up and who's down. And she said, you know, I'm not an expert in welfare policy, I don't know a lot about foreign policy; what I know a lot about is politics. And that's what I cover.
Now, one of the things that's inherent in that kind of strategic tactical frame that covers so much political coverage is that no one's acting on good faith. And so both sides are--if you look at, say we're talking about a piece of legislation, both sides are being pressured by the pressure groups on the right and the left. And when somebody votes against a gun control measure, it's because they're knuckling under to the NRA; and similarly on the other side, when somebody votes for it, it's because they're responding the pressure groups or the voting blocs that want gun control. So the coverage of the debates in Washington can be unfair to both sides.
Now, the question is, what would fair coverage look like? Well, it would have a couple of elements. It would in roughly equal measure present the arguments on both sides. And I think when we're talking about debates in Washington, there's no question that it does that. Reporters are obsessively two-sided about these kinds of things. You know, Democrats say X, Republicans say Y. There's often not much of an effort to find out whether one side or the other is really telling the truth, but in these kinds of cases both sides are getting their arguments into the news.
The second thing we might look for is that the relevant facts that underlie that debate are being portrayed accurately. And I think the essence of the critique is are those facts being portrayed accurately. So that's really the question.
Now also I would say, when we're talking about the events that lay the context for it, there is, I think, kind of an exponential curve of the level of violence as it relates to coverage. So if you have somebody who goes in somewhere to a mall or something and kills 10 people, it's going to get much more than 10 times the coverage of 10 similar incidents where one person gets killed. The more violent a situation is--and that's why those multiple-victim shootings get so much news. Like I said, it goes up exponentially.
Now, looking around to see what kinds of research has been done on the question of coverage of gun control debates, there's remarkably little. So I think for that reason alone this book is very valuable, because it's something that just hasn't been researched a lot. But I found one good study that was done in 2001, where two researchers analyzed the press releases that were issued by the NRA and by Handgun Control over the course of about eight years, and did an analysis of what kinds of arguments they were making in their press releases--so their communication--and then what kinds of arguments were showing up in the news.
What they found out was that neither the NRA nor Handgun Control was particularly successful in getting the media to adopt their particular [tape change] -- So for the NRA, the main argument they were making was that these were just feel-good laws, that they were useless, that they just made everybody feel good, but they didn't really do anything. And the Handgun Control's main argument was what they called "sensible legislation," that this was a reasonable response to what was happening.
Now, it turned out that what they found was that over this eight-year period--and this covers the [inaudible] of the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban--that the frame that most dominated was something that was more friendly to the gun control side, but it wasn't the frame that they themselves were advancing; it was what they called cultural violence. So the only problem was that the coverage didn't--it posed the gun control debate as a response to events that had happened, shootings that had happened, this cultural violence that we supposedly have. But it didn't address at all whether or not the proposed measure to combat it were actually going to do anything. The reporters never got into the kind of empirical questions about is this going to work, what are the possibilities. And that, I think, is--you can see in a lot of different debates where reporters don't want to go into making those kinds of judgments because it's going to sound like editorializing. It's much safer to stick to Democrats say X and Republicans say Y, and we're not going to tell you whether we think one side is more right than the other.
Now, reporters, particularly Washington reporters, take their cues about how to frame debates from what elites are saying. This is what communication researchers call indexing. Okay? So they look at what the basically the elite voices are, the people who have power and the people who are close to power, and that determines what the parameters of the debate are going to be.
Now, the question of whether more guns actually results in less crime is something that's relatively recent. And when we started asking, it was a pretty radical notion. And you can see even the NRA, for--I don't know if they do now, but for much of the time, that wasn't an argument they were really making. So I think that if, you know, tomorrow every pro gun legislator decided that this is going to be the main crux of their argument on gun control, you would see it in the news, because reporters are going to take their cues from what the people who have power are saying. So if that's the argument that, you know, the White House is making and that Republicans in the House and the Senate are making, then that's going to show up in the news. If they're making a different kind of argument, about, you know, constitutional rights or whatever it is, that's the argument that's going to structure what the news is.
A couple of minor points. You talk about polls, which I think is a really good idea, too. It's a good idea to look at polls to see what--that's a good reflection of how reporters are structuring coverage and it can at times influence the coverage that then ensues. And in your analysis, you said that basically the choice that was posed to people when they were offering polls was between more gun control or enforce the laws we have. And that's the argument that the pro gun side has up until recently been making, is that we don't need more laws, we just need to enforce the current laws. And so that's the thing that's posed to respondents and then that ends up showing up on the news.
I did some searches in polling databases and I found that the idea that gun control laws are going to increase crime has actually become relatively common, particularly in polls done by newspapers in states where they are debating gun control laws and child issue laws and things like that. So it is showing up now.
MR. : [Off-microphone, inaudible.]
PROF. WALDMAN: You know, I don't really remember.
MR. : [Off-microphone, inaudible.]
PROF. WALDMAN: I have just a couple of closing things. One thing that I'm just curious about, in looking over the book I'm wondering about how much of the variance in crime rates these kinds of models explain. You know, I'm not a criminologist, I don't know. I'm just curious. Maybe you can talk about that briefly, is how much of an impact are we really talking about in general?
And I also would be curious to know, since, you know, you've been part of the debate in places where they're actually passing laws, if you could talk a little bit, if you have the chance, about how you feel that once you produce your analyses, how they get used. Here's the sort of the problem I'm a little concerned about, is that the analysis that you've done and the analyses that have been done by some people who have critiqued your work and taken the opposite position are highly technical. They're impenetrable to, you know, 99 percent of educated laypeople--forget about ordinary people. So we're talking about very complicated questions that have, you know, not many are [inaudible] and they're different in different places, and I'm guessing, you know--you can tell me what the answer is--that even the best models are only getting a portion of the variance. So then you present this, then, to policy makers. And what happens?
Well, you know, I think that [inaudible] certainly among ordinary people and probably among a lot of policy makers that, you know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. My favorite aphorism about statistics is that the data will confess to anything if tortured long enough. And I think that that kind of idea is shared by a lot of people who are kind of the most important consumers of this kind of work.
So what happens? Well, you have people who are strongly pro gun who are looking for some kind of veneer of science to put on the position they already have, and then you have people who are strongly anti-gun who want the same thing and they can find that, too. You know, there are people who have criticized your work who are equally methodologically sophisticated. Neither--I'm betting that the kind of details of the analysis are understood by neither side, when you're talking about the policy makers.
So I'm just wondering if you have any comments about how you feel like your work has been used, how you perceive the debate has proceeded, and what happened with kind of the--I don't know if there are too many of these, but the sort of genuinely undecided policy makers in the middle who, you know, aren't looking for something to attach to the views they already hold but actually want to figure out for themselves what the best sort of solution might be. And I don't know if you'll have a chance to talk about that, but I'll be interested to hear.
And that's all I have.
PROF. MOODY: In fact, I'm going to talk about it.
PROF. KONTOROVICH: Okay, you have the floor. Maybe you could tell us whether there's objective truth in econometrics.
PROF. MOODY: This is a lead-in to what I was going to say. The second half of John's book is a series of articles that could have been published in a variety of journals--criminology journals, economics journals, and so on.
For example, the shall-issue law seems to reduce acts of terror. Safe-storage laws, increasing the age to allow access to guns, the one-gun-per-month law, the waiting period, firearm sentencing enhancements, use-a-gun-go-to-jail laws, gun show regulations, and assault weapons bans--these are all studies that appear in the second half of John's book, and he finds that they essentially have either no effect or an unintended consequence, where they make things worse. They not only do not succeed in their stated objective, but they actually make things worse.
And so the question arises, since this is a contribution to the debate, and if you're not an expert--I'm going to assume for the sake of argument that you're not a statistical expert in this area--how do you or a policy maker or a reporter or anyone else judge the contributions made by the participants in the debate? And I would argue that there are three things that you should keep in mind when you listen to the debate. All right?
So the first thing, suppose you hear of a study that says, I don't know, guns cause tooth decay. You say, oh--of all the things they do, now they're also causing tooth decay; this is awful; what do we--you know, terrible, terrible, terrible. Well, what do you say when you hear this? The first thing that I would say to the person who says, well, what about the tooth decay study, I would say did that study appear in a refereed, peer reviewed journal? If not, I would tend to discount it. Because--we're trying to be scientists here--what happens when you submit an article to a peer reviewed is some anonymous reviewer takes a very skeptical approach to the study and tries to protect the reputation of the journal by essentially looking for a way to reject the article. So if an article actually passes the peer reviewed test, it has been vetted in about the most careful way that science has found to do these sorts of things.
So that's the first thing I would ask. And I would just note for your information that the New York Times, who has its own problems in addition to trying to do studies, is not peer reviewed. Any journal with the title "Law Review," including the Stanford Law Review, is not peer reviewed. The Brookings Institution publishes books that are not peer reviewed. And of course the advocacy groups, the NRA, Handgun Control, Brady Campaign, and so on and so forth, are in the business of producing not-peer reviewed studies, some of which are pathetic. All right? So that's the first thing you should think of.
The second question that you should ask is Hmm, the study appeared--did the authors make the data available for other researchers to rummage around in? And I will tell you right now that most of John's critics do not make their data available. Now, why is this an important issue? Well, we're trying to be scientists here. Now, a number of years ago, where the guys in Utah or someplace claimed to have discovered cold fusion--they took a couple of pieces of aluminum and put it in a bath of, I don't know, baking soda or something, claimed to have discovered cold fusion. Well, it was eventually discovered that whatever they discovered, it wasn't cold fusion, and they went away.
Now, how did that happen? Well, other scientists put similar pieces of aluminum, stuck it in similar compounds in their laboratories, and couldn't make it work. All right. That's natural science. You have controls, you have laboratories, you can actually have very fine measurements. And that's the way to do it, if we could do it that way. But public policy isn't done that way. There are no laboratories. So what do you do? Well, how do you know the person got it right--how do you know the person got the results they say they got using the data they say they used? And is the data that they say they used, does it have any measurement problems or errors in it? The only way to know is to get it yourself and to rummage around in it and see if it's right.
Now, that's not what normal people do. Weird people do that. But weird people do that enough to act as a control so that flagrant problems are revealed relatively rapidly. How do you make that happen? The answer is, the authors should--and if they are good at what they do, they will do this routinely--make the data readily available to people who wish to check it out.
John, for example, has a website. I was on it just recently. I downloaded the data. It took me a matter of minutes. I was able to verify what John had said. This is exactly what everybody should do, and hardly anybody does it as well as John. Normally you have to e-mail or write these people and ask them for their data, and then they might not send it, and, you know, you just go around and around.
That's wrong we don't have laboratories. One of the things we should be doing is making our data readily available, and John is a paragon of virtue in this. That's why I tend to trust his results more than his critics'.
The third thing--remember, we're trying to be scientists, now--the third thing we should ask is--I'm going to have to use some jargon, but I'll explain it: Were the requisite controls used? Suppose we're doing a study on, I don't know--the people that I lecture to in class, they don't know about polio anymore, but here you might remember at least what polio is. Well, remember polio, what happens, polio occurs in the summer. Every year there was a polio outbreak and some poor kid would wind up in an iron lung. Your mother would say don't do this or that and nobody understood where it came from, and so there was, you know, there was a polio panic every summer.
Well, if you--imagine doing this. Suppose you had monthly data on polio and, I don't know, ice cream consumption, and you said there's a correlation between polio and ice cream consumption. What you would find is, if you were to interpret it this way, ice cream causes polio, because every time people started eating ice cream, they'd come down with polio and wind up in an iron lung.
All right. That is what's known as an uncontrolled study. You've left out an important explanatory variable--the weather. People get hot, they eat ice cream, the polio virus survives outside the human body longer, more of an outbreak. So if you had done a study with the requisite control, that is, polio as the dependent variable and temperature and ice cream consumption as the independent variables, you would have found that the ice cream had no effect and it was all temperature. It doesn't mean that temperature causes polio, but it does in a way. See what I mean? I mean, you at least would get closer; you would have eliminated ice cream as a source.
So I would ask the third question about any study, does it include the requisite controls? And very many of these, especially these sort of advocacy--the arguments put out by the New York Times or the handgun people or other people, typically are uncontrolled studies. They're simply done badly. They leave out controls that could have caused all these effects and fail to isolate what the effect of guns on a certain issue is, as opposed to age of the people involved in the population, racial characteristic, income, unemployment--on and on and on and on and on, all the things that could cause the phenomenon that's being investigated.
So that being said, how does John's contribution stand up to these three objective criteria? Well, the first is, these articles that appear in the second half of John's book are not peer reviewed. So that's the first thing you've got to say. If he had submitted them to all the journals and got them peer reviewed, and then wrote in the second half of the book a sort of popular or more explanatory--these are impenetrable, after all, to the normal person--sort of said, well, in this study published in Blank journal, I show that this is true and that, you know, did something, you would have a better book.
On the other hand, on the other two criteria, he is way ahead of his competition. He makes the data available, which means he is probably not cheating. I haven't found any--I've checked him out. He's not cheating. And the data is readily available and he uses all the requisite controls. I can grumble at him about how many and which ones and so on and so forth, but generally he does it right. And so I tend to agree--I tend to believe the results that John has published in the back of the book, because I haven't been convinced otherwise.
And I will say this as the last thing right now, that is if you wish to be informed on the debate concerning guns and public policy, you must have read John's book. You will not be able to claim to be informed if you have not.
PROF. KONTOROVICH: Thank you very much, Carl. I want to continue a little bit, actually, on this theme of how one can distinguish the competing quality of these scholarly studies. There's been a study recently by Mark Duggan, which challenges the central finding of "More Guns, Less Crime," and mainly it finds that more guns actually don't result in less crime. And the major difference, as far as I understand in Duggan's study, is if you're trying to figure out whether more guns cause less crime, first you need to find out how many guns there are. And one way to do that, and the way John did before, is surveys of gun ownership in different places.
The approach that Duggan took, instead of using surveys, is subscriptions to the fourth most popular gun magazine--not the most popular or the second most popular or the--I don't remember the title, something like Guns & Ammo--a Guns & Ammo-type magazine--and using circulation of that magazine as a proxy for how many guns people have, for gun ownership. And that study found that increased gun ownership does not reduce crime. And John in his book discusses that study and several problems with it.
One thing you don't mention, but which I was quite curious about, is it seems using subscription as a proxy for gun ownership is based itself on some strange assumptions, namely that people who are subscribers to these magazines are all gun owners. Now, clearly, to some extent that's going to be true, but you don't know to what extent. For example, people who subscribe to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, right, they're not on the market for a swimsuit necessarily. That is to say, the gun magazines are going to be substitutes, to some extent, for gun ownership. There's a voyeuristic element. People like guns because they're aesthetic properties and admiring them in magazines will substitute for some of that need, and it's a [inaudible] to some extent.
So what the specific ratio is between gun ownership and subscriptions to these magazines needs to be determined before you can use, it seems to me, the subscription rates to tell you the specifics of gun ownership. And to do that, you're still going to need to have a survey, such as the ones, maybe, that they distribute to their readers. But you're not going to be able to pin it down with any kind of specificity, it seems.
Dr. Lott: I appreciate Paul's, Carl's, and Eugene's comments here. I'll kind of deal with them in order. I agree with the vast majority of what Paul was saying in terms of what motivates news coverage both on the national and the local level, and I don't have any problem with what he's talking about in terms of how the media covers what's put out by the NRA and these other gun control groups. I guess one thing I would have liked to have had a kind of response to is when events already deemed newsworthy, why it is that if you look at different ways that these things are stopped, these crimes, why is it that when it seems to involve a gun as opposed to some other method, that's left out of these stories?
Because I would think, just solely on the newsworthiness aspects--I mean, I know I said this in the talk--but if I were a reporter and I just say the students subdued the attacker and held him until police arrived, that's not going to be as gripping, you would think in terms of the audience, than if you say the students used their guns to go and stop the attacker. So I think, just in terms of newsworthiness, you would in fact find the opposite of what you seem to have happen there. And I can understand, you know, maybe some reporters telling me that it's on the basis of space constraints or something like that, but when you have--you seem to find it systematically going on there, and across many different crimes. Something else is going on there beyond just newsworthiness, I think, driving the discussion there.
And you see the same issues with regard to children and accidental gun deaths. I can agree with you what will grab people's attention. I have no problem believing that a combine, you know, may be less grabbing than a gun involved in an accidental death. But, you know, you saw these comparisons in terms of where kids do heroic things. I would imagine if they had done a heroic thing in terms of something else, my guess is it would be much more likely to get covered than here.
And you also--you know, one could talk about other things which grab people's attention, like an airplane crash. But it was interesting to me, when I was going through those, I was looking through some of those stories, that how often the reporters would seem to feel it's necessary to put it in context. You know, they'd still be having the thing that would grab people's attention, but they'd often have a sentence or two that would say airline travel is still the safest form of transportation. Because they would realize that, yeah, this is newsworthy and we're going to put it on the front page, but they'd put something in order not to scare people about that.
And so I don't think that there are too many people that read these stories about children involved in accidental gun deaths, you know, as I said, who come away from these stories with the perspective that these things are rare. And so why is it that for some types of instances they feel it necessary to put it in perspective like that, though for something involving guns you don't see that same type of perspective?
But those are more on things you didn't talk about that I would be interested in getting a response, because I basically agree with the other things that you were saying.
Just one thing about the press--the question that you left at the end and also spilled over to what Carl was saying, in terms of, you know, we've got expert making these claims, how do we go and evaluate what's being done? There's one instance that I had--well, many, actually, but one that I'll relate to. Time magazine had a one-page news article on "More Guns, Less Crime." And I know the reporter--I can't remember his name, but I know the reporter had read my book. I could just tell from the questions he would ask me when he interviewed me. Yet when he wrote the story, he would go and say, And critics a lot have said that he hasn't controlled for poverty or hasn't controlled for income or hasn't controlled for a whole list of things that were there.
And I called up the reporter afterwards and I said, Yeah, I know you've read the book. You know, I know--you know, it's one thing to go and say he didn't do a good job. You know, I'm happy to debate whether I did a good job of controlling for poverty or incomes or something like that. But yet it shouldn't even be a debatable point whether or not I included these things or not. And the reporter's response to me was, well, that's true, he had read it and he had seen the discussion, but he said he didn't view his job as being kind of the referee between the two parties that were involved, that he just viewed his job as kind of reporting what the different sides had said.
And my response to him was that, well, my guess is that the audience that's going to be reading Time wouldn't think that he would publish something just because somebody said it if he thought that it was false.
PROF. WALDMAN: That's a huge problem that reporters have in dealing with controversial issues, and I think it's great failure of the press in a lot of ways. My sort of classic case that I have is that Newsweek did a voter guide right before the 2000 election, and they were talking about taxes. And they said, "Bush says only 22 percent of his tax cut goes to the richest 1 percent. Gore says it's 32 percent. The truth lies somewhere in-between; just where, nobody knows." And that's verbatim.
Now, somebody knows. You could figure it out. But reporters went away-- And then more controversial an issue is the more reluctant they're going to be to actually arbitrate those factual claims. And it makes it impossible for a reader to figure out what the truth is. And so, you know, politicians in particular manage to say things that aren't true all the time, and reporters are very unwilling to say, you know, the president said this or the minority leader said this and by the way he was lying because the truth is something else, but will try to find somebody else who will contradict him.
And so, you know, that's kind of the sort of thing that happens to you, where your critic say something and you say something and the reporter doesn't really want to say, well, you know, one person is telling the truth and one person isn't, because then they're showing their bias.