NRA-Friendly Washington Times Turns To Discredited Gun Researcher John Lott
Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON
The Washington Times is amplifying an attack on gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety by citing a shoddy report from discredited gun researcher John Lott.
In an October 9 article, Times reporter Kelly Riddell, who is a frequent source of misinformation about gun violence, shared a report from Lott's group, Crime Prevention Research Center, that purported to demonstrate that a recent Everytown report on mass shootings is "riddled with errors."
Riddell decided to base her article solely on highlighting Lott's claims about Everytown, even while acknowledging that Lott "is often decried as biased to the right." Riddell subsequently updated the piece with responses from Everytown that debunked the Lott claims that Riddell had credulously amplified.
Lott's purported debunking of Everytown's mass shooting report itself includes erroneous information. In one case Lott, who is an economist, criticized Everytown because of his failure to distinguish between two statistical terms.
Riddell wrote, "Mr. Lott said Everytown's report also failed to provide information on the killer's age for many people in its report, and even for the ages it did report, it made a mistake in calculating the average." Indeed, according to Lott's report, "The average for the ages that Everytown provides is actually 35.3 years of age, not the 34 years old they report."
But Everytown's report discussed the "median" age of mass shooters:
Riddell later updated her article to include Everytown's explanation that "median" and "average" are not the same thing, which clearly debunks the Lott claim that Riddell originally promoted.
Another bizarre error in Lott's report is his claim that Everytown failed to include three mass public shootings in its report. The first sentence of Everytown's report indicates that it is a study of mass shootings that occurred between 2009 and 2014. Two of the "missing" cases cited by Lott occurred in 2000:
In the third incident, Nikko Jenkins shot to death four people over a ten day period in 2013. The Everytown report stated that it relied on the FBI definition of a mass shooting. According to the FBI, such incidents must occur "with no distinctive time period between the murders."
In another case the Times credulously promoted Lott's claim that Everytown made an error, when in fact Lott merely disagrees with Everytown's methodology. Riddell wrote in the article's first sentence that Everytown's report is "'riddled with errors,' including mistakes in the number of shootings reported ... according to an analysis by gun researcher John Lott." Everytown's report counted 110 mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2014, while Lott claims that there have just been 25 mass shootings during that period. Everytown has not invented non-existent mass shootings, instead Lott uses a different methodology. Riddell later updated her article to indicate that Everytown uses the FBI's definition of a mass shooting, seemingly contradicting her first sentence which gives credence to the claim that Everytown has made a "mistake" in counting the number of mass shootings. Given his tendency to manipulate statistics in favor of his conclusions, it is no surprise that Lott's methodology happens to include less than a quarter of mass shootings identified by the FBI.
Both Lott and Riddell are frequently sources of misinformation about gun violence.
Lott's research on gun issues, including his famous "more guns, less crime" theory, has been discredited in academic circles and he has faced credible accusations of data manipulation and fabrication. He often twists statistics on gun violence in order to advance a pro-gun agenda.
A recent Riddell article kicked off a conservative media frenzy when she reported that a 2012 Obama administration "policy change" meant that gun buyers would now have to disclose race and ethnicity on the form used to process background checks on gun sales. In fact, Media Matters demonstrated that gun buyers have been asked about race and ethnicity dating back to at least 2001.
Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple has raised questions about the Times' relationship with the National Rifle Association. In a September 3 article, Wemple highlighted an August 27 "special pullout section" in the Times that was clearly "sponsored by the NRA" and featured disclaimers on each page explaining the pullout was "A Special Report Prepared by The Washington Times Advertising Department." Instead of being filled only with advertisements, the section featured past gun-related news stories from Times reporters -- including Riddell -- which Wemple cited as evidence that the paper's news coverage "pleases the mighty gun lobby."
The Times' editorial section is run by past NRA president and current NRA board member David Keene. Although Keene previously said he would disclose his ongoing relationship with the NRA in columns that discussed the gun group, he apparently violated that rule in a September 29 column, only quietly adding the disclosure after the Times was contacted by Media Matters.