Should we Trust The Bucknellian?
Tim Eason | firstname.lastname@example.org
Journalists, opinion columnists, and other writers of the media have the power to influence the public. As a result, publications ranging from the globally renowned New York Times to college papers such as The Bucknellian must be held accountable for what they publish.
When I read an article I want to know where the information is coming from and how this information relates to the author’s thesis. For example, statistical information should be cited and the terminology should be defined, especially if the terms do not follow some commonly accepted definition.
My goal is to make readers aware of some instances in which The Bucknellian does not appropriately present content. These examples do not form an exhaustive list. My argument is not political. Any publication, no matter where it falls on the political spectrum, must be judged but the same criteria when it comes to accuracy.
The articles that I use as examples are not personal attacks on the writers of the articles. I do not know these writers personally, and my intention is not to publicly humiliate them or question their character. Many of the problems that I see are not willful attempts to mislead the reader.
Over a month ago, I privately criticized The Bucknellian for publishing an opinion article that contained misleading information. The article, titled “‘Cruelest’ and ‘Deadliest’ Prosecutor Kicked Out of Office: A Win for Black Lives Matter Movement,” was critical of Ms. Angela Corey, a Florida prosecutor. Ms. Corey was characterized as “the woman who failed to indict George Zimmerman.”
Technically, Corey charged Zimmerman with an information document, rather than filing an indictment; but the layman probably read “failed to indict” as a failure to charge or prosecute Zimmerman. The article also seemed fixated on creating a black-versus-white narrative, as when it referred to George Zimmerman as a white man while leaving out his Hispanic background. And the article singled out the acquittals of white cops who had killed black men as evidence of “institutional racism,” but the acquittals of black cops in similar cases were not mentioned.
More recently, The Bucknellian published a few articles that addressed gun violence. “Gun Restriction is Not Legislation the U.S. Can Afford to Ignore,” written by Megan Grossman, presents a plethora of statistical evidence that supports Grossman’s appeal for tighter gun regulations.
Grossman writes that the United States has “136 mass shootings recorded in the first half of this year alone (January to June 2016).” Grossman does not indicate where this number comes from or what defines a mass shooting. Imagine if I wrote, “No mass shootings were carried out in the United States in 2016.” Without a definition of mass shooting, Grossman and I could both be correct.
Our statements have no meaning without that definition, but they have power to influence the reader. AJ Willingham from CNN notes that the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines a mass shooting as “any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed.” According to Willingham and CNN, the GVA’s definition produces 136 mass shootings for the first half of 2016 in the United States.
Grossman also refers to “weapons that fire up to 25 rounds per 2.5 seconds.” Once again, the source material for this number is not given. I am left to assume that Grossman is referring to a fully automatic rifle, or a semiautomatic rifle that has been modified to bump the rate of fire. I do not doubt that this statistic can be found somewhere. However, the generality of the statement is problematic. Since the reader does not know where this number comes from or what it specifically applies to, the reader has no context to give the number meaning.
The Bucknellian’s October 7th editorial also addressed gun violence. The Editorial Board writes, “According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 43,000 incidents of gun violence in 2016 so far.” The number 43,000 did not surprise me, but I decided to verify the information.
The GVA records incidents in which a gun was involved. As of October 18th, the “total number of incidents” is over 45,000. These incidents include homicides, threats, and police shootings, which most would agree are violent.
However, the database also includes incidents in which a gun was found during an arrest and subsequently confiscated. And some incidents refer to a gun being found in a public place. Is finding a gun in a public park an incident of gun violence? When a subject is arrested for an outstanding warrant during a traffic stop and a gun is found in the glove compartment, is this incident gun violence?
Well, it depends on how violence is defined. The Bucknellian’s use of the word violence in this particular article is extremely broad, which is acceptable, provided its definition of violence is clearly stated. However, The Bucknellian does not define violence in this context.
Further on in the article, the Editorial Board writes that “the local Walmart has a section that permits members of the public to purchase guns with minimal restrictions.” What are “minimal restrictions”?
Fortunately, an organization known as The Trace can help to answer this question. The Trace is “an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization dedicated to expanding public understanding of gun violence in the United States.” On July 15, 2015, The Trace published an article by Kate Masters, titled “Walmart Has Tougher Policies for Background Checks Than the U.S. Government Does: How the Retail Giant Set the Industry Standard for Safe Gun Sales.” Masters writes:
“Walmart’s own background check policies have surpassed federal requirements since 2002, when the company decided that it would no longer sell guns to customers without a completed approval from NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System]. The company refuses to sell a gun without a concrete all-clear from the federal system.”
The article also elaborates on some of Walmart’s other safety measures for selling guns. The Bucknellian’s Editorial Board either has an unrealistically high standard on how guns should be sold, or the persons who wrote the article did not research their claim.
Misleading or false statements that directly support the thesis of an article must be taken seriously. Even opinion columnists have the power to influence readers when a paper publishes their opinions. I reject the notion that opinion columnists should be judged differently from journalists. Journalists and opinion columnists must be held accountable when they make mistakes or intentionally misrepresent facts.
I do not trust The Bucknellian to provide accurate and fair content, especially in the opinion section. If they are going to present an opinion, they must do so fairly and accurately. When a reader constantly finds misleading, vague, false, or otherwise questionable statements in a publication, how can the reader trust anything that comes from that publication? Furthermore, if the problems are not resolved when they are given attention, what does this inaction say about the integrity of the publication?
According to a Gallup poll from September 2016, “Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.” Democrats were the most trusting group of Americans, according to this poll, with just 51% responding favorably to the media.
Measuring trust is a difficult task, thus the Gallup poll should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the trend is clear. A significant percentage of Americans distrusts the mass media to provide accurate and fair content.
I encourage readers to constantly question the material they consume. Put pressure on publications to provide accurate, fair, and original content. The news media has the power to influence society. The Bucknellian has the power to influence the Bucknell community. We have a responsibility to hold them accountable.
Fall 2016 Edition