Sentinel Fires Up Fear With Skewed Gun Stats

Well, the criticism of the Sun-Sentinel seems to come in waves. Didn't see -- or feel -- it coming this time. Like the New York Times, I try hard not to make criticism the only dish I serve.

It just happens. Must be an organic reaction to reading the news around here. And this time it's not even coming from me. What follows is John DeGroot's take on the Help Team's Daniel Vasquez column about gun safety. The slam is long overdue when it comes to Smiling Dan, who really ought to be making a lot more money outside the newspaper game -- in the marketing department of Apple perhaps.

DeGroot's complaint reminds me a lot of the killer pool drains that were touted -- and distorted -- on the Sentinel's front page a while back.

When it comes to a stunning mastery of the meaningless over-hyped, few journalists can match the beamish Daniel Vasquez of the Sun-Sentinel’s fabled Help Team.

Last Sunday Daniel consumed a large hunk of the Sentinel’s Business Section with a column warning about the “dangerous combination” of kids and guns.

“What can parents do?” Daniel asked his readers.

"Safety experts say parents with guns at home need to pay particular attention to making sure their children are safe,” Daniel replied in answer to his rhetorical question.

Daniel then went on the scare the bejesus out of any non-thinking person by citing a few national statistics like, “More than 2,800 children and teenagers lost their lives to gunfire in 2003. That’s one every three hours.”

In “reporting” this, Daniel proved himself a fear-mongering Richardhead among journalists by failing to lend any meaning of context to his one-dead-kid-every-three-hours bullshit*. (*Like when is the American Journalism Review, or some Poynter Ethics Cluster Panel going to take a look at the shameless values driving this kind of journalism?)

Frankly, if there’s a journalism hell, Daniel’s ethics deserve an eternity listening to his editor’s Op-Ed Columns read aloud by their author.

How so?

In citing “more than 2,800 children and teenagers” killed by gunfire, Vasquez lumped accidental firearm deaths with homicides --- which, when it comes to gun safety and the kiddies, is a grotesque distortion of the

facts. For example, in Florida during 2005, the Department of Health reported the following stats:

Florida Gun Deaths ------- Under Age 19: Total - 1,806 ----------------------- 147 Suicides - 1,158 --------------------- 46 Homicides – 625 --------------------- 96 Accidental - 23 ---------------------- 5

Given the above data, what Vasquez should have told his readers about guns and kids is:

“In Florida, five children and teenagers died from gun accidents in 2005. That’s one every 10 weeks – among Florida’s more than four million youngsters.”

Trouble is, that wouldn’t be a story – even for the fear-mongering Richardheads on Sun-Sentinel’s Help Team.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman