The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its latest data on the leading causes of death in the US this week for the second quarter of 2017, and sharp eyes of the intrepid reporters at the New York Times were quick to crunch the numbers. “Gun Death Rate Rose Again in 2016, C.D.C. Says” screamed the headline by Christine Hauser. Hauser, whose latest headlines also included gems like “Cat Declawing Ban in Denver Would Be a First Outside California” and “Nine Elephants in Botswana Are Electrocuted by Power Line”. Hauser’s articles show a predilection for gun violence reporting in addition to an eclectic mix concerning police brutality, stories about animals, hate speech, immigration, and storm response. In her article she reports that deaths due to gun violence rose to 12 per 100,000 people in 2016 from 11 per 100,000 people in 2015.
Any death from gun violence is too many by any standard, so a 9% increase in such deaths is truly deplorable. Given a statistical database of 143 million citizens (out of 326 million total), the article notes that there were more than 33,000 gun-related deaths for 2016.
Insightful article, right? Well, the Pulitzer committee may want to hold off on showering the New York Times with accolades. In turns out that firearms-related deaths (the term actually used by the CDC) actually represents only 1.41% of all causes, just below chronic liver disease and cirrhosis and just above above hypertension. Hauser (or her editor) actually alludes to this in the seventh paragraph while not actually drawing any comparisons by mentioning the first (heat disease, 197/100,000), second (cancer, 185/100,000) and the ninth (diabetes, 25/100,000) leading causes. Somewhat oddly, she omits higher ranked leading causes such as falls-by-those-over-age-64 (60/100,000), and unintentional injuries (50/100,000).
While admitting in same breath that approximately two thirds of gun deaths was due to suicide, the article sought to justify its skewed focus by asserting that gun death statistics “have been ingrained in the national discourse in the United States, particularly after mass shootings, such as the one in Las Vegas last month in which 58 people were killed”. Unfortunately it also failed to mention that gun deaths had fallen since is peak of 12.6 in the third quarter of 2016 (11.9 and 11.5 in the two subsequent quarters), and that homicide, regardless of method, was actually 6 per 100,000 in 2016.
“Fake news” has been much in the headlines as of late, particularly in connection with President Trump and the alt-right, both for and against their points of view. Given how much attention the issue is drawing, it is disappointing that the New York Times decided publish such a statistical hack job. I certainly hope that this is not indicative of the overall quality of their journalism, or their integrity in general. If it is, it may be time for some much needed introspection.