David R. Henderson  

Media Bias, Case No. 15239

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Et Tu, Economist?... Denver Post's Media Bias, Part...

Arapahoe High gunman held strong political beliefs, classmates said

That's the headline of the Denver Post news story about Denver high school murderer Karl Pierson.

OK. He had strong political beliefs. Given that that's the headline, wouldn't a good reporter tell us up front what those political beliefs were? Perhaps he hated gun control. Perhaps he was a member of the religious right. That's a sensible narrative, right?

Well, I've got to say that reporters Zahira Torres and Yesenia Robles do their darndest at trying to make you think that. Here are the first 5 paragraphs of their news story:

The teenage gunman who entered Arapahoe High School on Friday afternoon and shot two fellow students with a shotgun was outspoken about politics, was a gifted debater and might have been bullied for his beliefs, according to students who knew him.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson identified the gunman as Karl Pierson, an 18-year-old student.

"He had very strong beliefs about gun laws and stuff," said junior Abbey Skoda, who was in a class with Pierson during her freshman year. "I also heard he was bullied a lot."

Robinson said that his department was investigating reports that Pierson was seeking to settle a score with a teacher after a confrontation.

Even before authorities named the gunman, friends and neighbors were in shock as word spread that Pierson was a dedicated, bright student from a religious family that attends Bible study meetings.


But wait. The story doesn't tell us what political issues he was outspoken about. And he had strong beliefs "about gun laws and stuff?" Well, what did he believe about gun laws and stuff?

The Denver Post story goes on for another 9 paragraphs before it gets to his actual beliefs. Then, finally, the next 3 paragraphs get around to telling us his beliefs. Are you ready? Here they are:

In one Facebook post, Pierson attacks the philosophies of economist Adam Smith, who through his invisible-hand theory pushed the notion that the free market was self-regulating. In another post, he describes himself as "Keynesian."

"I was wondering to all the neoclassicals and neoliberals, why isn't the market correcting itself?" he wrote. "If the invisible hand is so strong, shouldn't it be able to overpower regulations?"

Pierson also appears to mock Republicans on another Facebook post, writing "you republicans are so cute" and posting an image that reads: "The Republican Party: Health Care: Let 'em Die, Climate Change: Let 'em Die, Gun Violence: Let 'em Die, Women's Rights: Let 'em Die, More War: Let 'em Die. Is this really the side you want to be on?"


Is there really much doubt that had he liked Adam Smith or had he described himself as a member of the Tea Party, those facts would have been further up in the news story?


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CATEGORIES: Revealed Preference



COMMENTS (14 to date)
Tim writes:

Is there really much doubt that had he liked Adam Smith or had he described himself as a member of the Tea Party, those facts would have been further up in the news story?

No doubt at all. This is the kind of subtleties where bias in media really presents itself. One doesn't need to fabricate facts or even twist them. Usually burying the lede 15 paragraphs in will be enough to ensure that most readers never see them.

S writes:

50 years later, and the prestige media is still running stories about Dallas (as opposed to, you know, a communist) shooting JFK. This may count as progress! :)

Kevin writes:

Just heard a reported on CNN describe the shooter as having "problems with the government", considering it "Communist."

awp writes:

They had a report on NPR in regards to the Newtown anniversary. They were discussing ways to identify troubled individuals and get them help before they snapped. Guess we need to add Keynesians to the list.

Lee Kelly writes:

The exception that proves the rule, right?

Bill writes:
"I was wondering to all the neoclassicals and neoliberals, why isn't the market correcting itself?" he wrote. "If the invisible hand is so strong, shouldn't it be able to overpower regulations?"
I always find it peculiar that what people think of when discussing Adam Smith is often exclusively "the invisible hand". The concept, used in that imagery only twice in his writings, refers to the ability of goods and services to be exchanged between millions of people without decisions being made from some rule making office or bureaucracy.

In the hands of trained-economist turned pseudo-political media sensations like Krugman and Stiglitz, which is likely the source material provided for class notes in high school economics classes, "an invisible hand" becomes some mysterious, intangible and untrustworthy force that works "its" desires on people.

"The market not correcting itself" I take to mean "market correction in the context of flipfloping and uncertain regulations is not providing the results I want RIGHT NOW, therefore the market doesnt work".

Bill writes:

Sorry for the tangent, David. I'll admit that what I quoted above actually bothers me more than the focus of your post, which is all too true.

Politics and the media are forever intertwined as illustrated in the post, but such Fabian misrepresentations of ideas like the one I quoted are where the real damage from a left-biased media come from.

BTW, Bias Case No. 15239... must be an arbitrary number. If this is the latest case of bias in the media, then the low number you give suggests you have left some out :)

~FR writes:

The Denver Post article originally quoted one of his classmates describing him as "a very opinionated Socialist."

They have now scrubbed (memory-holed) this quote. An editor of the DP is on twitter now trying to defend themselves, saying that a mere student wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to understand this term.

Enial Cattesi writes:
saying that a mere student wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to understand this term

I cannot believe someone can say this.

Yancey Ward writes:

I wonder how many iterations that news article went through before even the last sections got included that gave some hint about what the titled meant.

~FR writes:

EC said: "I cannot believe someone can say this."

The editor's exact words from twitter, when challenged as to why the student's description was dropped, is: "We decided not to have another student apply a label to the shooter -- a label the student likely didn't even understand .."

I put the link to the conversation under my name. The editor's name is Lee Ann Colacioppo (@LAColacioppo)

https://twitter.com/LAColacioppo/status/411942295466823680

[Link moved to end of comment--Econlib Ed.]

I'm sure they figured if they delayed mentioning it long enough, "socialist" would turn into "socialite."

Mr. Econotarian writes:

CNN says:

"To schoolmates, Pierson was known for his outspoken intelligence that served him well on the debate team. But at times, he acted "weird" and alienated peers with rants about communism and his aggressiveness to win every argument, they said."

"He always kind of talked about how America was a communist country, how the government was, like, trying to take us over and stuff. I don't know, just some weird stuff that I didn't really pay close attention to, but nothing that alarmed me."

...

"He was a weird kid," Davis said. "He's a self-proclaimed communist, just wears Soviet shirts all the time."

WSJ says...

"Chris Davis, an 18-year-old senior, recalled Mr. Pierson once wore a shirt emblazoned with the letters U.S.S.R. and described himself as a communist."

Tony N writes:

Is there really much doubt that had he liked Adam Smith or had he described himself as a member of the Tea Party, those facts would have been further up in the news story?

No, they'd be front and center, of course. And let's not forget the Brian Ross/ABC News fiasco emanating from their falsely reporting that James Holmes was a member of the Tea Party.

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