Anyone who spent any time on social media or watching news coverage of the tragic school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday saw the claim that 18 school shootings have happened in 2018.
It was all over Twitter. It was all over Facebook. It was reported by many major news outlets.
The term “fake news” can mean different things — from straight-up bogus stories published by non-credible sources to news that is in fact true, but partisans dismiss as “fake” simply because they don’t like or agree with it. I use the term here to describe “fake news” in it’s purest form: A story passed off as honest-to-goodness journalism a day ago that most now concede is not true.
The story originated with the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that seeks an end to gun violence. The group tweeted on Wednesday after the shooting.
“Our hearts are with all those impacted by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida today. This is the 18th school shooting in the U.S. in 2018.”
Then gun control advocates everywhere began tweeting, the media reported it as fact, and so on.
The Washington Post gives a good explanation of why the claim is inaccurate:
“Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.”
In fact, only three (three too many, no doubt) of the incidents included in the “18” number so widely shared would be tragedies comparable to what most think of as a school shooting.
But why were so many outlets and others eager to accept these numbers as fact? Because if you believe that more gun control is the answer to stopping gun violence, the more gun violence that exists, the better your case for action.
Gun control advocates wanted to believe this.
The desired narrative informs what becomes “fact” more than truthful reporting, so actual fact goes by the wayside. Liberals wanted to demonstrate how bad gun violence is, and to let others know that if you opposed their remedy, you too had blood on your hands. Someone eventually checked the numbers, but few were eager to check them (in fact, not surprisingly, it appeared to be the conservative Washington Examiner that did their homework first).
This kind of fake news is not just a pastime of gun control advocates. Being fast and loose with facts just to tell the story you prefer is not unique to the left.
“The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country,” President Trump said in December. “They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”
Trump has said this many times. That illegal immigration brings with it a violent crime wave, and that Democrats
who allegedly invite this through their policies have blood on their hands.
When the president says things like this, I see as many conservatives willing to accept it as the gospel and share it as I did liberals eager to declare “18 school shootings in 2018.” on Wednesday and Thursday They can’t share it fast enough.
Yet, it’s false. Illegal immigrants do not bring “tremendous amounts” of violent crime, relatively speaking. In fact, illegal immigrants commit less crime than the native-born population. But if you’re an anti-illegal immigrant hardliner, what good are these facts if they get in the way of your narrative?
So, you just report “stories” and repeat “facts” according to your own biases.
There were not 18 school shootings this year, and America’s violent crime problem cannot be fairly laid at the feet of those here illegally.
If either if these statements offend or rub you the wrong way, chances are you believe I’m just “fake news” too.
Jack Hunter is editor, Rare Politics. A longer version first appeared on rare.us.