GATEKEEPERS DOWN: Sisters’ fact at the Washington Post!

TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 2013

Part 2—Close enough for newspaper work: Are white males disproportionately numbered among the nation’s mass shooters?

Presumably, it depends on how you define “mass shooter.” However you define the term, we will assume that males in general are disproportionately numbered among that group.

That said, among the men who engage in mass shootings, are white men disproportionately numbered? We have no idea—and there is no particular sign that Charlotte Childress and Harriet Childress know the answer either.

That said, facts and logic aren’t required when you write for the Washington Post. For decades, the gatekeepers have been down at that famous American newspaper. This explains how the following passage appeared in Sunday’s hard-copy Post, in a prominent op-ed column.

The column was written by Childress and Childress. For the record, April Fools was still one day away:
CHILDRESS AND CHILDRESS (3/31/13): Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years—not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine—have been committed by white men and boys. Yet when the National Rifle Association (NRA), led by white men, held a news conference after the Newtown massacre to advise Americans on how to reduce gun violence, its leaders' opinions were widely discussed.
You may have been struck by a puzzling suggestion found in that passage—the suggestion that the views of groups which are “led by white men” shouldn’t be “widely discussed” on the topic of gun violence.

For today, let’s move past that striking suggestion. Let’s start with the factual claim we’ve highlighted in that passage.

Is it true? Is it true that “nearly all” mass shootings in recent years have been committed by white males? When the Post put this claim into print, its editors surely knew that it would engender a race-baiting backlash, with thousands of commenters angrily detailing various crimes and crime rates among blacks.

Surely, the Post understood that this column would trigger that type of backlash. But the Post went ahead and published that claim all the same.

So how about it? Is that claim actually true?

First, a bit of background: Childress and Childress are twin sisters who explain on their own web site that they have “collectively earned eight college degrees, including one Ph.D. and four master's degrees.” They say that they have “taught college for forty years” in the fields of “pharmacy, engineering, math, physics [and] chemistry.”

For better or worse, they say they have “received close to a million dollars in grants from the National Science Foundation to research math, science, technology, and engineering education.” This is their capsule bio:
Harriet & Charlotte Childress
Harriet and Charlotte are consultants, authors, and college faculty who have researched, written, and spoken about issues related to social and political change for more than two decades. They have presented their work in person to thousands of people through more than fifty seminars or speeches in ten states. Charlotte and Harriet have published two books and eighteen articles.
After teaching pharmacy and physics, Childress and Childress somehow began to speak about issues related to social and political change. Over more than twenty years, they have spoken more than fifty times, while traveling to ten different states.

That said, the topic on which they opined in the Post doesn’t come from the world of pharmacy, engineering or physics. Nor is there any sign that they know what they’re talking about on this topic, although all things are possible.

Is it true? Is it true that “nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years...have been committed by white men and boys?” The term “nearly all” is forgiving, of course—but even in listing their five examples, the sisters got into a spot of trouble with irate Post readers. Angry commenters challenged the claim as it relates to the Fort Hood shooting, which was committed by a first-generation American with two Palestinian-born parents.

Is Nidal Hasan a “white man” in the sense defined by this column? Only a fool would take that bait—only a fool, or a person who wants to restart decades of counterproductive culture war about crime and race.

That said, many people did take the bait, just as Childress and Childress predicted in their column. At various sites, they listed the names of Asian-Americans, Hispanics and blacks who have committed mass shootings in recent years.

Sometimes these respondents failed to obey the conceptual etiquette in which mass shooters are distinguished from serial shooters. But commenters bristled with angry complaints about crime rates among blacks.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would have known this would happen.

One can always say that the debate is worth the backlash. Having said that, we revert to our question: Is it true that “nearly all” mass shootings in recent years have been committed by white men or boys?

Remarkably, Childress and Childress made no attempt, beyond what we’ve shown you, to justify this fuzzy claim. And now we come to the larger point:

The Washington Post didn’t make them! Their extremely fuzzy claim was good enough for the Washington Post. You might say it was close enough for race-invidious newspaper work.

For years, our discourse was in the hands of (white male) elites like Walter and David. They carefully parceled out the things we rubes were permitted to hear.

On its face, that isn’t a great way to run a democracy. But neither Walter nor David was crazy. While they reigned, we the people were often spared exposure to fake facts and crazy ideas.

For decades, though, it’s been gatekeepers down! Bogus facts and crazy ideas are a giant industry now. In the place of Walter and David, we kept getting handed Rush and Sean—then KO, Chris and Lawrence.

As this unfortunate culture grew, newspapers like the Post and the New York Times kept hiring people like Maureen Dowd. Meanwhile, our biggest news orgs kept getting conned by a succession of twenty-something fabulists—inventers of facts and of persons.

For decades, it has been gatekeepers down! Last weekend, though, we hit a new low with one of the dumbest columns ever.

It came from a pair of sisters with eight degrees and two fuzzy minds. That said, it was published by the Washington Post—and it engendered the ugly reaction anyone could have foreseen.

Regarding Childress and Childress, is their basic factual claim true? We have no idea, and the Washington Post didn’t much seem to care.

That claim was very casually churned. Tomorrow, let’s ponder this column's logic.

Tomorrow: Reasoning down!

26 comments:

  1. Shirley you jestApril 2, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    "That said, among the men who engage in mass shootings, are white men disproportionately numbered? We have no idea"

    Only because you're willfully ignorant.

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    1. Sigh... here are the 6 worst mass shootings in the US in the past decade. 3 white shooters, 3 nonwhite shooters.

      2007: Seung Hui Cho - 32 dead
      2012: Adam Lanza - 26 dead
      2009- Jiverly Wong- 13 dead
      2009- Nidal Malik Hasan- 13 dead
      2012- James Holmes- 12 dead
      2009- Michael McLendon- 10 dead

      Delete
    2. Classic cherry-picking.

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    3. "Classic cherry-picking."

      Why is ranking by the number killed "cherry picking"?

      Delete
    4. Limiting data to that which produced your desired result is "cherry picking."

      But you and Somerby go ahead with your "gotcha" game with the Childress sisters. The future of Western Civilization hangs in the balance.

      Delete
    5. Hilarious, you make a stupid comment, and when it's debunked you try to slink away by saying the issue isn't important anyway. I've linked to the full data below. If you have any actual information to share about the race of mass shooters I'd love to evaluate it. If not, keep on slinking.

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    6. Read Quaker's comment below. Then you'll find out what an ass you made of yourself by looking at the six "mass shootings" that suit your argument.

      And you might understand Somerby's little rhetorical trick as well.

      That is, if Somerby doesn't do ALL your thinking for you.

      Delete
    7. Sigh, I just posted the link to the dataset below: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data

      Here are all the mass shootings that occurred during the Obama presidency, which I think is a fair definition of "recent years":

      8 white names: Adam Lanza, Andrew Engeldinger, Wade Michael Page, James Holmes, Ian Stawicki, Scott Dekraai (I think he's white?), Jared Loughner, Robert Stewart

      7 nonwhite names: One Goh, Jeong Soo Paek, Jiverly Wong, Omar Thornton, Maurice Clemmons, Nidal Malik Hasan, Eduardo Sencion

      Oh, am I cherrypicking again? Let's throw 2008 in! 2 white shooters (Welsey Higdon, Steven Kazmierczak), 1 nonwhite (Cookie Thorton)

      Oh, am I cherrypicking again? Let's throw 2007 in! 2 white shooters (Robert Hawkins, Tyler Peterson), 2 nonwhite shooters (Seung Hui Cho, Sulejman Talovic).

      The dataset gets whiter after that but we're getting pretty far away from "recent years" aren't we?

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  2. Cherry-picking? I just did a quick search for the worst and pulled the above from a Washington Post infographic. Picking the top 5 would've been even more natural, that would've been 3 out of 5 nonwhite. Here's a Mother Jones dataset with more data if you're actually interested: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data

    If you'd like to check everyone's race, feel free to do so, but it seems evident to me that many names from recent years make it clear mass shooting are far from exclusively a white phenomenon. Point is, the Post op-ed was stupid, racializing this issue at all is stupid, and some of the commenters here are stupid too.

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  3. Quaker in a BasementApril 2, 2013 at 6:52 PM

    You're not playing this quite on the level, BAob.

    What portion of mass shooters are white and male? Hard to say, and perhaps the Childress's bungle their assertion in this regard. But let's not pretend that this is the central thrust of their op-ed. If you read the very first paragraph, you find the Childress sisters offering a hypothetical question: If we had a spate of mass-shootings by African-American men, what would the ensuing public discussion sound like? The sisters guess that a lot of that discussion would be about the cultural norms that lead black men to commit mass shootings.

    NOW we come to the Childress's main point: our recent shooters are white and male. There are a couple of empty chairs for race and gender around the table for this conversation. Does our public conversation focus on race and culture only when criminals are from minority groups? I'd say that conclusion isn't farfetched.

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    1. "If you read the very first paragraph, you find the Childress sisters offering a hypothetical question: If we had a spate of mass-shootings by African-American men, what would the ensuing public discussion sound like?"

      Exactly. But let's not discuss THAT!

      Instead, Somerby has feed his cattle some more sweet hay and caught another "bungled asserstion" on the Washington Post Op-Ed.

      After all "liberals" must be perfect and beyond reproach in every single word, or else their entire argument is worthless. Now that O'Reilly, Hannity and Limbaugh are fading, it's up to Somerby to pick up that mantle, parsing every "liberal" argument for anything not said exactly the way Somerby would put it.

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    2. "What portion of mass shooters are white and male? Hard to say, "

      But **why** should it be so hard to say?

      "perhaps the Childress's bungle their assertion in this regard."

      "Perhaps"? I'm glad you allow this much.

      "But let's not pretend that this is the central thrust of their op-ed. "

      Let's also not pretend that by saying "Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years...have been committed by white men and boys." without offering any support, isn't at least just a tad dishonest as well as a set-up for a point that may not be much of a point anyway.


      "NOW we come to the Childress's main point: our recent shooters are white and male."

      No, it's "hard to say" as you first correctly stated, as to their race and gender. But no, instead we get from Shirley "Only because you're willfully ignorant." with no support offered when TDH says we have no idea because C&C also offered nos support. As well as the silly "Limiting data to that which produced your desired result is 'cherry picking.'" when at least someone was actually offering some data.

      C'mon! Let's look at history, scrape up statistical data, define what we mean by "recent", "white", "mass shootings" and maybe most importantly what fraction of 100% constitutes "nearly all" and *then* maybe we can see who is commiting mass shootings recently. And then go from there to whatever other points there may be.

      Else TDH's points stand pretty much untouched.

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    3. Quaker in a BasementApril 2, 2013 at 8:11 PM

      "But **why** should it be so hard to say?"

      If you have accurate statistics at hand, by all means educate us. I don't have 'em.

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    4. "If you have accurate statistics at hand, by all means educate us. I don't have 'em."

      Thank you for admiting you don't. I don't have them either.

      Therefore for all we know the hypothetical offered about a recent "streak" of mass shootings by "minorities" *may_actually_be_true*. But instead we are assuming that it is almost all white males for some reason.

      Think about it.

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    5. Quaker in a BasementApril 3, 2013 at 12:43 AM

      No, you think about it. As I said, NOT. THE. POINT.

      If you want to be upset that the sisters said something naughty about white people, knock yourself out. When the DC Sniper and Lee Boyd Malvo and Nidal Hassan were in the news, was there any discussion about their race, cultural background, or religion? My recollection is there was.

      When the shooter is James Holmes, does anybody (other than the naughty sisters) ask what this tells us about white people?

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    6. "If you want to be upset that the sisters said something naughty about white people, knock yourself out."

      I'm not naturally inclined to think about it like this, that it was a slight "against whites". I am more inclined to ask if what they said was actually true or not. About whether "almost all" recent mass shootings being commited by white males. About whether it's poor journalism or worse.

      Your comments here, as well as the example of poor journalism offered, play right into the complaint about the left that they see the world through a prism of race and gender.

      Why does race even matter? We can talk about that if some think it important, but on the way to that if you set_it_up with an *assumption* having little basis in fact then I think this reveals that prism. And is poor lournalism.

      I think these are valid points.



      Delete
    7. Quaker, here's another hypothetical for you. When One Goh, Jeong Soo Paek, Jiverly Wong, and Seung-Hui Cho committed mass shootings, did we have a nationwide discussion about why so many Asians are shooting people up? No? Oh that's right, the discussion focused on mental health and gun policy restrictions, *as it should!* The Childresses racialized it, based on bungled facts, and now you are for some reason obsessed with making some racial point even though this is not a racial issue. Somebody here is race-obsessed, and it's not us or Bob.

      Delete
  4. Quaker in a BasementApril 2, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    While we're at it, let's take a look at another assertion in the Childress op-ed. Once again, the sisters hypothesize a spate of mass shootings by black men.

    Now imagine the leader of a prominent African-American organization steps up to propose a solution to the problem, one that blamed the shootings on restrictions aimed at black men. This spokesman would be justifiably laughed off the public stage.

    Back in our reality, Wayne LaPierre, spokesman for the organization that tells the Nancy Lanzas of the world that they need guns for protection against a looming collapse of law and order, is front and center telling us that the problem isn't too many guns, it's too few! A substantial plurality of Americans take him seriously.

    But don't let that deter you from fretting over the real issue at hand: someone has said something unfair about white people!

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    1. "someone has said something unfair about white people!"

      Specifically, they said "Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years...have been committed by white men and boys."

      True or false?

      Delete
    2. Quaker in a BasementApril 2, 2013 at 8:15 PM

      True or false?

      Beats me. You know?

      Delete
    3. Sigh, Quaker, I *just* posted the link to a dataset upthread: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data

      Here, I'll do the work for you. Let's look at all mass shootings that happened during the Obama presidency! Or is that cherry-picking too?

      8 white names: Adam Lanza, Andrew Engeldinger, Wade Michael Page, James Holmes, Ian Stawicki, Scott Dekraai (I think he's white?), Jared Loughner, Robert Stewart

      7 nonwhite names: One Goh, Jeong Soo Paek, Jiverly Wong, Omar Thornton, Maurice Clemmons, Nidal Malik Hasan, Eduardo Sencion

      Delete
  5. Check out this Mother Jones article:

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

    With 44 of the 62 mass shootings by whites, we have a percentage of just above 70%, a bit *less* than percentage of whites for the general population of the US as a whole.

    Golly! They were wrong! Very wrong!

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