Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post

[Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.]

[Update December 29: Joey Bunch related that he takes responsibility for the mistake and apologizes for his initial reaction. For my part, I am satisfied with the way the Post has handled the issue.]

In their article for today’s Denver PostJoey Bunch and Kieran Nicholson claim, “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report, which estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” However, there seems to be no factual basis for that claim.

As Bunch is listed as first author and his contact information appears below the article, I contacted him to see where he got his figures. Unfortunately, in a series of emails (see below) he flatly refused to provide me with a citation. Apparently that is because no such citation exists.

CDC provides a search page for reviewing mortality statistics. The results for unintentional firearm deaths for 2007, ages zero through seventeen, is 112. Notice that the anti-gun Brady Campaign reports comparable figures. (Of the estimated 2,436,652 deaths in the U.S. in 2009, a total of 588 for all age groups resulted from “accidental discharge of firearms.” Final figures for 2007 show a total of 613 deaths. Please see pages 19 and 39 of the linked CDC report, and notice that I provided an actual citation for my claim.) To get figures as high as Bunch claims, one has to look at decades-old data. (Note that, in this article, I am concerned only with Bunch’s factual claims. I will address the “big picture” issues elsewhere.)

So how did Bunch get from 112 to “more than 500?” I don’t really know, given he refused to tell me. I do have a guess, however. A top Google hit for “kids die guns” is a 2008 article from MomLogic. That article includes the same numbers as Bunch uses — “more than 500” and “1.7 million households.” My guess is that Bunch cribbed these figures (from this web site or a comparable one) without bothering to verify them or even review their meaning.

Here’s what MomLogic has to say: “More than 500 children die annually from accidental gunshots. … Last year, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded and unlocked guns.”

What is similar between this article and Bunch’s article is that both include the same year for the CDC claim (2007), both include the phrase “more than 500 children,” and both include the phrase, “1.7 million children live in homes.” One important detail to notice is that the MomLogic article does not cite the CDC for the “more than 500” claim. Also notice the important qualifier in the MomLogic article about the 1.7 million households: these are “homes with loaded and unlocked guns.” Bunch offers no such qualifier, rendering his statement wildly inaccurate. (Neither MomLogic nor Bunch actually cite a specific CDC publication.)

I did find some support for the claim about 1.7 million households, but this comes not from CDC but from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Perhaps there was some association between CDC and the Academy.) (Update: As USA Today relates, the authors of the study did have a direct relationship to the CDC.) That 2005 article states, “Findings indicate that ~1.69 million (95% confidence interval: 1.57-1.82 million) children and youth in the United States <18 years old are living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” USA Today offered a popular summary of the study. However, the study is based on survey data, so its conclusions are suspect. (Please notice again my actual citations.)

At this point, then, the Denver Post either needs to come up with an actual citation supporting Bunch’s claim, or else issue a correction.

And, in general, I encourage reporters to a) actually have real citations backing up their claims (see also my write-up of a 2008 incident), and b) make those citations available to those who ask for them. Anything less constitutes journalistic negligence.

Following is today’s email exchange between Bunch and me:

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, You write: “More than 500 children in the United States die in gun accidents each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2007 report.” Please send [me] your citation for that claim. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: CDC. I cited my source.

Ari: I see that you wrote down CDC in your article. The problem is that when I look at the CDC web page, I find very different numbers than the ones you claim. So what I’m asking you for is the actual citation for a specific document that backs up your statement. Please provide that, and stop being coy. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: It took me all of about 3 minutes to find that report. With all due respect, Ari, you’re a columnist for a competing newspaper, do your own work.

Ari: Joey, If you found it, then please *send me the cite*. The fact that I write for the Grand Junction Free Press (hardly a competitor to the Post) is entirely irrelevant. I did my own work, as I mentioned, and I found different figures. So now, again, I ask you to back up your claim with a specific citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I told you the name of the report and the year it came out. Would you like me to print it out and drive it to your house? I’ll pick up coffee and doughnuts on the way. Good luck with your story, Ari.

Ari: No, I would would like you send me the link to the relevant document, or, if the document is not available online, the title and authors of the printed document. That will be trivially easy for you to accomplish, so please, again, send me the citation. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: I do freelance work sometimes. I’ll send you a bill for research, and when it’s paid I’ll spend my time doing your work. Failing that, you could call the CDC and ask them to send it for you. There could be a per-page fee for that, however. Have a nice day.

Ari: Dear Mr. Bunch, According to your own claims, you’ve *already done the work*, and it took you “all of about three minutes.” If you’ve already done the work, and found the citation that informs your article, then it will take you about ten seconds to send me the relevant link (or title with authors). As a writer for the Denver Post, you have a responsibility, both to your readers and to the owners and managers of the paper, to back up your factual claims with specific citations. Please do so at this time, and please stop acting so evasive and frankly unprofessional. Thanks, -Ari

Joey: One more time and the last time I’m saying it: do your own work. You work for a newspaper. You are a journalist. Do your own work. Conversation over.

Update: Apparently the conversation is not yet over. After I sent an email to several representatives of the Denver Post linking to this write-up, Bunch again responded, claiming (among other things), “I told you the name of the report.” I wrote back noting that he has not, in fact, provided me with the title of the report or anything like a verifiable citation. I will update this article when and if Bunch provides me with an actual citation to the alleged report in question.

Update: Kevin Dale, news director for the Denver Post, states via email, “We are correcting the statistics. Page 2 in tomorrow’s paper. We’ll be correcting the online story shortly. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. We take our accuracy very seriously indeed.”

Update 5:03 pm: I sent a follow-up email to Dale:

Dear Mr. Dale,

Thank you for promptly following through on the matter of the claimed gun statistics published in today’s Denver Post.

Unfortunately, the Denver Post’s online “correction” also is in error [as of the time of this update].
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19628941

The “correction” states that in 2007, 138 children died due to “fatal shooting accidents.” But that figure is for ages 0 through 19. Last time I checked, the legal age of adulthood is 18. Therefore, the correct figure is for ages 0 through 17, which is 112 (as I mentioned in my write-up). (While the figures vary only slightly in this case, I still think the Post ought to get its basic facts straight.)

I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_sy.html

Moreover, the online article continues to falsely state, “The CDC also estimated 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are kept.” The Post’s claim here is wildly inaccurate. The figure actually pertains to children “living with loaded and unlocked household firearms.” The number of children living in homes “where guns are kept” is many times that amount.

Again, I invite you to see for yourself here:
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/e370.full

(Anyway, that article relies on survey data, which are notoriously unreliable in these matters.)

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
-Ari Armstrong

Update 6:31 pm: The Denver Post has issued a revised correction for the online article in question.

1 thought on “Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post”

  1. Comment by Dan December 28, 2011 2:55 PM

    Nice work ARI… they neither expect, nor want, you to go ‘JACK WEB – DRAGNET’ on them!

    Comment by Ari December 28, 2011 2:59 PM

    By the way, Dan, it’s not “Jack Web”; it’s “Jack Webb” (star of the series). ;)

    Comment by onehipmex December 28, 2011 4:59 PM

    Nice work Ari.

    Comment by BlueCarDecember 28, 2011 5:56 PM

    Excellent work, Mr Armstrong.

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 6:38 PM

    Thank you for shedding some light on the truth!

    Comment by Dan December 28, 2011 7:20 PM

    “By the way, Dan, it’s not “Jack Web”; it’s “Jack Webb” (star of the series). ;)”

    Thanx for the correction Ari…

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 8:28 PM

    Go Ari, thanks for the vigilance!

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 9:19 PM

    Nice work!

    Comment by Dantes December 28, 2011 9:23 PM

    Joey Bunch, journalist.

    Graduate: Dan Rather School of Journalism

    Motto: Fake, but accurate.

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 9:25 PM

    Thanks for your dogged determination to get to the bottom of this and get to the truth of the matter. Best regards, –Cuneiandro

    Comment by DRJ December 28, 2011 9:28 PM

    Well done. I wish every journalist were as professional as you appear to be.

    Comment by Kevin December 28, 2011 9:57 PM

    Great work! You want to tackle Salon and Jean Hanff Korelitz now?

    Comment by NahnCee December 28, 2011 10:12 PM

    I had the same sort of reaction when I’ve challenged a couple of the LA Times “journalists” over the years (Steve Lopez, I’m looking at you). I thought it was just West Coast elitist huff-puffery, but it appears that it’s a refuge of scoundrels backed into an untenable corner. I think you need to take Bunch up on his offer of donuts.

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 10:18 PM

    I just sent an e-mail to Dale asking him to investigate Bunch’s apparent plagiarism, misattribution of sources, and unprofessional conduct.

    Maybe others should follow suit?

    Comment by Ari December 28, 2011 10:20 PM

    Welcome, Instapundit readers – http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/134359/

    I do want to emphasize that, while the Denver Post has sometimes failed to offer quality reporting, usually it does a good job. Sometimes it offers great reporting. In this case, the Post published an inaccurate report, but, to the paper’s credit, it also quickly issued a correction. It is the role of readers and “citizen journalists” to keep the papers in their area on track. In all things, context matters!

    Also, I wrote a follow-up article about the larger picture: http://bit.ly/ryn8js

    Thanks, -Ari

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 10:28 PM

    It seems obvious that online articles that fail to “link” to sources for their facts (including images of supposedly supportive documents) are probably creating transparency problems to spin the story to the author’s conceits (maybe even to allow the author to make it up).

    Comment by Ari December 28, 2011 10:28 PM

    Let’s be careful throwing around the “p” word. Remember, I’m still not entirely sure how Bunch came up with his original claim.

    Also, I’ve bounced a couple of comments due to gratuitous cursing. Please keep it civil!

    Comment by Ari December 28, 2011 10:37 PM

    Anonymous 10:28 raises an interesting point. Many news reporters continue to write for print, yet their articles also appear online.

    I myself have faced the problem of including a truncated citation in print. My solution in such cases is simply to record the relevant links so that I can make them available to anyone who asks. Whenever feasible I try to get the host publication to publish the links online. And I try to include more complete citations when I repost or discuss my articles on my own web page.

    At a minimum, a writer should be willing to make a verifiable citation available to any reader who asks for it.

    When we’re talking about large newspapers, it is the job of editors to verify claims, preferably prior to publication!

    For you bloggers out there, it’s your job to double-check your own claims. If you’re not hypersensitive to the possibility of making errors, you will certainly make them. -Ari

    Comment by Bob Ellison December 28, 2011 10:52 PM

    Ari, I want to pre-confess right here and right now that I ate that last cookie. Please have mercy!

    Comment by cbinflux December 28, 2011 11:22 PM

    Punch Back — Twice As Hard!

    Mr. Bunch should be summarily fired, but I won’t hold my breath.ReplyDelete

    Comment by cbinflux December 28, 2011 11:24 PM

    “When we’re talking about large newspapers, it is the job of editors to verify claims, preferably prior to publication!”

    …unless it doesn’t fit the Liberal journ-O-list meme.

    Comment by Anonymous December 28, 2011 11:51 PM

    I would think 1.7M children line in homes with a gun in Texas alone. All of these numbers seem designed to make gun ownership seem dangerous.ReplyDelete

    Comment by Jum December 29, 2011 12:07 AM

    I note the all-too-common arrogance displayed by Mr. Bunch in the email exchange, highlighted as it was by the obvious contempt in which he held anyone who would deign to question his work. This is the usual, and tiresome, attitude of those with a strong sense of “status entitlement”. That is, they are used to being held in high regard, if only by themselves, and grow accustomed to having their every word accepted without dispute as holy writ. Their sense of outraged shock and grievance at being questioned can be encapsulated in the time-honored response of “Ha-rumph!”. Just like Bunch.

    But that response, in addition to being intended as a declaration of offended dignity, also serves as a defense mechanism meant to dissuade the questioner from further curiosity. Here it is plainly apparent that Bunch knew he was caught from the outset, and he chose the very risky tactic of doubling down on the ridicule as the exchange of emails continued. And, as usual, it backfired.

    I am not so surprised that he lied and fudged figures in trying to win an ideological point in his article: it’s who the left is and what they do. But I’m speechless that Bunch hasn’t the scintalla of integrity it would take to finally admit he had been caught…at least that he was wrong. That fact alone tells me more about Bunch as a man than anything else in his sorry behavior in this entire episode. It tells me it is far more important for him to appear correct, and to never admit error, much less an intent to deceive, than it is to be a man of truth, honor and trust.

    What a tiny, small, petty man it takes to do that. And what a complete waste of testicles.

    Comment by Anonymous December 29, 2011 5:01 AM

    I realize newspapers are financially strapped, but using high-school interns as reporters is unconscionable.

    Interns are there to learn and to be mentored, not to defray costs. So, to the Denver Post; shame on you. And to Joey Bunch; stay in school!

    Comment by Dave S. December 29, 2011 5:44 AM

    Now, if you really want some fun, look up:

    1) The number of households with swimming pools.

    2) The number of kids drowned in residential swimming pools.

    I did this about ten years ago, and came up with kids being about 87 times more likely to die in a nice swimming pool than from a nasty gun. I’ll bet someone smarter than I can get a more accurate figure, but I’ll bet it’ll be as impressive.

    Comment by johnvert December 29, 2011 5:57 AM

    His email responses sound like that of a fourteen year old. The anti-gunners have been distorting and making up statistics forever. Another example of a person so blinded by rhetoric they will do and say anything.

    Comment by BladeDoc December 29, 2011 5:57 AM

    Well done Sir. And I’m actually surprised and impressed that the paper’s editor made the corrections.

    Comment by Stranger December 29, 2011 5:57 AM

    Thanks for the well researched post. Let me add a small point.

    Most researchers consider the 16th birthday as the dividing line between “childhood” and “young adulthood.” While the age is perhaps debatable in a society that seems to want to stretch childhood into the 60’s, I generally use that age, just to keep down confusion.

    Those who wish to make the statistics as appalling as possible choose later transition dates. As in one notorious comment that “children under 65!”

    Stranger

    Comment by Rob Douglas December 29, 2011 6:16 AM

    Great job Ari!
    And, Kevin Dale at the Post is deserving of credit for stepping up and responding appropriately.

    Comment by Mike N December 29, 2011 6:31 AM

    I’ve seen before the tactic of using two statistics and giving a citation for the second one in the hopes that the less that alert reader will assume the citation also applies to the first stat. Nice job Ari.

    Comment by Anonymous December 29, 2011 7:16 AM

    The fact that the Post immediately issued a correction, while the so-called journalist issued evasion after evasion, says a great deal about each of them. Ultimately, Ari, you have done the Post a true service by showing them part of their rodent infestation.

    Comment by Anonymous December 29, 2011 7:35 AM

    Dear JournoLists,

    This is why you are hated.

    Comment by JBuff December 29, 2011 8:10 AM

    As a former resident/gun owner in Texas and Louisiana and new resident to Denver, I can tell you that gun politics in Denver are far more polarized than most places. I’m mid 30’s, clean cut, highly educated and successful, and I’ve been on dates where the tone of conversation completely changed completely when I mentioned going shooting that weekend with friends up in the mountains. More so than anywhere else I’ve lived, the trucks in the mountains have gun racks and the Boulder/Denver city types either openly wonder why you need them or actively wants to take them away from you.

    Independent of that, what surprises me more in this exchange is the reporter’s unwillingness to provide links to sources and the relevant quotes. It’s one thing to dismiss a random e-mail from the internet as someone being critical of your article, but after identifying you as a peer/colleague he still treated you like a troll. Such a hostile response only fuels the impression that the error on his part was ideological, rather than a simple sourcing mistake.

    Comment by Anonymous December 29, 2011 8:11 AM

    First time I have come across this blog, from complete Colorado. Keep it up, very professional, and it exposes the thoughts and behavior of the media today. Everyone needs to see stuff like this. Agendas have no place in news reporting. Opinions that are factual are one thing, made up nonsense should not be tolerated and should be exposed. Again, great job. Going to bookmark this blog.

    Comment by Ari December 29, 2011 8:39 AM

    Gang, Please make your points without gratuitous name-calling. While I have not personally heard from Bunch again, I don’t know how the scene in the newsroom went down or how re responded in that context.

    I do think it would be wise for the Post to establish guidelines for interacting with readers. In general, reporters should interact in a friendly and honest way. In some cases, the right move might be to run a complaint by an editor first. Obviously Bunch’s approach reflected poorly on the paper.

    Comment by Ari December 29, 2011 8:55 AM

    I have no way of knowing whether Bunch’s error was ideologically driven, as some have suggested. My guess is that he merely rushed and cut corners. The outcome (if my guess is correct) is that he perpetuated biased anti-gun statistics without even knowing that they were wrong. But that reveals a much larger problem. When reporters are not careful with their facts, they can easily fall for biased factoids distributed by partisan groups. Let me emphasize, though, that it is possible to be both partisan (or ideological) and careful with the facts, as with good op-eds. -Ari

    Comment by Anthony December 29, 2011 12:58 PM

    I love the internet, I really, really do.

    Comment by Laughingdog December 29, 2011 5:34 PM

    What is sad is that Mr. Bunch’s behavior is a perfect example of why print journalism is a dying industry. It’s not just that he blindly accepted a “source” he found on the internet, solely because it already fit his worldview. What’s especially pathetic is the arrogance he displayed when called out on it.

    It’s one thing to be lazy here and there. We’re all guilty of that at some time or another. But it’s another to act like an arrogant douche when you’re caught at it.

    Comment by Ari December 29, 2011 5:51 PM

    Well, let’s remember that, in the end, Bunch expressed regret for the way he handled the issue. Let’s also remember that print journalists hardly have a monopoly on acting like jerks!

    Comment by Jum December 30, 2011 10:38 AM

    Ari makes a good point about recognizing that the editors responded in good faith to his emails notifying them of the error (as well as the unprofessional attitude of Master Bunch). They did indeed respond correctly in acting quickly to correct the juju figures their reporter provided in his article.

    Many once-eminent newspapers would simply have ignored the emails, responded that there was no error, or manufactured some pretense of having fixed the problem without actually making any substantive changes. After all, that’s how the NYT, SFChron, BoGlo, LAT and, all too often, WaPo do it. (Hmmm, is there a common thread here?)

    So,”Bravo”, DenPo.

    Comment by eeyore December 30, 2011 9:48 PM

    After his petulant exchange with you, I’m imagining that stunned, rush-of-heat-to-the-face-and-ears when Mr. Bunch got that call from Kevin Dale – “Joey, I need to see you in my office…”

Comments are closed.