CNN’s Descent into Narrative-Based Advocacy

CNN's Recent Take on School Shootings Lacks Objectivity


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In the aftermath of the school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas and Parkland, Florida, it appears that school shootings are drastically on the rise.  That analysis is certainly supported by CNN writers, Saeed Ahmed and Christina Walker,who recently released an article titled: “There has been, on average, 1 school shooting every week this year.”  

Written 21 weeks into 2018, this article presents a tragically high number of 23 school shootings to have occured just this year.  

Both the claim and the number itself prompted an examination of the parameters used by CNN to establish their report. It is important to note that criticisms of CNN’s reporting are not critiques of the victims, survivors, or family members, nor are they intended to trivialize the very real trauma experienced during these horrendous incidents.

That being the case, it is crucial to maintain standards of objectivity when reporting facts and allow the facts to dictate the narrative, rather than the other way around.

The parameters CNN utilizes are as follows:

  • A shooting that involved at least one person being shot (not including the shooter)
  • A shooting that occurred on school grounds
  • Grades K through college/university level were included
  • Gang violence, fights, and domestic violence were included
  • Accidental discharge of a firearm was included provided the first two parameters were met

While each listed ‘school shooting’ falls well within their selected parameters, the deception lies with the specificity of the parameters rather than their relevance.  First, however, this raises the question of what constitutes as a ‘school shooting.’

Even left-leaning Politifact, a website known for its delineation between facts and falsities struggles to reach a precise definition.  Interpretations range from expansive, including any incident that occurs on school property when students or staff are present, to more specific, requiring the shooter or at least one of the victims to be students or teachers.

The generality of the parameters established by CNN sets the foundation for an overly broad definition of school shootings. Why is this problematic? After all, CNN openly stated their accurate, albeit broad parameters.  With the exception of the student shot with a BB gun in Gloversville Middle School, the entirety of their count certainly meets their basic criteria of actual shootings that occur on school grounds involving at least one person being shot.  

The purpose of comprising a list of school shootings is to either provide a factual assessment of the number of school shootings that have occured in 2018 or present an emotional argument by appealing to the tragedy of the tremendously high number of school shootings.

 In either case, failing to acknowledge the definitive differences between the types of shootings that occur on school grounds can constitutes ambiguous and potentially biased reporting. Origination, outcome, and even required solutions can vary remarkably based on the nature of the shooting.  

Accidental discharge of a firearm is categorically different than an incident where an armed individual intentionally opens fire on students or teachers. Even gang violence or domestic disputes that occur in school parking lots after hours with no student or faculty involvement differ significantly than the horrors that befell Parkland and Santa Fe at the hands of deranged individuals.  

Victims in five of the twenty three incidents were neither students, teachers, nor otherwise affiliated with the respective schools.  

The only distinguishing characteristic separating those shootings from the dozens of shootings that occur regularly in major cities was their proximity to the schools or universities.

 One shooting consisted of an accidental discharge during a safety demonstration where the student was superficially injured (as per the CNN report) by either a bullet fragment or by debris that fell from the ceiling.  Lastly, an incident where a Gloversville middle school student was shot by another Gloversville student with a bb pistol was included on their list.

I can only imagine this was included due to an intense confusion stemming from their knowledge of BB guns and their capabilities.  According to a release from the Gloversville Police Department, “The alleged victim told police the teen chased him and shot him with a BB pistol at the middle school; he suffered a minor injury of bruising and pain.” While BB guns can be dangerous and painful they are significantly different than the weapons used in other shootings, especially with regard to lethality.

Lack of Objectivity

None of this is to suggest that any injuries or deaths sustained from accidental discharge or gang violence are any less tragic.  Guns are incredibly dangerous when used recklessly or with malicious intentions and safeguarding the welfare of our children against the threat of gun violence remains paramount.

It is disingenuous, however, to generally list incidents that contain no direct relevance to schools, staff, or student besides their approximate physical location next to the awful tragedies of Parkland, Santa Fe, Benton, Kentucky, and even Lexington Park, Maryland.  

Ambiguous and nonspecific parameters, as well as failing to distinguish between categorically different shootings resulted in an artificially increased total for school shootings this year.  Any number of school shootings surpassing zero is inarguably too high.

It remains CNN’s job as a purportedly objective news channel to report facts in a manner that is honest and forthright, rather than obscur them behind ambiguity, or at least to be upfront about their narrative-driven advocacy.


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Matthew Charles Murray

Matthew Murray graduated from Santa Clara University with a Bachelors degree in Bioengineering and is currently specializing in astronaut health research. His primary interests include systems of morality, founding principles, and cognitive and behavioral psychology.

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