Underreporting of Deaths

The White House released a listing of 78 terrorist attacks it claims were underreported by western media. Both the BBC and the New York Times have responded by posting links to the numerous stories they ran on these incidents, debunking the belief that these incidents weren’t reported in detail.

We can go further. The vast majority (56) of the terrorist attacks resulted in one or fewer deaths. Of these, only 19 people actually died; the remaining victims were wounded. The articles run by the New York Times on these 19 deaths had an average length of 705 words.

Of course, this number alone doesn’t tell us much. To be meaningful, we need some basis for comparison. One possibility is the average word length of articles on single murders. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of such articles:

  • On February 6, 2017, a Virginia woman shoots her 6-year-old daughter.
  • On February 3, 2017, a 12-year-old shoots a store clerk in Arkansas.
  • On February 2, 2017, a 14-year-old girl shoots her brother over a video game in Toledo.
  • On February 2, 2017, two men shoot another man during a Craigslist robbery.
  • On January 9, 2017, a Florida police officer is killed.
  • On December 24, 2016, a man in Arkansas shoots at a car for tailgeting, killing a toddler.
  • On December 1, 2016, Joe McKnight is killed in what appears to be an incident of road rage.
  • On August 3, 2016, the body of Karina Vetrano is found in a Queens park.

I’m still collecting data, because it seems there’s a journal article here, but the preliminary data is too interesting to ignore.

These eight articles have an average length of 386 words. Actually, this figure is probably higher than the average for single murders: Joe McKnight was a NFL football player, and Karina Vetrano had considerably more coverage because of its local nature.

What this suggests is that if you’re killed by a terrorist attack, your death is likely to receive twice as much coverage as it would if you were merely killed as part of an ordinary crime. A similar analysis of stories from the BBC suggests that terrorist attacks get four times as much coverage as ordinary crimes.


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