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NYC media outlet targets veterans with mass-shootings report — but forgets the facts

A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011. (John Moore/Getty Images)

On the heels of a shooting at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport last week, allegedly perpetrated by 26-year-old Esteban Santiago — a veteran of Puerto Rico's National Guard — NBC News' New York City affiliate, WNBC-TV, ran a news story about mass shootings in America carried out by veterans.

While the story didn't receive much fanfare, it did capture the attention of Mediaite writer Alex Griswold, who skewered the story in a column on Mediaite.

The column, titled, "NBC New York Has Identified The Real Mass Shooting Threat in America: Veterans," was able to unravel WNBC's story in just four paragraphs.

First, Griswold noted that while WNBC created a timeline on mass shootings carried out by veterans, they have yet to create one on shootings carried out by radical Islamic extremists — which are statistically much more common.

"Let’s get the obvious point out of the way: no, NBC New York has never made a timeline listing every mass shooting carried out by those who follow a certain ideology. When people of those ideology commit those shootings, we are buffeted with assurances that is [sic] is wrong and immoral to stigmatize millions based on the actions of a few," Griswold wrote. "That courtesy evidently does not extend to our men in uniform."

Then he explained why WNBC's story is based on a "nonexistent trend" that persuades readers to believe "that serving in the military somehow causes one to carry out a mass shooting."

Griswold wrote:

The list itself is a bit odd, since there’s a fourteen-year gap between 1996 and 2010 where not a single veteran or serviceman carried out a mass-shooting. Now usually, that’s a pretty good indication that your trend is nonexistent. But NBC dug up three shootings from two decades ago, and if you’re going to smear America’s veterans, why not go the full mile?

The clear impression a reader would get is that serving in the military somehow causes one to carry out a mass shooting (I guess they’re going for PTSD?). There’s actually a lively debate on whether there’s a correlation between the two, but there’s nothing academic or nuanced about a listicle. Missing from a timeline is the fact that correlation does not imply causation: for one thing, mass shooters are nearly all men, and 24% of U.S. men are veterans.

WNBC's timeline includes not only shootings two decades ago, but shootings by veterans who had completely different motives from what is implied, Griswold went on to explain.

"The implication that military service somehow causes mass shootings is even worse considering most of the veterans listed had known motivations entirely devoid of their military background," he wrote. "Micah Johnson was a black militant who believed in race war, Wade Michael Page was a white supremacist who wanted the same."

Ironically, WNBC didn't list the motive of Nidal Hassan, the Army major responsible for Fort Hood's 2009 shooting that left 13 dead and 32 others injured: Islamic extremism.

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