CBS News With Katie Couric hypes a nontrend: teens and bombs.

Media criticism.
Dec. 11 2008 5:34 PM

Bogus Trend of the Week: Teens and Bombs

CBS News With Katie Couric hypes a nontrend.

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A graphic that appears at about the 44-second mark in the CBS News segment posted to the Web states by year the percentage of cases in which juveniles were involved: In 2004, 57 percent; in 2005, 63 percent; in 2006, 76 percent; in 2007, 59 percent.

That the number of explosives incidents fell to just 2,772 in 2007 (PDF) should have suggested to CBS News a segment titled "Hey, Where the Hell Have All the Explosives Incidents Gone?"

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Instead, CBS News hangs its story on the hook that teens "accounted for well more than half" of all explosives incidents between 2004 and 2007. If it's true that teens are behind more than half of all incidents—and, given my past, I don't doubt it for a moment—shouldn't the network have done the arithmetic to produce the raw number of incidents involving juveniles?

Had the network gone that route, here's what it could have reported, year by year:

  • Year 2004: 2,160 incidents
  • Year 2005: 2,345 incidents
  • Year 2006: 2,618 incidents
  • Year 2007: 1,635 incidents

What to make of CBS's assertion that it's an "alarming trend" that more than half of all incidents involve kids "under the age of 18," even though the raw number—that was once fairly steady—has plummeted? That the network is desperate to inflate a nontrend into a real one.

Jon and I never graduated from aerosol cans to pipe bombs. He discovered the greater incendiary potential contained in girls, and I discovered firearms.

******

Later we both discovered alcohol. Send your bomb memories to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.