Accuracy in Media

Stories about controversies surrounding law enforcement use of Tasers are abounding, but when USA Today published a Taser article with a sidebar in a Friday June 3 edition of the newspaper, Taser was left fuming. The USA Today sidebar showed photographs of a Taser X26, an electric chair, a lightening storm, and an electric train track leading to a sensationalistic comparison. The sidebar explicitly compared the output of the Taser X26 to that of an “electric chair” and said the Taser output was 100 times that of the chair. Taser issued a press release correcting that and other figures in USA Today. The Taser system’s average current is more than 1,000 times less than that of the electric chair, said Rick Smith, CEO of TASER International.

It seemed USA Today inverted key numbers adding zeroes and deleting decimals. Said Smith, “I am outraged at the careless reporting and gross misrepresentation of the facts in the USA Today article, ‘TASER Packs Potent but Brief Punch of Electricity.’ The article states that the electrical output of the TASER X26 as 2,100 to 3,600 amperes, when the output of the TASER devices is, in fact, 0.0021 to 0.0036 amperes-a misrepresentation of the device’s average current specifications by a factor of 1 million.”

Smith allowed the error may have been unintentional and due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the basics of electricity. However he argued that TASER International has repeatedly met with and provided the editorial and reporting staff of USA Today with detailed technical information. Information regarding the device’s specifications was also available on the company’s website

The article quoted Vincent Amuso, associate head of electrical engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, as saying the Taser is “relatively safe compared with other objects that can transmit electricity to humans.”  Amuso said what makes the Taser less harmful is the short length of time it is held against the body, he says. “The electric chair uses much less current-less than 1% of that from a Taser-but that current is sustained, Amuso says.”

Accuracy in Media contacted two Taser representatives but received no response to requests for further comment. The complaint was picked up by Reuters and covered also by WebProNews.

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