By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Verifying that sniper shooting

Paul Bradshaw observes that the news media were quick to run with the video of a Georgian television reporter whose arm had supposedly been grazed by a Russian sniper, but none made any attempt either to verify what had happened, or to respond to skeptical commenters.

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  1. mikestucka

    The quoted "experts" are, for lack of a better term, utter @#$*&ing morons.First, any time anyone is shooting at you from a long distance they're called a "sniper." That doesn't mean they're trained to shoot accurately as a sniper or with the different equipment of a sniper, which indeed generally involves higher-potency rounds. Many modern bullets for general infantry use are designed to wound severely rather than kill, which makes them less-than-ideal for actually killing people. (They still can do so, absolutely — see, for example, the Washington, D.C., sniper duo.)At any rate, let's look at the comments one by one:“Sniper ammo is about 2.3 inches long.” Umm, no. The cartridge may be that long, but that stays within 10 feet of the shooter. Wolf, a Russian manufacturer of ammo in the size used by snipers, says its bullets are typically about 28mm long, or 1.1 inches. Strike One.“No mention of how we know it was a russian sniper and not say south ossetian. Anybody know where we can go for facts about this mess?” (Daily Mail) Noooo, nor is there no mention of whether it could be Georgian army or local militia, even, too. What I saw on CNN led me to believe they thought it came from where the bad guys (to Georgians) were, but who knows? War is confusing, and there aren’t a lot of unemployed forensics squads out there. Strike Two.“if a real sniper rifle with a large calibre bullet went past her arm her arm would of been torn off by the bullets sonic boom,” (Herald Sun) I’m assuming that’s a British paper, where they don’t know much about guns. Umm, no. In fact, if you read Fackler, you find out that the supersonic speed creates a temporary shock wave inside the human body — but except for some certain inelastic organs, that doesn’t actually do much damage. That is, you can get have the bullet go through you and the shock wave itself will generally add little damage. Through air next to you? Umm, no.Another on YouTube: “we don’t see anything really, we see a woman talking then we hear a faint sounds and the camera is being shaken. Then we see the woman in the car with a minor wound(maybe real, maybe not). Any1 saw any actual shooting at all?” Yes, generally speaking, anyone trying to kill you tries to make themselves obvious in case you want to exchange accident information, much like a wreck on the highway. For the love of God, what are these people thinking? Just what superman is going to be out there investigating somebody whose job is to shoot from concealed places?“Russians use the SVD with 7.62 ammo it would have taken that hand right off. Shrapnel or ricochet she wasn’t the target.” (Daily Mail) Umm, no. Again, it may have been militia or regular infantry with modern weapons, which is to say 5.45x39mm or 5.56 NATO. Those are very small bullets. Second, it was a scratch, a light hit, nothing near bone. There wasn’t much in the way to stop it or slow it down. Notice how you can easily put a meat cleaver into a piece of boneless chicken without making the whole house shudder from the impact? We’re talking about skimming the edge of a piece of boneless meat.So then we come to the author’s comments: Here’s the point: it doesn’t matter whether the video is real or staged. People are increasingly savvy and sceptical: they believe what they want to believe and they know that the first casualty of war is the truth. If you don’t respond to their comments asking about verification, or address the suggested ballistics explanations, then you have no claim to ‘the truth’: to them you’re just another desperate news pimp falling for a gory video. Yes. Savvy. Who? Did this guy check with a military surgeon? Innercity trauma team? Veteran?Any real expert would know every single comment the author cited is laughably ignorant. Would a truly knowledgable expert know whether the wound was faked or not? I don’t know. But the level of commentary here is evocative of the 9-11 truthers who somehow think people hid thousands of pounds of explosive behind existing drywall in offices without anyone noticing construction.Some general guidelines are available in the Reporting Cookbook’s Gun Guide, which I helped author. More links are at the bottom. I strongly suggesting looking at Fackler's diagrams to see just what the temporary cavity (shock wave) really means.It's also helpful to simply have a #@&*& ruler nearby. People get thrown too easily by metric and standard conversions.

  2. Paul

    Thanks Mike – that’s a great response and another demonstration of the importance of comments. As I say, the problem isn’t necessarily the footage itself (which is almost certainly genuine), but the treatment and sensationalisation and disengaged nature of it, which results in reader scepticism.But re: your comment about ‘experts’ (“Any real expert would know every single comment the author cited is laughably ignorant”), you assume readers are, and they aren’t. They look to us for that, and if we don’t, then they’ll believe the comments of other readers who say “I knew someone who was in the SAS” (Yeah, right)

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