Lincoln Steffens [1886-1936], the great New York muckraking reporter, told the story in his autobiography of a slow August when no news worth reporting was coming into the City Desk. Steffens and his colleagues, as a lark, decided to create a crime wave, which they did, to the horror of the newspaper reading public, by simply reporting every crime, large and small, on the police daily blotter. Normally newspapers ignore most of these crimes, everything from purse snatchings to murders, unless some element of the story catches the eye and seems newsworthy, but in a great city like New York there are always plenty of crimes to report, if one wants to bother. After several days, during which public hysteria grew and calls for action echoed in City Hall, the reporters got bored and stopped reporting the contents of the police blotter. Miraculously, the crime wave subsided, and order was restored to the streets of Gotham.
The Huffington Post, to its great credit, has taken a leaf from Steffens' notebook. Their top headline, screaming in large type, lists murder after murder committed in the past twenty-four hours somewhere in the United States. The point, of course, is to gin up support for gun control legislation, now that the horror in Newtown has caught the fickle attention of the public. I have no idea whether The Huffington Post's gimmick will have any measurable effect, but full marks to them for trying.