Posts Tagged “journalism fail”
It’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.
And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.
As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!
The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):
In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.
Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.
Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.
Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.
This is not the first time Connecticut’s newspaper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.
Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”
If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)
This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.
Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.
Tags: bad journalism
, blue house
, canton CT
, dan haar
, hartford courant
, haunted house
, hauntings as news
, journalism fail
, kimberly hathaway
, mass media
, paranormal journalism
, the blue house
No Comments »
Note: There’s been some news about this; please see below.
Once in a while some religious person or group does something in the name of his/her faith that’s simultaneously so ridiculous and surprising, that I’m rendered almost speechless by it. Today was one of these times. I read on the Friendly Atheist blog that Leadership Journal — a “sub-publication” (if you will) of Christianity Today — actually published a Christian youth pastor’s justification for having sexually abused one of his young charges (WebCite cached article). This confession/rationale is anonymous, of course … since, like most criminals of his kind, the creep is too much of a coward to take responsibility for anything and actually admit who he is. The crux of this creature’s admission is here:
A few years into my marriage and ministry I began to believe a lie. The realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home. From my perspective, I was excelling at work and at home—and this perceived lack of appreciation led me to believe I deserved more.
Meanwhile, there was someone else in my life that appreciated me very much—one my students. Seeking approval and appreciation, I gravitated toward her. Before long, we were texting each other and interacting through social media. Nothing scandalous or questionable—a Facebook “like” or comment here, a friendly text there. Things friends do.
But I knew what appeared innocent was, in reality, wrong and very dangerous. Red flags kept popping up. Why was I not talking about this “friendship” with my wife? Why was I being secretive and sneaky about it? Why didn’t I, in the earliest stages, when I knew the “friendship” was rapidly escalating beyond what it should be, slam on the brakes?
(Please note how the creature threw his wife under the bus … just like Dinesh D’Souza, another devout Christianist.) In his answer to this question, the creature attributes his fall to being consumed by “sin”:
The answer: I had failed to address the sin in my life. Sin that is not dealt with doesn’t fade away. It destroys us from the inside.
There is a huge difference, of course, between merely “sinning” — as awful as one might think that is — and “criminality.” According to Christian scripture, all human beings are “sinners” … but not all of us are “criminals” like this creature. Calling his crimes mere “sins” is the creature’s way of whitewashing what he did — not to mention, implying it’s something almost anyone else might have done in his place (since, of course, all human beings are subject to “sin”).
The Friendly Atheist article goes on to explain how an online activist (Becca Rose) tried to get the Journal‘s editor, Drew Dyck, to explain why he thought this article was appropriate, but he inexplicably replied, “I don’t answer rhetorical questions” (cached) There was nothing “rhetorical” about Ms Rose’s question (“What exactly was the editorial process in publishing a rapist’s justifications for being a child molester?”) so I’m baffled by his reply. It makes no sense!
Please note, though, that the Journal has apparently not missed the (very understandable) shitstorm they kicked up. The article I linked to above, and cached using WebCite, has been modified, both to include an editorial disclaimer, and apparently to alter some offensive language used by its author. But that disclaimer, too, makes little sense. Their intention had been to provide a warning to pastors and churches. And I suppose it might be good for them to know something about how pastoral child-molesters think. However, the Journal could have provided that sort of information either from third-party experts or by brief excerpts from an interview with a child-molesting pastor (or by both means). They didn’t need to give such a creature a full article-length pedestal to stand on. That creature didn’t need to be given that much of a voice. If anything, we as a society need to work harder to not grant people like this creature any voice; they don’t deserve to be heard or understood, and only deserve revulsion and condemnation.
I’d also like to note, this is yet another example of how clerical child abuse isn’t solely a Catholic problem — not that I’ve ever said it was, but lots of Catholic apologists love to trumpet that canard every time some priest or bishop gets his sorry ass hauled into court over it. So all you Catholics, go ahead and jump up for joy over a Protestant publication giving a voice to a Protestant pastoral child-molester. Go ahead. Have a blast!
Update: It looks as though the editors of Leadership Journal finally got the message; they pulled the offending article and replaced it with an apology (cached). I’m not sure what caused them to change their minds, but I’m glad they did it.
Photo credit: HaHaStop.Com.
Tags: becca rose
, child abuse
, child molestation
, child rape
, christianity today
, clerical child abuse
, drew dyck
, it's not just a catholic problem
, journalism fail
, leadership journal
, statutory rape
No Comments »
It’s another “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me” moment in the mass media’s shambolic hypercoverage of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. This time, CNN’s HLN network brought a psychic — of all things — on national television to “find” the missing airplane. Mediaite reports on this sad debacle (WebCite cached article):
On Thursday night, HLN invited a psychic to discuss what she think [sic] may have been the fate of the lost airliner and the 239 souls that were on board that plane.…
“Naturally, I don’t have hard, concrete evidence,” Lisa Williams confessed. “I think any psychic who has hard, concrete evidence can’t do their job correctly.”
“They’ll just work off what they know,” she continued. “I tend to work off what I don’t know.”
Considering that a lot of psychics make claims that are so vague as to fit with nearly anything, and which therefore ultimately are non-informative, Williams actually said a few fairly specific things:
Williams said that her powers are telling her that some of the passengers are still alive and are being held in an undisclosed location. She added that she knew this because she was attempting to contact MH370?s lost passengers for their living relatives.
“I do believe that it actually crashed, and I see a lot of trees,” Williams revealed. “I think there is a larger organization behind this that is leading us off track with this debris.”
“Do you think we’re going to get an absolute resolution?” Hutt asked Williams.
Williams said that she was just informed by the voices in her “witchy woo land” that the mystery behind the plane’s disappearance will be finally resolved “within the next three weeks.”
Once more is learned about MH370′s fate, at least some of these claims can be confirmed or refuted. But the problem here is that she made several claims which are independent of one another, and if just one of them turns out to be correct, Williams can claim she was “right” about it all along and that her powers have been verified. In other words, while her individual claims are specific and most are (potentially) testable, that she “shotgunned” them out introduces the sort of vagueness that psychics tend to rely on in order to appear as though they have ESP.
It won’t matter that any of the rest of her claims turn out to be wrong: So long as just one of her statements can be construed as verified, the whole package will be widely viewed as “confirmed.” For example, if it’s discovered that the plane fell somewhere in the ocean, her statement that “it actually crashed” will have been “confirmed” and people will say her magical powers have been verified. That she mentioned trees and survivors being held somewhere, will be conveniently forgotten.
I wasn’t able to embed Mediaite’s video of HLN’s laughable absurdity, but did find it on Youtube, which you can view here:
By now we should all realize how ridiculous this wall-to-wall coverage has been. This bullshit needs to just fucking stop. If media outlets don’t have any news to report about flight 370, they should just not report anything … and then move on to other material. Making up bullshit like appeals to the supernatural, black holes, and trotting out “psychics” is just asinine beyond words and there is no excuse for it. Not one.
Finally, I note that the HLN host who introduced this segment states, at the start of it, “In the past, governments have used psychics to help with searches.” While this may be true on its face, it does nothing to support the effectiveness of psychic powers or psychics’ ability to find things. Yes, some governments, including the US and USSR, have dabbled in things like remote viewing. However, all those projects died out decades ago, due to the lack of useful results from any of these psi-ops, and the reality that psychic powers have never been demonstrated to work. And while some folks claim to be “psychic detectives,” not one crime has ever been shown to have been solved by a psychic. Not once. Ever. The HLN host’s appeal is a misleading one, and a journalist ought never to have attempted granting psychics credibility by using it.
Photo credit: Flood G, via Flickr.
, flight 370
, hln network
, journalism fail
, lisa williams
, malaysia air 370
, mass media
, mass media fail
, missing airplane
, psychic ability
, psychic power
, psychic powers
, witchy woo land
, you've gotta be fucking kidding me
No Comments »
I’ve blogged previously about the foibles of journalism and the mass media. Mostly I’ve complained that they take things like pseudoscience and pseudomedicine too seriously; follow a “duellistic” approach to reporting (i.e. telling two opposing, and usually wrong, sides of something, expecting the truth will magically pop out of them — somehow); think regurgitating press releases actually helps readers understand things; and treat anyone with a book to sell or documentary to promote like a credentialed expert on a topic, even if they’ve got their heads up their asses.
Most of these horrible trends have come about because of the long decline of journalism in the advent of the Internet; it’s hard for them to make money in an era where most news is free to anyone with an Internet-connected device (which have become ubiquitous). This means newsrooms have very little staff any more, and those who remain in them have little time for serious investigation of anything. Everyone connected with the media have offered endless excuses for this, but the bottom line is, journalism is now pretty fucking bad and only getting worse.
But lo! Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, CT has got it all figured out. The problem, he claims, is not with the economics of journalism in the World Wide Web age, but rather, because there are too many single-parent households (locally-cached article):
Even in a supposedly prosperous and well-educated state like Connecticut, how strong can demand for those things be now that half the children are being raised without two parents at home and thus acquiring developmental handicaps; 70 percent of community college and state university freshmen have not mastered what used to be considered basic high school skills; poverty has risen steadily even as government appropriations in the name of remediating poverty have risen steadily; and democracy has sunk so much that half the eligible population isn’t voting in presidential elections, 65 percent isn’t voting in state elections, and 85 percent isn’t voting in municipal elections?
This social disintegration and decline in civic engagement coincide with the decline of traditional journalism just as much as the rise of the Internet does.
If you thought Powell blaming the demise of journalism on the existence of single-parent households, and accusing single parents of giving their children “developmental handicaps” isn’t bad enough, hold on to your seats, because he digs in even harder and insults single-parent households even more:
Indeed, newspapers still can sell themselves to traditional households — two-parent families involved with their children, schools, churches, sports, civic groups, and such. But newspapers cannot sell themselves to households headed by single women who have several children by different fathers, survive on welfare stipends, can hardly speak or read English, move every few months to cheat their landlords, barely know what town they’re living in, and couldn’t afford a newspaper subscription even if they could read. And such households constitute a rising share of the population.
This is such a vile verbal assault, I hardly know where to begin critiquing it. I’m truly astonished that anyone in 21st century Connecticut can be saying that single mothers all live on welfare, are illiterate, move often in order “to cheat their landlords,” are ignorant of their whereabouts, and can’t afford newspapers. Where did he get these ideas? I suspect he would answer that by saying he knows of a single mother or two that have done these things, which (in the cavernous, echoing void which is his brain) constitutes irrefutable “proof” that all of them are like that. His complaint is probably more appropriate to the 1980s and early 90s, before welfare reform, because welfare benefits have an expiration date, now; no one can viably “live on” them. I wonder if he’d planned to mention Ronald Reagan’s legendary “welfare queen” but, for some reason, left it out.
I know folks raised by single mothers who are very educated (including several who’ve graduated from college, one a CPA, another a lawyer even), very literate, and who read and buy newspapers. So I can’t really imagine what Mr Powell’s problem is with these folks.
Moreover, Powell’s historiography is off. Single-parent households have been on a long rise since the 50s, yet the decline of journalism was more precipitous, and didn’t begin until the late 90s and early 00s. That alone shows he’s blaming the wrong bogeyman.
I suggest that, instead of childishly and petulantly railing against and outright insulting single mothers and their children, Mr Powell should grow the hell up, pull on his “big boy” pants, and actually work as the managing editor of his paper. It may be difficult to do, and I imagine he’d much rather blame his industry’s problems on someone or something else … but too fucking bad. It’s his job. He picked it. He needs to fucking do it … or resign.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Hat tip: Hypervocal.
Tags: chris powell
, journal inquirer
, journalism fail
, manchester CT
, mass media
, single mother
, single mothers
, single parent
, single parent households
, single parents
, you've gotta be fucking kidding me
No Comments »
I’ve blogged a time or two about New England’s famous “farmer’s almanacs” (there are two: the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac) and their nonsense “predictions” of what the winter will be. The Farmers’ Almanac has just released its prediction, and as the AP reports via CBS News, it’s rather dire (locally-cached article):
The Farmers’ Almanac is using words like “piercing cold,” “bitterly cold” and “biting cold” to describe the upcoming winter. And if its predictions are right, the first outdoor Super Bowl in years will be a messy “Storm Bowl.”
The 197-year-old publication that hits newsstands Monday predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the Super Bowl is played at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England.
“We’re using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It’s going to be very cold,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.
The AP quite thoughtfully explains how we’re to be sure this “prediction” is accurate:
Based on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles, the almanac’s secret formula is largely unchanged since founder David Young published the first almanac in 1818.
Modern scientists don’t put much stock in sunspots or tidal action, but the almanac says its forecasts used by readers to plan weddings and plant gardens are correct about 80 percent of the time.
Gee, I just love how the AP tells us that the Farmers’ Almanac must be accurate because its publisher says it’s accurate — and that, in turn, they back up by asserting that people use it to plan weddings. I am just so fucking glad they could clear that up for me!
I also love how they totally dismiss modern meteorology, as though no one has learned any more about the weather since 1818. I’m well aware of meteorology’s deficiencies … I was born and currently live in rural Connecticut, after all! … but to assume a putative prediction method dreamed up back in 1818 can’t possibly have been improved upon over the last two centuries? Come on. What a fucking joke!
The AP devoted just one clause of one sentence to mentioning that the two almanacs have skeptics, but nearly a couple of years ago, Discovery News ran a story addressing the almanacs’ accuracy, and they revealed there’s actually science behind that skepticism (cached):
Many atmospheric scientists and meteorologists scoff at the ability of olde-tyme formulas used by the digests to prognosticate the weather.…
For nigh on to two centuries, Americans have taken a gander at farmer’s almanacs for auguries about the weather. Millions of readers think they are the bee’s knees but atmospheric scientists scoff at the ability of olde-tyme formulas to prognosticate the weather.
“Based on my own analysis, and that of others, the monthly mean forecasts published by the ‘Old Farmer’s Almanac’ (OFA) lack value,” Nick Bond, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington’s State Climatologist, told Discovery News.
The “Farmers’ Almanac” and the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” are in competition with each other, but also face stiff competition from meteorologists with millions of dollars worth of satellites, radar dishes and other new-fangled contraptions.
The “Farmers’ Almanac” has weathered these scientific advances with stalwart faith in the founder’s formula.…
In 2003, Bond compared “Old Farmer’s Almanac” forecasts to actual weather events in the Pacific Northwest, the results are summarized in the Washington’s State Climatologist’s newsletter.
“The forecasts are sometimes correct. In terms of getting the sense of the weather anomalies right, for example whether it will be colder or warmer than normal, the OFA is correct about 50 percent of the time,” said Bond.
“Of course this is no better than flipping a coin,” he added.
Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services has compared “Old Farmer’s Almanac” forecasts to actual weather conditions across the United States for much of the 2000′s. His results corroborate those of Bond.
Back in 1981 another study, published in Weatherwise, looked at 60 monthly temperature and precipitation forecasts for 32 weather stations across the U.S. and compared them to “Old Farmer’s Almanac” forecasts. Once again, the accuracy of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” was found to be no better than flipping a coin.
The almanacs’ claimed successes, it turns out, aren’t even true “successes”:
For example, the “Farmers’ Almanac” website notes they were “on the money,” when they forecast a hurricane threat for the Southeastern U.S. at the end of August, manifested in the form of Hurricane Irene.
“A forecast of a hurricane hitting the southeastern United States in August is probably a pretty good bet in any year,” said [U. of Missouri scientist Neil] Fox. “You tend to hear about these ‘remarkable’ predictions, but not, of course all the times they get it wrong! I certainly would not make my plans based on this.”
The bottom line is that the mass media have no viable excuse for reporting any of this bilge as though it were really “news.” They have even less excuse for reporting the almanacs’ claims about their own accuracy as though they were fact, when clearly they are merely raw assertions with no demonstrable basis. There’s no place for this kind of hypercredulity, at the AP or in any other newsroom. No one is served this insipid trash.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, bogus predictions
, farmer's almanac
, journalism fail
, lazy journalism
, sandi duncan
, weather forecasting
, weather forecasts
, winter prediction
, winter predictions
7 Comments »
With Christmas approaching, the mass media are, as one would expect, catering to the country’s prevailing religiosity. That’s understandable, and normal. But this effort goes beyond annual re-showings of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even their journalists get into the act, manufacturing news stories that reinforce religious sentimentality. An example of this is ABC News, which is reporting that Noah’s Flood has been proven to have occurred (WebCite cached article):
The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous from the Bible, and now an acclaimed underwater archaeologist thinks he has found proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events.
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for ABC News, Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, talked about his findings. His team is probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah.
Unfortunately for believers in the Abrahamic religious tradition, this is not really the “proof” that the article implies, or that ABC would like its readers/viewers to think it is. The ways in which they support the very-thin contention, are as varied as they are stupid:
Ballard’s track record for finding the impossible is well known. In 1985, using a robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras, Ballard and his crew hunted down the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic.
Unfortunately for both ABC and Ballard, that Ballard had been able to locate the Titanic, does not mean he’s now found proof of Noah’s Flood. It’s a clever appeal to authority, I admit, but that’s all it is. Next comes this gem:
Now Ballard is using even more advanced robotic technology to travel farther back in time. He is on a marine archeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.
This is not actually news. Most of us learned of the Ice Age back when we were in school. The idea that the Noah’s Flood story might be a reflection of one or more flooding events spawned by the end of the Ice Age, is not new at all.
Curiously, after covering this ground in their effort to “prove” that Noah’s global Flood had occurred, ABC News veers off into something else:
According to a controversial theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists, there really was one in the Black Sea region. They believe that the now-salty Black Sea was once an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland, until it was flooded by an enormous wall of water from the rising Mediterranean Sea. The force of the water was two hundred times that of Niagara Falls, sweeping away everything in its path. …
The theory goes on to suggest that the story of this traumatic event, seared into the collective memory of the survivors, was passed down from generation to generation and eventually inspired the biblical account of Noah.
The story goes on to discuss the fact that the Black Sea appears to have had a different coastline than it does now. Yet again, however, this is not news. It’s well-known. This also seems to be the linchpin of Ballard’s theory … which, by itself, is neither novel nor unreasonable — even though ABC News is reporting it as a “new” discovery.
But as I said, this means we’ve actually drifted away from the original Noah’s Flood story, and are in different territory. The Great Flood described in Genesis was a global flood that wiped out all of humanity and all the world’s fauna except the refugees aboard the Ark. An inundation from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea, as colossal as it may have been to those who were near it, was not the global event recorded in Genesis! It could not have wiped out any person or animal beyond the Black Sea basin.
What Ballard and his religionism-satisfying sycophants in the mass media have done, is to take a localized event for which there is some genuine evidence, and stretched it far beyond what’s actually there, in order to make it appear to support the Bible. Logicians know this as shoehorning, and ultimately, it’s a lie.
Look, I get that ABC News and the mass media feel as though they need to pander to religiosity. The majority of people in the US are Christians, and the majority of them like hearing their Bible has a basis in fact. But lying to them in order to curry their favor and make them feel more secure in their beliefs, is still lying, and it’s still wrong. Journalists like Christiane Amanpour have no excuse for lying to people just to make them happy. The cold fact here is that there is no evidence — zero, zip, zilch, nada, none, not a speck of it! — that the Great Flood tale in Genesis happened. Ballard ahs uncovered nothing that supports any such event. And ABC News had no business suggesting he did.
Photo credit: ABC News.
Tags: black sea
, christiane amanpour
, flood story
, great flood
, ice age
, journalism fail
, noah's ark
, noah's flood
, robert ballard
No Comments »
Folks, I’ve said it before and will say it again: It pays to be skeptical. Of everything. This morning offered a great example of why caution is in order. As the Hartford Courant explains, two major media outlets — CNN and Fox News — both published erroneous information on the Supreme Court decision released this morning (WebCite cached article):
For CNN and Fox News, among other news organizations, the twitter frenzy proved to be a source of embarrassment. Both news organizations falsely reported that the bill had been struck down, as did those who repeated the error.
A tweet by CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) containing the incorrect report was retweeted over 1,100 times. For example, Huffington Post tweeted “We jumped the gun in following them (Fox and CNN). Apologies for the confusion.” …
CNN originally tweeted that the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate for health care and displayed the information prominently on their website. Their blunder also unfolded on television, where Wolf Blitzer said the network had received conflicting reports. The network was forced to publicly issue a retraction.
Fox News also displayed incorrect information, as they displayed a television banner reading, “Supreme Court Finds Individual Mandate Unconstitutional.” The network changed it’s message soon after re-reading the court’s decision.
Note that this is eerily similar to something that played out, nearly as famously, some 6 months ago, when former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was prematurely reported dead. The same impulse, it seems, was at play here … CNN and Fox News were so eager to release a story — any story! — on the highly-watched case, that they didn’t take a few moments to check and see if what they were spewing was factual. They may well have had a story “pre-written” and launched it, without even taking the time to be sure it had any relation to the decision itself.
It’s nice that the Courant reported this error, but I note — with chagrin — that they did so within the framework of a different faulty journalistic trope, that is, “news-that’s-not-really-news.” The article’s lede is:
Twitter activity around today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act peaked at more than 13,000 tweets per minute at 10:17 a.m., significantly more than the 900 TPM that was tracked during the oral arguments in March, reports Rachael Horwitz, a representative from Twitter.com.
The article adds that lots of Google searches were made for the story, too. Listen, reporters, I don’t need to be told that “people use Twitter” or that “people use Google.” Nor do I need to be told that Twitter use and Google searches spike when a big story breaks. Those are both things I already knew, without having to be told. What on earth made you think that’s “news”? It’s not. You guys really need to stop already with that trope. OK?
Update: Media critic Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast has pointed out that not only did some media outlets get the story factually wrong, initially, but they had also had made what turn out to have been inaccurate predictions of the results of the case (cached). Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, so perhaps it’s not fair to condemn legal pundits like Jeffrey Toobin for not having gotten it right … but isn’t that a reason for them just to refrain from making predictions at all? The mass media are now jammed full of yammering, talking-head “pundits” who present themselves as prescient and all-knowing, and prattle endlessly about things they cannot necessarily know with as much certainty as they claim. Yet, they continually do it. Even after they’ve been proven wrong about things, on multiple occasions.
I would love for there to be a “pundit-prediction database” in which every prediction made by the talking heads is collected up and then evaluated to see if it came true. Then we might be able to hold these jabbering windbags accountable for their nonsense and gibberish. We already have something like this — informally anyway — for politicians, in the PolitiFact and FactCheck projects. There’s no reason this principle can’t be extended to media figures too.
Photo credit: Hartford Courant (cached).
Tags: bad journalism
, check facts
, critical thinking
, fact check
, fact checking
, journalism fail
, lazy journalism
, mass media
, news that's not news
No Comments »