Posts Tagged “journalism fail”

Observed departure of temperature from average for the period Nov. 2004-Mar. 2005. Superimposed in bold text is the winter forecast made in the 2004 Old Farmer's Almanac for the same period. The Almanac got four regions correct and eight incorrect, with two too close to call. / NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather UndergroundEvery year around this time the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and its similar rival the Farmers’ Almanac, trot out weather predictions for the coming winter. And every year we’re treated to media stories about it … as though any of it actually means anything. Yesterday the Associated Press published a story with a lede guaranteed to pique Americans’ interest (WebCite cached article):

Just when you thought you had gotten over last winter, be warned: The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts it will be super cold with a slew of snow for much of the country, even in places that don’t usually see too much of it, like the Pacific Northwest.

If you don’t want to read about those four-letter words, there’s plenty more to peruse in the folksy, annual book of household tips, trends, recipes and articles, such as animal jealousy, the history of shoes and anticipation for the biggest Supermoon in decades in November 2016.

That crap is all I can take, so I won’t quote any more of it. In spite of the AP story’s paean to a supposedly accurate prediction last year, in truth, the two Almanacs” weather predictions are, in a word, bullshit! A steaming load heaved right out the back of the barn. Claims of over 80% accuracy are not true at all. They’re lies. Real meteorologists who really study the weather, who base their conclusions on real measurements, and who have real credentials that show they know what they’re talking about, have determined the Almanacs actually have very poor track records (cached and cached). The Farmers’ Almanac was, quite famously, wrong about Super Bowl XLVIII being hit with snow.

It’s utterly irresponsible of mass media outlets — especially those as widely-read and respected as the Associated Press — to treat this rank bullshit as though it’s news. It’s not. The Almanacs’ predictions are nothing of the sort! Making everything much worse … because this was released by the AP, it will get propagated by virtually every other media outlet in the country, and internationally too. Which is far more publicity than this crap deserves.

It’s time for the mass media, especially the AP, to just fucking stop falling for bullshit like this. Yes, as I said, the lede of this story is compelling. It’ll draw eyeballs for sure … but it will still be uninformative and useless crap that no one should bother seeing. Both Almanacs sell well enough that they don’t need the AP shilling for them.

P.S. Mention of the Almanac‘s prediction of a “supermoon” in 2016 is superfluous. A supermoon, aka a “perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system,” is a very predictable phenomenon. Astronomers (as in, real scientists using real equipment) can predict them many years in advance, and have done so — without the specious help of the Old Farmer’s Almanac or their mysterious, undisclosed algorithms.

Photo credit: NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather Underground.

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#CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA TodayMost of my readers will, no doubt, already have heard of something called “the Charlie challenge” (or perhaps more correctly, “the Charlie Charlie challenge”). Apparently this is something teens must do to entertain themselves, because … I guess … the poor little things just don’t seem to have any other entertainment options left (I mean, it’s not like they have TV, radio, video games, Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or any of thousands of other outlets to occupy their time).

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the idea is to line up two pencils in a cross formation, one balanced on the other, with “yes” and “no” marked in the quadrants they border, then talk to them (and to some putative Mexican demon), flip out when they move on their own, then post videos of all this on the Internet to impress one another. Or something.

I don’t quite get it, but then I’m a curmudgeonly old guy who’s just not “hip” enough to understand the importance of it. Or something.

At any rate, this supposed paranormal game is getting a lot of play in the mass media. I guess reporters are bored, too, and have run out of stories to investigate. Or something. Here, for example, is a piece by USA Today on this topic (WebCite cached article); here’s Time magazine’s story on it (cached); and here’s CNN’s piece on the subject (cached). All of this constitutes yet another example of the “paranormal as news” trope that’s infected journalism for a number of years. Yawn.

The usual suspects have lined up to declare that the Charlie challenge is, in fact, the supernatural (or maybe more precisely the preternatural) at work, and have taken to whining and bellyaching about it, warning teens not to partake. For example, a Catholic priest has ordered people to avoid it, calling it “a dangerous game” in which demons truly are summoned (cached).

There are so many things wrong with all of this, I hardly know where to begin. First of all, contrary to the legend that accompanies “the Charlie challenge,” there’s no “Charlie” demon in Mexico (cached). People in Mexico, who speak Spanish for the most part, would give their legendary demons Spanish names, like “Carlos,” instead. Second, there’s no such thing as a demon … nor is there any Satan, or devils, or anything else of the sort. They do not exist — period.

Third, the supposed “paranormal” effect is rather easily explained, in a mundane fashion, using conventional science. The (UK) Independent, among other outlets, goes into it (cached) … although I suspect those who truly believe in the paranormal aren’t going to buy that it’s merely “gravity” doing it. They’ll just insist it couldn’t possibly be anything that simple … because, you see, they were there, and simply “know” it couldn’t be!

I suppose a skeptic like myself could perform a test, by setting up the pencils — without markings and without the required incantation/question — and then see what the pencils do on their own. But I doubt any “true believers” would really care about the results of that test. Yeah, they like to whine and gripe that skeptics are “closed-minded” and won’t just take their word for the bullshit they fabricate; but ironically they, themselves are “closed-minded” to any possibility that their paranormal B.S. might be invalid. Hmm.

Photo credit: #CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA Today.

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“Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:23, New American Bible)I’ve blogged before about Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who some 2½ years ago had been convicted of failing to report the abuse of a minor (WebCite cached article). In the real world most of us live in, being convicted of criminal wrongdoing while on the job usually results in an automatic firing from that job.

But in the strange, surreal, alternate universe of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, that doesn’t hold true. The bishops don’t generally like to have to pay too much attention to insignificant little things like criminal courts. They’re above all that, you see. So Finn was able to keep his post.

Until today. As Religion News Service reports, at long last — 2½ years after his conviction — the Vatican deigned to allow Finn, finally, to resign (cached):

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of an American bishop who was found guilty of failing to tell police about a suspected pedophile priest.

The Vatican on Tuesday (April 21) said the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri.

The resignation was offered under the code of canon law that allows a bishop “who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause” to resign.

What’s remarkable about this is not that it took so long for the Vatican to act, or for Finn to quit. The Church had long resisted admitting Finn had done anything wrong in the first place — even after his conviction. But what’s remarkable is that he was let go after 2½ years. That amount of time strongly suggests there had originally been no intention of having him leave. Something changed — maybe 1½ to 2 years later — that made this happen … but what was it? I have no idea.

The other thing I’ve noticed, in reporting on this, is that media outlets (including the RNS article I cited, plus many others) make little or no mention of the 2½ year delay between Finn’s conviction and his resignation. I can’t imagine why that’s the case. This delay is certainly noteworthy, and anyone reporting on it ought to have mentioned it … even if only to concede there’s no known reason for it. Religion reporters appear to have taken a pass on that part of the story. It’s hard to imagine why, but they have. For this reason, I’m marking this as an example of a “journalism FAIL.” The delay should have been reported, if not thoroughly investigated — but it wasn’t.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic, based on Mt 7:23, NAB.

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Ebola Facts - v by SouthernBreeze, on FlickrIt’s old news by now that Ebola virus has been on a tear through three different west African countries. It’s also not news that a man came to Texas from Liberia carrying Ebola and eventually died of it in a Dallas, TX hospital. What’s more, it’s also not news that two nurses who’d cared for him have contracted it (cached). All of that is bad enough. But the reaction to these stories has been … well, the phrase “fucking insane” may not quite do it justice.

First, we have the inevitable political reaction from Republicans using this as another way of tearing into Barack Obama’s hide. Their reactions range from the calm yet still irrational, demand that the CDC’s director resign (cached), which will accomplish nothing whatsoever, as well as demanding travel bans from the affected countries (cached), which also isn’t likely to do much good, to the extreme and ridiculous, such as bundling several crises into one big, neat package of hate, sanctimony, and paranoia by claiming ISIS/ISIL/IS fighters have contracted Ebola and are (cached) trying to get over the country’s southern border to infect Americans en masse (cached) — there is, of course, no evidence of any such conspiracy. And then there’s the garden-variety wingnut Religious Right wackiness of claiming Obama caused (cached) the Ebola crisis as a way of “taking over” or something (cached) — as though that makes any sense at all.

But on top of all this, we have a number of other asinine reactions (cached):

That’s not the limit of the insanity, but it’s enough to illustrate what I’m talking about. It really needs to fucking stop already.

I’m with Shepard Smith of Fox News. Please watch as he decimates the (largely media-driven) insanity:

Smith cites influenza, which annually kills thousands of Americans, as a much greater danger than Ebola, but I can think of another, that being Enterovirus D68, which currently is something of a problem in the US. Although Ebola is more deadly than either of these, Americans are incredibly less likely to contract it. Which means it’s not something they have any reason to be terrified about. The panicking lunacy is enough to make me tag this post “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

OK, people, I get it. You don’t want Ebola. Really, I understand. I don’t want it either. But this blind panic isn’t going to help you avoid it. I’ll tell you what will: Calm down, grow up, and get over it, fercryinoutloud!

Photo credit: SouthernBreeze, via Flickr.

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Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’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.

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When the Fail is so strong, one Facepalm is not enough / Picard & Riker / HaHaStop.ComNote: 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.

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you probably don't wanna knowIt’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.

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