Posts Tagged “media”

Stop Sign, via FreeFotoPlease pardon this slight departure from the usual topics of this blog.

I’m sure most of my readers know by now about the Groper-in-Chief’s Twitter tantrum, this past Saturday, over his predecessor having supposedly wiretapped his campaign offices in Trump Tower (WebCite cached article). He hasn’t offered the slightest evidence for this accusation — which is quite serious. He’s had a few days to come up with something … anything! … even remotely supporting his claim, but has refused to do so. In fact, the Apricot Wonder has asked Congress to investigate and find the evidence supporting it (cached).

That’s right, folks. Not only does the GiC have no basis for what he spewed, he knows he doesn’t, and now demands other people somehow find that evidence for him.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute offered a breakdown of how the alt right’s Dear Leader came to make this ridiculous accusation (cached). Among the conclusions of his analysis:

It’s worth noting here that, contra Trump’s claim on Twitter, none of the articles in question claim that phones were tapped. Indeed, it’s not even entirely clear that the order the FISC finally issued in October was a full-blown electronic surveillance warrant requiring a probable cause showing. If the FBI was primarily interested in obtaining financial transaction records, corporate documents, and (depending on both the facts and the FISC’s interpretation of the FISA statute) perhaps even some stored e-mail communications, that information might well have been obtainable pursuant to a §215 “business records” order, which imposes only the much weaker requirement that the records sought be “relevant to an authorized investigation.”

In sum, there’s very little there, and what is there, does not, in fact, support the GiC’s contention. He’s lying, plain and simple. And as I said, he has to know he’s lying.

But take note what happened here. The Apricot Wonder used Twitter as the platform for a big fat honking lie … and as a result, we’re now saddled with a Congressional investigation into wrongdoing which — at the moment — we have no reason to believe ever took place. All because of a Twitter fit that the mass media duly reported.

And that brings me to my idea: A mass media moratorium on reporting the Groper-in-Chief’s tweets. That’s right. What we need for the media to stop fucking reporting on every bit of lying drivel that comes out of the Groper’s Android phone. The country would be spared a lot of trouble, if they’d just do that.

But they won’t. “The president’s tweets are news!” reporters and editors will say. But, while that seems true, it’s not. Presidents say and do a lot of things in the course of a day which aren’t actually newsworthy. The Apricot Wonder’s tweets should be treated that way. If his infantile spew weren’t reported on, a lot of this shit wouldn’t happen. And he wouldn’t be able to misdirect us.

One might also say that the media should report on the Groper’s lying tweets, then debunk them. However, that won’t accomplish anything of substance, and it certainly won’t discourage the Apricot Wonder from lying even more. In fact, this approach actually fuels him, and he’s counting on the media to at least try to debunk him. This is because — amazingly enough — he wants the media to debunk his lies! You see, he’s playing up to his fanbois, and in their eyes, being debunked actually reinforces whatever outrageous thing he says. This is because of a well-documented psychological phenomenon known as the backfire effect. Ultimately, the Groper is counting on the media to report his lies, then make clear they’re lies, because this only deepens his relationship with the people he’s speaking to. Reporters who relay his lying tweets then show they’re lies, are just doing the GiC’s work for him. They might as well be on his payroll!

It’d be a good idea if, generally, the media treated the Groper like the infantile, paranoid, thin-skinned, whiny cretin he is. The media are showing him a degree of respect he hasn’t actually earned. If they did that, the attention whore who infests the Oval Office would have no choice but to grow up and begin acting his age. Cutting off his ability to build on his raging, immature “base” would benefit everyone.

Photo credit: FreeFoto.

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Pay no attention to headlines ... they lie! (PsiCop original)It’s not news that the numbers of “Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated, are growing in the US. It’s been documented for several years now, particularly after Trinity College’s ARIS 2008 project generated a report in 2009 about what they called “the Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated. This week, the Pew Forum released the results of their own survey on the matter. They find that “the Nones” are growing in number (WebCite cached version):

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

This part of the report has generated any number of mass-media stories trumpeting the growth of “atheists”; for example, this one from Canada’s National Post, whose headline reads as follows (cached):

Rise of the atheists: U.S. Protestants lose majority status as church attendance falls

The NP article itself fails to mention atheists or atheism very much, only noting that they’re merely a subset of the “religiously unaffiliated.” So where does this headline come from?

The truth is that this survey doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about atheists or atheism specifically. The folks at Pew are, themselves, quite clear on this:

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.

The fact is, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated as identified in polls such as Pew’s and the earlier ARIS survey, are believers. They simply don’t belong to any religious organization and don’t attend services regularly. But they remain religious people.

The Pew data itself shows that those designated as “Atheist” has grown only 0.8% since 2007, and “Agnostic” has grown only 1.2% in that time. These results can hardly justify any of the media headlines (such as the above) declaring that “Atheism” is growing astronomically. It isn’t. Non-believers are assuredly a minority in the US, and they’re likely to remain so, for quite some time to come. Only paranoid religionists would fear they’re going to be outnumbered and have their beliefs outlawed.

P.S. The full report is available on Pew’s Web site (cached).

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Hartford Courant / Photo page / CNN Breaking News tweets 'Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law'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).

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Smallpox vaccineStrangely, after the antivax movement has been demonstrated to be pseudomedicine, and after a number of outlets have formally retracted their prior involvement in it, CBS News has decided to weigh in on the putative link between childhood vaccinations and autism, and has gone over to the side of the quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists and sanctimonious mommies (WebCite cached article):

For all those who’ve declared the autism-vaccine debate over – a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.

The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review.”

CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson, this article’s author, uses a fallacious appeal to authority in order to grant this study greater weight and credibility:

The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm.

Here, Atkisson implies that, since the author worked for a pharma company — thus, one would she’d support the use of vaccines — then if she’s decided otherwise, why, the evidence must be incredibly compelling, no? Unfortunately that’s not how these things work.

Attkisson further implies that no one has been scientifically reviewing the supposed link between vaccines and autism (“Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do …”) but that is absolutely not true. Of course other people have reviewed the matter! Atkisson also mischaracterizes the study as Ratajczak’s own original work, but it’s not … it’s merely her review of other people’s studies. (That, of course, does not in itself invalidate what she says, but it does mean that Atkisson is making the study seem to be something other than it truly is.)

Another way Atkisson tried to grant greater authority to this study, is by implying that the CDC … which has consistently said there is no connection between vaccines and autism … was stunned speechless by it:

We wanted to see if the CDC wished to challenge Ratajczak’s review, since many government officials and scientists have implied that theories linking vaccines to autism have been disproven, and Ratajczak states that research shows otherwise. CDC officials told us that “comprehensive review by CDC…would take quite a bit of time.”

All in all, I must give CBS News and Sharyl Attkisson credit. They certainly crafted a marvelous piece of yellow journalism. They must be so proud!

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Iraqi Christians bury victims Tuesday of a church attack on October 31, for which the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility.… and the sky is blue. The banality and inanity of the mass media is sometimes staggering. One would think that people intelligent enough to have gotten through journalism school, would realize that stories such as this one — dutifully reported by the astoundingly brilliant minds at CNN — are not really news (WebCite cached article):

All Christians ‘targets,’ Iraqi militant group says

All Christians in the Middle East are now “legitimate targets,” al Qaeda in Iraq announced Wednesday, as the group’s deadline for Egypt’s Coptic church to release alleged Muslim female prisoners expired.

Wow. Whodathunkit!? I’d never have guessed in a million years that Christians living in the Middle East might possibly have ever become “targets” for al-Qaeda in Iraq. Would you, Dear Reader, have ever figured that out?

Why, of course Christians in the Middle East are al-Qaeda’s targets! They have been, ever since al-Qaeda came into existence! Who in the occidental world could possibly not already be aware of this? Al-Qaeda’s other targets — that everyone also knows about by now — are Shi’ite Muslims, and Jews, and pretty much any other kind of person of any religion who chooses not to hew the fanatical, insane hyperreligionist line of the murderous Islamofascist thugs known as al-Qaeda.

Allow me to assist the mass media in breaking still more major stories: A fight broke out at a hockey game, some college students got drunk this weekend, and it’s cold in the Arctic.

Photo credit: CNN.

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As if in agreement with my recent criticism of the state of journalism and the mass media … particularly in its staggering lack of anything resembling critical thinking or skepticism … Dean Burnett of the “Science Digestive” blog wrote some letters from “Science” to various other fields … beginning with the mass media. Here’s but a sampling:

  • From Dear Media, From Science (No. 1):

    Firstly, would it kill you to be a bit more specific when you tell people what I’m up to? The number of news stories I’ve read which end with “…say scientists” just drives me to distraction. And I can’t afford to be distracted, a lot of my work is quite delicate., some of it involves brains!

    Do you realise how vague a term ‘Scientists’ is? It’s like ‘cars’, there are hundreds of different types. It might be accurate, but it’s not specific. You’d never say “‘Kill all homosexuals’, say religious people”. And I don’t blame you, there’d be uproar, but it’s basically the same thing. You’re not helping by grouping my lot together like that, they’re a very diverse bunch. Einstein and Pasteur were both Scientists, but only one has anything useful to say on the laws of relativity. …

    This implication that ‘Scientists’ are all in agreement whenever a ‘breakthrough’ is made is gibberish. As a result, people think my lot are some shadowy cabal who meet once a month in order to decide what new rules we have to dictate to the general populace. I’ve tried telling them that they’re thinking of the Freemasons, not my lot, but to no avail. You’re the one who’s giving this impression, not me. Cut it out will you! …

    Oh, by the way, this whole ‘balanced argument’ thing you’ve got going on. I see your point, but make your mind up! Either you present 2 sides to every argument or none, why is it just when it’s a controversy involving me! Yes, some people think that MMR and Autism are linked, some people think that Me and my guys would knowingly build a device capable of swallowing the planet with a black hole and turn it on just to see what happens. These people are wrong, you know they are, but they get to air their views anyway. When a murder is reported, do you get statements from the people who thought that the victim had it coming? Why not? If balanced arguments are so vital, why are some stories exempt? Come on mate, a bit of fairness is all I’m asking for.

  • From Dear Homeopathy, From Science (No. 2):

    Hello. Science here. Thought I’d better introduce myself, seeing as how we’ve never met. I know you like to give people the impression that you work closely with me, and that I’m somewhat envious of you so try to suppress you, but seeing as we both know the truth, I have to ask; Who are you and what do you want? …

    I’ve noticed you do tend to talk and act like on of my team. Interesting, especially when you consider that the actual things you say are utterly bonkers. You’ve done no actual science of your own, so where do you get all your big words from? …

    Just to point out, not everyone who disagrees with you is in league with ‘Big Pharma’. I’ll confess, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t exactly my finest hour. But in my defence, it was Business’ idea. I hung around with him for a while in the 80’s, and you know what he was like back then. I was lucky to get out with my fillings in place. I admit, I still work with him for Big Pharma. I could sever all ties with them, but then they’d have no actual medicine, and people would die. Imagine that, a multi-billion pound company, selling sick people medicine that doesn’t actually work! I could never live with myself. How much are your retailers worth, just out of interest?

  • From Dear Astrology, From Science (No. 3):

    How are you anyway? Not been seeing you around much lately. It wasn’t too long ago that you and Media were best mates, you were always together. I guess you didn’t confuse him like I do, despite your insane claims. But now he’s ditched you in favour of psychics and health gurus. …

    Anyway, Astronomy asked me to write to you, largely because people keep getting him and you mixed up. I can see his problem, apart from the similar names and obsession with all things spatial; you guys have nothing in common. Oh, and stereotypically you are both advocated by socially awkward people with weird hair in long coats who speak in bizarre ways. …

    So, if you could somehow make it clear that you and astronomy aren’t working together, that would be cool. He wants to know how things in Space work; you want people to think that things in space effect how we work. Can’t say I agree with that, but then if there are people out there who feel they need the arrangement of celestial bodies to govern how they live their lives then I guess they need all the help they can get, so fair enough.

    Of course, this could be a simple oversight. Perhaps you know something I don’t, and your predictions are 100% accurate, but your proponents have not taken into account the light-speed factor. The stars we see in the night sky, their light is actually from anywhere between dozens to hundreds of thousands of years in the past. Maybe your predictions are completely true, but for people in the 3rd century? You might want to hook up with History and Archaeology, see if there’s something you can work out regarding this.

Burnett goes on, with letters “from Science” to “Dear Economics” and, perhaps most hilariously, to “dear Advertising.”

Burnett’s amusing delivery points out something which, really, is not all that funny: Not only has occidental culture — as a whole — forgotten what “science” really is, there are entire fields of study which have left it so far behind that they are basically antithetical to science. And these are fields which are becoming increasingly influential! We’re rapidly becoming dangerously anti-scientific (and anti-intellectual) at just the time when we should be embracing science and embracing humanity’s ability to learn and grow intellectually. Thanks to Dean Burnett for his brilliant send-ups.

Hat tip: Bad Astronomy‘s Phil Plait.

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The AP, via the Washington Post On Faith blog, reports that Pope Benedict XVI — who’s not known as a fan of the Internet or most technology — wants Catholic priests to make themselves heard on the Internet (WebCite cached article):

Pope Benedict XVI has a new commandment for priests struggling to get their message across: Go forth and blog.

The pope, whose own presence on the Web has heavily grown in recent years, urged priests on Saturday to use all multimedia tools at their disposal to preach the Gospel and engage in dialogue with people of other religions and cultures.

And just using e-mail or surfing the Web is often not enough: Priests should use cutting-edge technologies to express themselves and lead their communities, Benedict said in a message released by the Vatican.

“The spread of multimedia communications and its rich ‘menu of options’ might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web,” but priests are “challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources,” he said.

It’s not coincidental that he came out with this directive just now:

The message, prepared for the World Day of Communications, suggests such possibilities as images, videos, animated features, blogs, and Web sites.

One might assume that, as an Agnostic who’s criticized the Roman Catholic Church heavily over the nearly-2 years this blog has been running, I would be opposed to this.

But I’m not. I’m always in favor of freedom. That means letting Catholic priests having a voice.

The only thing I ask is that priests be held accountable for their words, if they post something inappropriate or inaccurate to their blogs, vlogs, podcasts, whatever. But then, I expect that of anyone. Propriety, candidness, accuracy and veracity are ethically required of everyone who says something publicly … and posting something on the Internet is as public as someone can get.

Hat tip: Slashdot.

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