Aug
01
2007

SoundBites

An Ill-Serving Survey

MSNBC.com’s Bill Dedman’s story (6/21/07) on the political donations of journalists was headlined “Journalists Dole Out Cash to Politicians,” but Dedman found just 143 newsroom employees (out of more than 100,000 across the country) who donated to political campaigns. As Chris Daly (JournalismProfessor.com, 6/22/07) pointed out, a more accurate headline would have read, “99.9 Percent of U.S. Journalists Do Not Donate to Politicians.” Moreover, of those few who made campaign contributions, several had nothing to do with reporting on electoral issues—including the film and theater critics at the New Yorker, the Economist’s technology reporter, a medical writer at Newsweek and a sports statistician at the Boston Globe. The survey’s most glaring fault, though, was that it arbitrarily excluded news managers and executives—the people who have the most control over what actually makes the news.

Out of the Air

When New York Times columnist David Brooks argued on Meet the Press (7/22/07) that postponing U.S. troop withdrawal would “prevent 10,000 Iraqi deaths a month,” fellow guest Bob Woodward questioned his source:

Woodward: “10,000 dying.” . . . Where does that come from?

Brooks: Well, A, it comes from [Times reporter] John Burns. Second, it comes from the national intelligence. . . .

Woodward: Well, no, he doesn’t say 10,000.

Brooks: Well, no, no, but it talks about genocide.

Woodward: Yeah.

Brooks: So I just picked that 10,000 out of the air.

Ironically, the number that Brooks made up is 5,000 less than the number not picked out of the air by Lancet (10/21/06) as the number of Iraqis who actually die each month as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Readers Misled as Paper Prints Article

“Two Iraqi journalists working for Reuters were killed in Baghdad on Thursday,” read a New York Times caption (7/12/07). “Their van, above, was hit near the scene of a firefight.” The headline (“Two Iraqi Journalists Killed as U.S. Forces Clash With Militias”) and the lead paragraph likewise give no clue as to who actually caused the killing. When the article finally revealed the cause of death—a U.S. helicopter attack—the article quickly followed with a spokesperson for the multinational forces in Baghdad saying, “There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force.” But according to Reuters (7/16/07), residents and witnesses said “they saw no gunmen in the immediate area where [journalists Namir] Noor-Eldeen and [Saeed] Chmagh were killed. . . . They said they were not aware of any clashes in the area leading up to the Apache helicopter attack.” Note to journalists: If news outlets treat the killing of journalists as no big deal, then it’s likely that military forces will likewise treat the killing of journalists as no big deal.

Mom and Dad Know Best

The New York Times reported (6/22/07) a new study by the Department of Education that found that the first year of Washington, D.C.’s school voucher program “generated no statistically significant impacts, positive or negative, on student reading or math achievement.” The study also found that students were “feeling neither more satisfied nor safer than did students attending public schools”—though parents of the voucher students did believe the private schools were safer. The Times managed to find the silver lining in these discouraging results, headlining the story “Voucher Use in Washington Wins Praise of Parents.” The previous week (6/12/07), Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg had triumphantly written of the D.C. program: “Private, parochial and charter schools get better results. Parents know this.” Even if studies—and students—say otherwise.

The Magical Self-Reporting Haircut

In a Washington Post story (7/5/07) entirely about John Edwards’ haircuts, reporter John Solomon boasted of his investigative skills in obtaining an interview with Edwards’ hairstylist, who gave Solomon his “account of his long relationship with Edwards—the first he’s given.” In the middle of this groundbreaking article, Solomon wrote: “It is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned for president, vice president and now president again, his hair seems to have attracted as much attention as, say, his position on healthcare.” Yeah, some kind of commentary. And the darnedest thing is, no one knows how it happens.

O'Reilly Joins the Kool-Aid Zombies

“The far-left loons are also out in force as their Internet masters urge them to tie the Fox News Channel in with the [O.J.] Simpson situation. I’ve received scores of letters like this one from Fred in Indianapolis. ‘Mr. O’Reilly, you are a man of principle. Since Fox News is sponsoring the Simpson program, will you sever your ties with Fox News?’ Obviously Fred is a bit slow. Fox News has nothing to do with the Simpson situation. And Fred doesn’t believe I am a man of principle either. He’s a Kool-Aid zombie doing the bidding of far-left fanatics who will do anything to disparage me and FNC.”

—Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 11/17/06)

“Last November the Factor drove the O.J. Simpson book story even though the parent company of the Fox News Channel was paying Simpson, and I don’t believe that would have happened at any other network, but Fox News allowed me to drill Simpson between the eyes, and the public outcry forced the cancellation of that ill-conceived project, as you’ll remember.”

—Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 6/25/07)