Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I Was Annoyed By What Was Written

Wednesday: The Globe runs a giant picture and headline on their front page, "STORM Parliament Hill; SEIZE the politicians; BEHEAD the prime minister"

Thursday: The Globe,
"An alleged plot to take MPs hostage on Parliament Hill was abandoned at an early stage because the people involved - who hail from southern Ontario - knew little about Ottawa, The Canadian Press has learned."


The best part:

"The public was shocked to hear a group arrested on terrorism-related charges had supposedly planned to storm Parliament, seize politicians and behead the prime minister."


The public was shocked to hear that from who, exactly? Where is the active subject in this sentence - it disappeared thanks to the magic of passive voice. How convenient. And I don't remember the word 'supposed' being part of the giant front page headline either. I know the Globe exists to make money by selling papers and fear-mongering is the best way they've come up with to do that, but would it be too much to ask for at least a small correlation between the portrayal of the threat and the actual, you know, plausibility of the threat?


On a more comical (because it is so sad) note, I noticed the juxtaposition of the following headlines on the Globe website today:
"Soaring Gas Prices Leave Drivers Undeterred"
"Related: Gasoline Sales Slip: Statscan"

I know, it's easy to criticize, and maybe my standards are too high, but is it also too much to ask newspaper editors to realize that when you run two contradictory headlines side by side, one of them is incorrect, or wrong, or factually inaccurate, or a lie or whatever term you prefer?

The first line of the first article: "Canadians may be complaining about record-high prices at the pump, but that isn't stopping them from filling up."

The first line of the second article: "Canadian gasoline sales decreased last year for only the second time since 1994, likely thanks to surging pump prices, Statistics Canada reported Thursday."

The first article bases its conclusions on the results of a public opinion survey while the second one bases its conclusions on the sales of gasoline. Now I've never been to journalism school, and I've never worked in the media, so maybe I'm way off here, but I'm pretty sure that there is no reason to survey people to find out something which you already know via actual data.

Actually, that's not true. There is one reason, to check to see if the people you are surveying are telling the truth or not. In this case, apparently not. So instead of running with the headline, "Soaring Gas Prices Leave Drivers Undeterred" the real headline should have been, "People lie to pollster, poll results meaningless at best, misleading at worst," but then that is hardly news, so you couldn't expect them to print that.

Let me know when we get to vote on banning media organizations from commissioning or reporting on surveys or polls of any kind, so I can cast my vote in favour of the motion.

I remember reading some book, can't remember which one, and it related the story of how Noam Chomsky went to the dentist and the dentist warned him he was doing damage because he was grinding his teeth too much, most likely while reading the NY Times each morning. I'm starting to worry the Globe and Mail might be causing me the same problem.

4 Comments:

  • " ... but would it be too much to ask for at least a small correlation between the portrayal of the threat and the actual, you know, plausibility of the threat?

    Sadly, yes.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 7:54 PM  

  • The Globe was just overcompensating for having COMPLETELY missed the terrorism story in the first place.

    Its not really a newspaper if it can't report the news either timely or truthfully.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 4:51 AM  

  • [T]here is no reason to survey people to find out something which you already know via actual data.

    Thank you! Every so often I see one of those instant polls asking questions like "Do you think global warming is causing this [insert adjective here] weather?" or "Do you think homes are getting more expensive?" and I just want to scream. It's amazing how many polls could be replaced by 100% accurate statements from Stats Can.

    Maybe they should be running my favourite poll: "Do you think instant polls are just a substitute for lazy journalists?"

    By Anonymous Nicholas, at 12:16 AM  

  • Declan--

    Not so sure that your standards are 'too high'.

    Instead, the real problem might be that you have them at all, and that you apply them consistently.

    Now that's not that to say that Fast Eddie G. doesn't have standards. It's the consistency of application I question (ie. see Strat Counsel:Push Poll, Jan 2006 by way of example).

    .

    By Blogger Gazetteer, at 4:24 PM  

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