Media: Trust No One (Not Even Yourself)
#mediafail A couple of recent articles highight what you already know: trust nothing that you read without considering the coverage -- and your own preconceptions -- carefully. Slate's Jack Shafer describes how journalists continue to fudge the numbers when they can't find one that confirms their storyline and can't be bothered to come up with their own calculation (What journalists write when they encounter known unknowns). "They grab the nearest [data] available—or most frequently repeated figure—and couch it with the phrase "numbers are hard to come by." Shafer lists a handful of hilarious examples of this kind of vaguery, including one from the Chicago Tribune about the number of sexual crimes involving teachers and students. The other story from the Atlantic Wire (How News Sources Change the Way We See News) describes how readers tend to trust what they read depending on what publication runs the story -- not on its individual merits (whether it includes facts, sources on both sides, etc.). Uncritical (most) readers attribute quality to news coverage based on the halo effect not inherent quality.