September 28, 2003

context...

Glenn linked to RantingProfs, an interesting blog focusing on media bias and the WOT...

THE PATTERN CONTINUES: I have argued before that worse then event driven reporting ("soldier shot, bomb detonated") is a pattern of reporting where the press spins up something negative but then, when the situation is resolved, just loses interest and never bothers to report that the situation has changed....First there was constant reporting on the inability to restore the power right after the regime fell. But when partial power was restored, there were no stories saying, "hey! they're on the right track!" until stories began to appear that the lack of full power was a huge problem in Baghdad. You can track the status of power, but never in stories on electricity per se, but in other contexts, other stories, if you are paying careful attention.

When there are stories about electricity, they are inevitably centered on Baghdad, and rarely mention that since Saddam starved the rest of the country to satisfy Baghdad's needs, people in Baghdad will almost inevitably be displeased with the current situation where there is equitable distribution leaving everyone with some but not 24/7 power, since the country's plant simply can't support that. (And, lately, notice, dissatisfaction with power has dissapeared from the news. Are the people in Baghdad still angry, but reporters have stopped mentioning it? If so, why? Or are things much better, and reporters aren't filing stories on big progress in providing power? Which is more likely given the patterns we've seen? We're just left to guess....

News without context is maddening. One wonders if it is intentional; a lot of news wouldn't BE news if it was placed in context. If the Iraq stories were accompanied by a chart showing electricity production In Iraq steadily increasing towards pre-war levels, then the soundbites of people complaining would be seen for the mostly meaningless static that they are.

If news stories on plane crashes or nine-car-pileups were placed in the context of deaths per passenger-mile over the last 50 years....well they would still be interesting, but also patently less important.

A classic example was the story about the wave of arson against black churches in the South a few years ago. The bit of context lacking was that several states had just started publishing more detailed arson statistics. Statisticians pointed out at the time that there really wasn't any significant increase--just a normal number of instances drawn from a larger sample.

And the even larger context missing there was that America's Left derives most of its aura of legitimacy from the Civil Rights Movement. And so has a HUGE vested interest in the perception that America is still a hotbed of racism. They glommed onto that story like thirsty men finding water in the desert! I remember a prayer added to the list in our church then. Something about protecting black churches from the "white racist conspiracy" that was attacking them. No evidence was needed; it just had to be so. (Of course a real white-racist conspiracy would torch white churches...)

Posted by John Weidner at September 28, 2003 10:02 AM
Weblog by John Weidner