It’s a remarkable day in the neighborhood!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2013

If you live in the New York Times: In the hard-copy New York Times, this was a remarkable morning.

On the front page and in the National section, there was some actual news reporting. But for us, the great newspaper’s array of pathologies dominated the offerings.

In how many standardized ways does the Times bollix up its reporting? All the standard pathologies seemed to be present this morning!

Let’s start with a simple mistake. Below, you see the headline on Tamar Lewin’s news report—a report which appeared on the first page of the National section in our hard-copy Times:

“Top Public Colleges Are Found to Spend Far More on Sports Than on Academics”

Presumably, Lewin didn’t write that headline. But could anyone really believe that major colleges spend more money on sports—far more money—than they spend on academics?

On line, that headline has been changed. But then, Lewin’s actual news report stated nothing like that.

That headline was a simple mistake. On the next page, we were struck by the headline on a news report by Sabrina Tavernise:

“Segregation Linked in Study With Lung Cancer Deaths”

Uh-oh! This report deals with a racial topic, one of this newspaper’s specialties. The Times is expert at posing about racial matters without ever clarifying the most basic facts of the case.

In this case, Tavernise reports on a new study of lung cancer deaths—a study which will be discussed in very few newspapers. This is her opening paragraph:
TAVERNISE (1/17/13): African-Americans who live in highly segregated counties are considerably more likely to die from lung cancer than those in counties that are less segregated, a new study has found.
Question: After reading this report, do you have any idea what a “highly segregated” county is? That is to say, do you know how “segregation” is defined for the purposes of this new study?

Tavernise never explains the key term in her report! As such, you don’t learn what the new study has supposedly learned about lung cancer deaths. But you are allowed to know whose side the New York Times is heroically on! The Times persistently fumbles this way in matters involving race.

In a somewhat similar vein, the Times is always happy to describe alleged pathologies found in the South. We thought about that when we read the news report bearing this headline:

“Report Criticizes School Discipline Measures Used in Mississippi”

How backward are public school practices in the Magnolia State? We had no idea—and we still didn’t know after reading this report.

As best we can tell, Mississippi has 149 separate school districts. The Times report doesn’t mention that number, then thrills us with tales about alleged bad practices in several individual districts—and even in one single school. Presumably, we’re also supposed to recoil at the number that's highlighted here:
ROBERTSON (1/17/13): The report also found that, over all, Mississippi imposed out-of-school suspensions at a rate more than one and a half times the national average. In several districts, the rate was more than 9 times the national average, and in one, more than 17 times.
“In one” district—out of 149! Meanwhile:

By definition, roughly half the states will impose suspensions at a rate that exceeds the national average. Should we be surprised when a very poor state exceeds the national average by a degree that is, in fact, somewhat less than thoroughly shocking?

Even worse: If we adjusted for various demographics, would that statewide suspension rate exceed the average at all? According to this major study from last year, Connecticut suspends black students at a substantially higher rate than Mississippi. So do Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. Mississippi was right at the national average for this measure. For ourselves, we wish none of these kids ever got suspended. But then, we also wish that the New York Times presented better reporting.

(The Times loves to parade the horrible ways of the southern states. For one example of this obvious preference, see Wednesday’s pitiful op-ed column about southern Miss America winners. The column suggests that the southern states promoted the rise of beauty queens as a way to offset bad publicity during the years of the civil rights revolution—but the writer provides absolutely no support for that claim. Given the way the Times tends to work, we’ll guess this column was selected to launch that pleasing headline: “The Ugly Side of the Southern Belle.” We’d call it an Instant Times Classic.)

Back to today’s assortment of groaners: As we glanced at this news report, we assumed its pair of headlines represented another mini-bungle by some editor:

“Obama Plans to Name Close Aide on National Security as Chief of Staff/
The president is poised to continue a practice of elevating those he trusts most”

Really? Obama appoints the people he trusts to his highest staff positions? We assumed that was another fatuity penned by some headline writer. But sure enough! In reality, that headline reflects the principal theme of Mark Landler’s news report. He started his effort like this:
LANDLER (1/17/13): President Obama is planning to elevate a key national security deputy, Denis R. McDonough, to White House chief of staff, administration officials said on Wednesday, making perhaps his closest foreign policy adviser the gatekeeper to the Oval Office.

Though Mr. Obama has not made a final decision, aides said they expected an announcement early next week. Mr. McDonough’s appointment would continue the president’s practice of putting the people he trusts most in critical positions.
If we're reading that correctly, when Obama fills really important positions, he tends to pick people he trusts!

We’d like to mention one other report describing a new study. (“Study Discovers DNA That tells Mice How to Construct Their Homes.” Times readers like to feel smart.) Also, that report about the disgraced Marc Sanford, another pot-boiler from the South.

But in some ways, we were most struck by a piece by Nate Silver. When we glanced at the headline, we responded favorably:

“Health Care Drives Increase in Government Spending”

At last! Someone was going to explain the way the ginormous cost of American health care is driving our federal deficits! Someone was going to explain the point Dean Baker constantly makes at his Beat the Press blog: If our per capita health spending equaled that in other developed nations, we would be running a surplus! Click here, then click more times

Alas! That isn’t what Silver discussed. We’ll have to admit it: We got the impression that Silver didn’t really know what he was talking about—and that he was bungling the politics pretty good at the same time. But so it goes as the Times pretends to publish a daily newspaper.

By definition, Southern belles are ugly in the Times—and Mississippi is constantly doing something grotesquely wrong. But who is looting all the money that disappears in our health care system?

Who is looting all that money? The New York Times will never tell you! Yankee rubes, listen up extra good:

In the midst of this newspaper’s many distractions, such things simply aren’t done!

Also featured today: Also today, the latest waste of time from Gail Collins. She tries to talk about Lance Armstrong, can’t get past Sheryl Crow. (Crow pops up three times.)

Armstrong “isn’t particularly lovable,” Collins writes. How does the columnist know that?

She never mentions the various truth-tellers he has apparently tried to destroy. Instead, she steers us to this fact: “The New York Post had him dating one of the Olsen twins.”

So it goes in the New York Times, the leading upper-class source of our nation’s strategic distractions. If you want to keep your eyes off the prize, you'll read the New York Times.

8 comments:


  1. By definition, roughly half the states will impose suspensions at a rate that exceeds the national average.


    While roughly half the states might do just that, it won't be "by definition" unless the "average" in question is the median by state.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, there certainly is a difference between the arithmatic mean (or average) and the median. But people are so woefully ignorant of statistics and data sets in general that they can be easily misled by the unscrupulous.

      It brings to mind the phrase popularised by Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh?

      Delete
  2. To my knowledge, cheating on a bicycle drug test isn't a crime.
    His "crime" was outwitting the testers and they're embarrassed by their incompetence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yesterday's horror columns by Dowd and Friedman
    were hitting new lows, if possible.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Are we supposed to understand that modern journalists are ignorant, because they don't bother with proper research of their subjects? Are we supposed to believe that the journalists are arrogant, because they assume we won't know what the hell they're writing about and suspend skepticism and critical thinking? Is laziness the problem modern journalists share? Might it be that they hold a cynical belief that newspaper editors don't care enough about journalism to properly critique articles written for newspapers. Honesty and truthfulness are relative therefore imagination and a flare for the dramatic are of primary importance could be the problem. The problem might be the cocktail circuit research method when after a few drinks and everyone loosens their lips a bit the journalist discovers what the current consensus is and writes from that viewpoint. Finally, modern journalists may only be propagandists and story tellers who manipulate their articles to entertain and amuse, but have little or nothing to do with informing their readers. Who needs reality supported by facts? It's so boring. If a journalist can spin a plausible tale that appears to be newsworthy it could be because it is the product demanded of journalists.

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    Replies
    1. A perfect illustration of this is the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his imaginary girlfriend. The story was just "so inspiring" that the numerous major media organizations that ran with it couldn't be bothered to do the most cursory of investigations as to whether or not it was true.

      A sad state of affairs indeed, but then, as Bob has so graciously illustrated, "journalism" seems to have died quite some time ago.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
  6. The New York Times is an upper middle class/elitist disaster show. And that's why it's the newspaper of record!

    ReplyDelete