ABC News and The Daily Beast...

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

...show us how dumb it can get: How ridiculous can the "potted plants" be inside our major news orgs?

How utterly lacking can they be in even the most basic skills? 

Readers, thank you for asking! This morning, we were shocked by this "Cheat Sheet" report at The Daily Beast:

ROSS (9/17/20): Leaked FEMA Memo Reveals 17 Percent Jump in U.S. COVID Deaths Last Week

A leaked internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has reportedly revealed a near-17 percent spike in coronavirus-related deaths inside the United States last week. ABC News obtained the memo that showed the trend in new deaths has shot way up since the start of September. It said that 5,906 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in the U.S. from Sept. 9-15, which represents a 16.6 percent increase compared with the seven days prior. That figure comes despite 261,204 new cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in the same period, which is a 0.7 percent decrease from the previous week.

Read it at ABC News.

The Beast's link led to this bombshell report over at ABC News.

It's hard to believe, but it's true! ABC News had come up with a leaked "internal memo" from FEMA. 

And not only that! Just as The Daily Beast was reporting,  this leaked internal memo "said that 5,906 coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in the U.S. from Sept. 9-15!" 

Meanwhile, that did "represent a 16.6 percent increase compared with the seven days prior"—or at least we're assuming it did, based on an eyeball assessment. At any rate, ABC News had come up with the leaked internal memo, and The Daily Beast was passing the leaked information on.

There was only one problem with this detective work. The very same numbers are available, on a daily basis, almost everywhere coronavirus news is sold. 

For example, you could have seen the same numbers being reported, on a daily basis, under the heading "New deaths reported per day" at the Washington Post's coronavirus site. 

News flash! Daily deaths from Covid-19 aren't exactly a government secret!  Sadly but unsurprisingly, journalists at ABC News and The Daily Beast seemed to be unaware of this fact.

They seemed to think that they'd sniffed out some hidden, top-secret statistics. Meanwhile, concerning that 16.6 percent increase in deaths, let us offer a small minor warning:

Daily deaths may be on the rise as the fall season begins. The University of Washington's IHME site is predicting a substantial increase in daily and weekly coronavirus deaths between now and the end of the year.

That said, the week of Wednesday, September 9 through Tuesday, September 15 immediately followed the three-day Labor Day weekend. And three-day holiday weekends almost always produce a short-term distortion in the official recording of deaths.

The official recording of deaths will typically drop over a three-day weekend.  People continue to die, but the fact of their deaths may not be instantly recorded.

Typically, this will produce artificially low numbers of deaths on the Sunday and Monday of the holiday weekend, but also on the following Tuesday. Typically, this also produces artificially high numbers of recorded deaths during the next few days, starting with the Wednesday after the holiday weekend.

This creates an artificial blip in the recorded number of deaths. The number of deaths is artificially reduced in the week which includes the holiday weekend. The number is artificially increased for the week which follows.

You can see that pattern in the Post's recording of daily deaths for the days in question last week. That said, there's  zero chance that an American journalist would ever know something like this. 

As we've told you again and again, American journalists are devoted to the proposition that all significant sets of statistics should studiously be avoided. That's why our journalists are unable to talk about test score gains ot health care costs or about anything else where numbers are involved.

American journalists will rarely know squat or squadoosh about the patterns which exist within any  set of important statistics. Even so, we had to laugh when ABC News came up with the secret data in that "leaked internal memo."

The data found in that leaked memo were sitting right there at the Washington Post! A person could see those very same data wherever virus news is sold.

Someone over at ABC News just plain didn't know that. At The Beast, they seemed to think that ABC News had come up with a scoop.

It was foolishness all the way down. This is part of the know-nothing culture at major news orgs to which we sometimes allude. 

Donald J. Trump is in the White House. He's critiqued by our major news orgs. As a nation, we're condemned to go to war with a nutcase with the news orgs we have.

Tomorrow morning: Leonhardt and Douthat do deaths


18 comments:

  1. "...show us how dumb it can get"

    It's not dumb, dear Bob. It's your goebbelsian liberal media doing their goebbelsian job, and thinking you are dumb.

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  2. Somerby's contention that the increase was due to the Labor Day Holiday may be incorrect. This is a weekly average. There is no reason why the holiday would cause deaths to be delayed by so many days that they would fall into a different week. These figures are for Sept 9-15, well after the holiday (Sept 7) so any lagging deaths would be included in that 9-15 group. Somerby seems to be arguing that the preceding week (Sept 2-8) would have been abnormally small (because the deaths over the holiday weekend, which would normally be included, had been omitted (not submitted on Sept 8). But Somerby doesn't give us a comparison of those figures with the previous week, making no empirical case that deaths were omitted from it (to cause that 16% apparent increase).

    Somerby must think that we, not just reporters, are stupid. If deaths were displaced from one bin to another, the effect would be seen in both bins, but he either didn't check or doesn't report that, hoping we won't notice.

    Given that the time span covered makes the holiday fall into the previous bin, not the later one, the delayed reporting should not only artificially increase the 9-15 period but also artificially decrease the 2-8 period. Somerby doesn't check because he is just as dumb as the reporters he chastises when it comes to statistics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Weeks that need to be checked against each other:

      Week 1 Aug 27-Sept 1 -- baseline
      Week 2 Sept 2-Sept 8 -- abnormally lower than week 1
      Week 3 Sept 9-Sept 15 -- abnormally higher than weeks 1 & 2
      Week 4 Sept 16-22 -- regress to baseline if no increase in deaths, average weeks 2&3 and compare to week 4 to determine size of increase in deaths

      This is what you would expect to see if Somerby's idea about delayed reporting is correct.

      Delete
  3. The Daily Beast describes the FEMA memo as “leaked.” The ABC story doesn’t use that word. They say they “obtained” the memo.

    If you google “fema Covid internal memo abc news”, you get report after report after report, dating back to the beginning of the pandemic. Presumably, ABC is reporting on the contents of official memos being circulated at FEMA. They do not treat them as “bombshells.” They are often a couple of paragraphs, just regular news items, reporting the Covid data being circulated at FEMA. It’s called “reporting.”

    But Somerby can’t help doing his comedy routine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Somerby doesn't address why FEMA would put out a memo with these figures if they were publicly available. Perhaps there was more in that memo than just these numbers and perhaps that is the reason why the memo was leaked. We will never know because Somerby lacks the curiosity to track down what else was reported.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My comment crossed in the mail with mh's and I find his response much more convincing than mine.

      Delete
  5. The news orgs are not at war with the president. They cover the president, among a wide variety of other subjects. The news orgs give us the info we need to defeat the president in the upcoming election, but that isn't a war either, just democracy functioning the way it is supposed to. References to war, figurative or not, are inappropriate in a situation where the president functions as the duly elected representative of the people, all of the people.

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