WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2020
Lester and Brian do deaths: Brian started last evening's report with a somewhat misleading statement.
The report came near the end of his show. In fairness, his hair was perfect:
WILLIAMS (9/22/20): We have lost over 200,000 souls, and in that respect, America leads the world.
With autumn now here, the fear is that a surge may be here shortly as well. A report tonight from NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.
With that, the handsome anchor played part of a report Costello had performed on NBC Nightly News that very night.
Costello was light-years out of his depth as he reported on the pandemic. Below, we'll show you what he said. For now, let's consider Brian's misleading if pleasing statement.
Is it true? Does America "lead the world" in total coronavirus deaths to date?
It's only true if you forget to adjust for population! If you perform that stunningly basic task, nine other countries boast a worse death rate. We'll omit tiny Andorra and tinier San Marino and show you the ten most afflicted:
Total deaths from coronavirus to date, per million population:
United States: 620
United Kingdom: 615
We've finally moved past the United Kingdom, though only by a hair. That said, once you adjust for population, we aren't even close to "leading the world" in this undesirable measure.
(When it comes to Current Daily Deaths, we're the worst, by several light-years, among a long list of peer nations.)
Should Brian have adjusted for population? In this, as in all other things, it's pretty much as you like it!
Telling the story the way he did is pleasing to the tribe. It says that we're the worst in the world, all thanks to Commander Trump.
Almost surely, that's part of the reason why you hear the story told that way, full stop, on our own tribal channels. The other reason is this:
The people you see on these corporate channels may not be especially sharp or overwhelmingly honest. To the extent that they may have been sharp at one point, their aggressive climbs and their large successes have drained The Sharp right out of them.
Was Lester ever sharp in the relevant way? We have no idea!
Below, you see the way the report in question began on NBC Nightly News. We'd say the complete total cluelessness was quite impressive this night:
HOLT (9/22/20): Tonight, troubling new signs about the pandemic. With U.S. deaths surpassing 200,000, a new analysis from the University of Washington revised its projection slightly downward to a still staggering 378,000 by year's end, with signs that a fall surge may be underway.
Here's Tom Costello.
COSTELLO: On this first fall evening, 17 states plus Puerto Rico report a disturbing increase in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks.
25% or more in Wyoming, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Utah, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Jersey.
Nationwide, 421 deaths yesterday alone.
DR. JOHN TORRES, NBC MEDICAL EXPERT: We don't know if this is a bump because of Labor Day or if this is a trend moving into the fall. And if it is a trend moving into the fall, then the concern there is that numbers could be even higher.
(To watch Lester's full report, click here, move ahead to minute 7.)
Costello's presentation continued from there. Already, the cluelessness was so extensive that we think it's highly instructive.
Let's start with what Lester said. According to Lester, the University of Washington is now projecting that we will have suffered a total of 378,000 deaths from coronavirus by the end of the year.
Lester was citing the current projection from UW's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). As we recently noted, the IHME's extremely gloomy new projections received a blip of news coverage something like ten days back.
Last night, Lester didn't seem to realize how gloomy that projection actually is. For now, we'll stick a pin in that point as we move forward to Costello's "notice-nothing" report.
By conventional norms, Costello isn't as handsome as Brian. That's why one is cast as the handsome anchor while the other is out in the field.
Beyond that, Costello didn't seem to have a clue about the numbers he was citing. If you watch the tape of this report, he seemed to suggest that "421 deaths yesterday alone" might be a "disturbing" figure in and of itself.
In fact, Costello was citing the number of deaths which were recorded on Monday of this week. And, because Mondays follow our weekends, there is always a reduced amount of reporting of deaths on those particular days.
(Anyone who's ever examined the daily data would surely have noticed this fact.)
This Monday was no exception. Within the context of our national pandemic, is 421 deaths a disturbing number?
Actually, as averages go, that's a good day for us! Puzzle it out this way:
The recording of significant numbers of deaths from the virus has been underway for roughly six months, dating back into the middle of March. The very first recorded death occurred on February 29.
Think of the numbers this way:
If we had suffered 421 deaths every day over a six-month period (180 days), we'd be looking at a total of 75,870 deaths. That's less than 200,000!
If we imagine a seven-month period, dating back to before the first recorded death, our total would be 88,410 deaths at this point
That would take us back before the first reported death—and our total numbers of deaths would be less than half what it actually is.
In short, 421 deaths is a good day in this nation! Unless you've never examined the data, it isn't a sign of a worrying possible increase in deaths, as Costello seemed to suggest.
Lester was possibly resting his eyes as Costello made his odd presentation. Five hours later, Brian aired the report as if it was golden.
Now, let's return to what Lester said:
Quite correctly, Lester said the IHME's new projection was "staggering," a source of major concern. But he only cited the projected total number of deaths by the end of the year.
He didn't seem to realize what that projection, if accurate, means about the coming fall season's number of daily deaths. (Just yesterday, we noted the way we've seen cable anchors sleepwalking in this manner.)
According to Lester, the IHME is predicting an additional 178,000 deaths between now and the end of the year. As of yesterday, exactly one hundred days remained in the year.
That means that the IHME is predicting an average of 1780 deaths per day over the nest three months! Since we're nowhere near that daily average at present, that means that we'll be averaging 2000 deaths per day, or more, by the time our autumn increase kicks in.
That would match the daily death toll in the worst few weeks of this nation's pandemic, back in mid-April. The difference would be this:
According to the IHME projection, that vastly increased level of deaths will obtain over a much longer period.
We'll have to guess that Lester hadn't given any of this a single thought. As we look ahead to several thousand deaths a day (according to the projection he chose to air), his correspondent actually seemed to think that 421 deaths in a single day was an alarming figure.
Dr. John Torres was then brought, via videotape, on to complete the inanity. Seeming to refer to the 421 deaths, he seemed to say there's "concern" that the numbers could be even higher as we move into the fall!
(In fairness, his videotaped comment may have made perfect sense in its original context.)
Torres seemed to say that there's "concern" that the number of deaths could go even higher. As a matter of fact, there's more than concern. There's a projection that our daily deaths will be five times that high this fall!
Did any of these NBC stars understand that fact? Let's review the carnage:
As the report began, Lester cited a projection according to which our daily death rate will be at or above 2000 deaths per day over a lengthy period. Did he, or anyone else at NBC News, have any idea of this fact?
Was Lester aware of this fact? How about Costello? He seemed to suggest that Monday's reported number—421 deaths—was a disturbing number in and of itself
Hours later, Brian aired the report without comment. Does he have any idea what the IHME has projected? If he does, he kept it to himself, while adding a thoroughly standard and yet misleading claim.
This report was an example of coloring by the numbers. It involved the most simple-minded possible presentation of a very disturbing projection.
A serious person would have told viewers what that projection actually entails if accurate. He or she would then have interviewed someone, asking if that projection makes sense and asking why the daily death rate has been projected to skyrocket to that extent.
What was this nation's 7-day average of daily deaths as Lester and Costello prepared this report? The Washington Post and the New York Times agree—in the previous seven days (September 15-21), the nation had averaged 770 deaths per day from the coronavirus.
Now, Holt was citing a projection according to which that daily average would likely triple by the time the autumn increase took hold. But neither Lester nor Tom nor anyone else seemed to have any sense of this fact. These are not impressive performers, but this is very much who they are.
Brian rebroadcast the shaky report, adding in the misleading claim that we "lead the world" in total deaths to date. That's a technically accurate, preferred tribal claim. You'll hear it constantly on our channels, much less often on theirs.
In fairness, as Brian reaired this D-minus report, his hair and his wardrobe were perfect. But he was slacking his way though another evening, not unlike Lester before him.
At this site, we go way back with Brian. We recall his clownish campaign reports in 1999 and 2000, when he was serving NBC CEO Jack Welch and sliming one candidate well.
In June 1999, his gushing treatment of Candidate Bush-On-The-Tarmac remains a cable news unintentional comedy classic. Later, his attacks on Candidate Gore's disturbing clothes and their obvious meaning went on and on and on.
Years later, he managed to get himself fired. Eventually, the gods brought him back.
In our tribe, we used to say that George W. Bush "lacked curiosity." The same is true of corporate stars like Lester and Brian, and even Costello and Torres.
Last evening, the gentlemen seemed to lack the first clue about what the IHME is projecting .That said, Brian had perfect wardrobe and hair, and that's one way product gets sold.
This is part of the way we've come to the place where Donald J. Trump may get re-elected and will almost surely replace the late Justice Ginsburg. Simply put, losers like us just haven't been up to the task.
Tomorrow: It would be hard to know much less, how-Trump-got-elected edition