The 710 versus the more than four thousand!


Statistical dumbness is Us: Just as the experts have said, we simply aren't up to the task of conducting the most basic journalism.

Consider the statistical shakiness which starts to appear in this passage from this morning's New York Times news report:

ROBERTSON (9/23/21): [Gwen] Ifill, who died in 2016 after a distinguished career that included stints at The Washington Post, The Times and NBC News before she became co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” raised the issue of what she called “missing white woman syndrome” at a journalism conference in 2004. “If there’s a missing white woman, we are going to cover that, every day,” she noted wryly.

In the years since, national news outlets have continued to deliver frequent, detailed reports that made young, white women such as Natalee Holloway, who disappeared in 2005 while vacationing in Aruba, into household names.

To what "statistical shakiness" do we refer? We refer to this statistical shakiness:

In that passage, the Times reporter, Katie Robertson, quotes Gwen Ifill seeming to say that the mainstream media covers every case in which a there's a missing white woman. Indeed, Ifill seems to say that every such case gets a lot of coverage.

Robertson proceeds to offer an example. She cites a case which did get a lot of attention—back in 2005!

Can you think of a more recent case? The Times report seems to say that there are many such cases, but we'll admit that we can't think of examples, and it almost looks like the Times couldn't do so either..

With that in mind, can you see the shakiness which may be lurking there? We ask that question because the editors at the New York Times 1) couldn't see the shakiness, or 2) just didn't prefer to.

Now, let's consider a case of statistical illiteracy. It comes from that same New York Times report, but it also appeared in the Washington Post, and it's being widely copied as the day proceeds:

ROBERTSON: The demographic makeup of major news organizations is another factor in the emphasis on narratives of white women who go missing or are murdered, said Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.


The disappearances of people of color tend not to generate the same volume of media interest, despite their occurring at a higher rate. A report from the University of Wyoming found that 710 Indigenous people were reported missing from 2011 to 2020 in that state, which is where Ms. Petito’s remains were found.

Can you see the statistical illiteracy lurking there? The breakdown goes like this:

Robertson links to this report from the University of Wyoming. Making a long story short, the Wyoming report includes this passage:

These records  represent 4,884 unique individuals, 710 of whom were Indigenous. Law  enforcement agencies in Wyoming enter nearly 900 missing person records into NCIC annually. Each year, approximately 13% (n = 120) are records of Indigenous people.

In that passage, we learn that there were 4,884 missing persons in Wyoming during the decade in question. Performing the math, the numbers break down like this:

Missing persons in Wyoming:
Total number of missing persons: 4,884
Missing persons who were Indigenous: 710
Missing persons who weren't Indigenous: 4,174

It's true! You never heard about the 710 missing persons. But duh! You never heard about the 4,174 missing persons either.

Putting it a different way, you never heard about any of those missing persons in the way you've heard about the late Gabby Petito this week. In fact, you never heard about any of those missing persons at all.

For starters, that's because, Ifill's pleasing statement to the contrary,  the mainstream media doesn't cover the cases of "every missing white woman." In fact, the media almost never covers such cases. Almost no missing persons get covered this way, including the blonde and the blue-eyed.

The statistical dumbness of this morning's Times report rises to the level of undisguised, flat-out Stupid. That said, it's very typical of the way our high-end journalists work when confronted with any sort of statistical or pseudo-statistical statement.

In this case, the Times was eager to push Storyline, and so it ran with that absurdly irrelevant statistic. For whatever reason, its unnamed editors didn't remove that irrelevant passage from the report. For all we know, it may be the editors who stuck the passage in.

Increasingly, our journalism is Storyline all the way down. Along with that, our Storyline selection is tribal. 

In this instance, these factors led the Times to pretend that oversized coverage occurs all the time with missing white women, even as they couldn't seem to come up with a recent example—and even as they failed to note one of the obvious reasons why the disappearance of the late Gabby Petito has received so much coverage.

In part, this case has received an outsized amount of coverage because Petito was a travel blogger who had posted tons of footage of her cross-country trip. It has also received outsized coverage because the ludicrous behavior of her  fiancĂ© comes straight out of a cable-friendly, Sleeping With the Enemy-style movie.

That said, also this:

This case has received a lot of coverage because, by conventional norms, Petito was stunningly telegenic. Cable loves to run video footage of conventionally attractive young women, just as it loves to hire such women to appear on the air.

Obviously, race and color play major roles in judgments concerning who is and isn't attractive; this fact is extremely unfortunate. But, as judged by conventional norms, Petito was stunningly telegenic. 

That fact played an obvious role in this week's unusual amount of coverage. As part of its general vapidity, CNN loves to air footage like that, along with equally exciting footage of hurricanes, fires and floods.

That said, gaze upon the statistical dumbness of upper-end newspapers like the Washington Post and the Times. 

In this report, the Post subjects that statistic from Wyoming to even dumber use. This dumbness runs through the coverage of almost every matter our upper-end press corps pursues. 

That dumbness is in the saddle and it rules our journalistic humankind. And no, a modern nation can't hope to survive when its tribunes are so vapid and so incompetent, and so ruled by Storyline.

Concerning Ifill's wry remark, we'll only say this—at least she wasn't covering for her warmongering friend, Condi Rice, on that particular day.

Concerning that astoundingly silly pseudo-statistic, it's a case of the 710 versus the more than four thousand! None of those stories got covered this way—in fact, none of those stories got covered at all. That's because what Ifill said was, and is, transparently bogus.

When we saw the figure 710, we wondered about the other figure, as any competent person would. When we looked at the Wyoming report, we were able to cipher it out—4,174!

This sort of thing is beyond the reach of our upper-end mainstream journalists. Many went to the finest schools, but they rarely show the slightest sign of being able or inclined to handle such questions as this.

Our brains aren't wired for this sort of thing. They're wired to pimp tribal Storyline, or so the top experts all tell us!

The earlier missing white woman: As of 2004, the earlier missing white woman was Chandra Levy. Her case received blanket coverage in 2001 because the crackpot conservative world was using it to push the "Democrats chase after interns" line, with the mainstream press corps politely playing along.

In other words, it was part of the ongoing MSM war against Clinton, Clinton and Gore, the war which  put Bush and Trump in the White House—the inexcusable, brain-damaged war which remains undiscussed.

CNN ran with it, night after night, all through the summer of 2001. (As summertime fare, it was even better than shark attacks!) On September 11, al Qaeda hit, and this much adored, important topic was never mentioned again.

This is the way this guild has functioned over the course of the past many years. Within a year, they were savaging Gore for saying, in a major speech, we should stay out of Iraq. Frank Rich was never more angry than he was with the phony, dishonest Gore! Katie Couric went after him too!

This is who and what we are. Simply put, we're wired this way, disconsolate experts insist.



    April 13, 2011 Holly Bobo
    June 3, 2011 Lauren Spierer
    August 3, 2013 Hannah Anderson
    September 13, 2014 Hannah Graham
    August 22, 2016 Diana Quer
    July 16, 2018 Mollie Tibbetts
    October 15, 2018 Jayme Closs
    December 1, 2018 Grace Millane
    March 3, 2021 Sarah Everard
    September 11, 2021 Gabby Petito

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  2. Homicides involving white females also receive more coverage.

    Suspects also - like Amanda Knox or Jodi Arias, especially if the story can be dragged out with tiny new revelations every so often.

  3. Thanks again for documenting liberal-hitlerian atrocities, dear Bob. This one was kinda funny.

  4. The question is not the thousands of missing persons the media didn’t report on. The question is the ones they do choose to report on, who tend to be white, as rationalist points out.

    Somerby needs some help from some of those logicians himself, if he is operating in good faith here. We won’t say he isn’t!

  5. Somerby does no research before declaring something a myth. Especially when it is a phenomenon involving race and a black reporter is involved (Gwen Ifill):

    "In a recent study, I found that disparities do, in fact, exist at two different stages of news coverage of missing-persons cases.

    I examined every missing-person news story published on four major news sites (,, (The Atlanta Journal Constitution website), and (The Minneapolis Star Tribune website) in 2013. When I compared the data to the national rates compiled by the FBI, African-American missing persons were significantly underrepresented in the news.

    Girls and women were significantly overrepresented.

    But these disparities are also compounded by a second factor.

    Among those individuals who do receive news coverage, there are additional differences in terms of the amount of coverage—its “intensity”—that each missing individual receives. Gender and race disparities are actually magnified when considering the quantity of news coverage. To illustrate, about 33% of the missing persons appearing on the four websites were white women and girls, but stories about those individuals comprised almost 50% of the total coverage.

    As a result, there seem to be two different stages of disparities, which are likely driven by editorial decisions about the news value of the story.

    Coverage disparities (can) affect the chances of discovering the fate of a missing individual.
    Such inequalities in the determination of “newsworthiness” have important implications. Consumers’ views about crime in general are influenced by news reports. A disproportionate focus on missing white women reduces public pressure on authorities to focus on minority groups who are seen to somehow matter less."

  6. "Indeed, Ifill seems to say that every such case gets a lot of coverage."

    No, she isn't saying that, nor does she "seem to say" it.

    The women who get a lot of coverage are in their late teens or early 20s, often blonde, and are pretty.

    In Southern California, a family with kids disappeared in the desert. In another case, a young man in his late teens disappeared from his college campus after leaving the dorm to take a walk. Neither of those cases received the attention that Lacey Peterson did, or Gabby Petito.

  7. Somerby loves films. He should ask himself why it is always young attractive women who are placed in peril in horror and thriller films. (I am not "seeming to say" that this happens in every such film, since some authors like to play with the genre.) Think about the opening scene of Jaws. Men get off on films that place young women in peril and you don't have to be Freudian to see why.

  8. "Almost no missing persons get covered this way, including the blonde and the blue-eyed."

    This is not true. Missing hikers are reported in the Los Angeles area every week. There are local reports on missing people regularly, especially on the nighly news. Often there are amber reports or pictures of elderly folks who have wandered away from care facilities and need their medication. There is a steady stream of such information on local news.

    I am getting the feeling that Somerby doesn't watch local news. His ideas of what gets covered are odd enough to believe he only watches national shows, which of course don't pick up such local stories unless there is a reason.

  9. The media pushed the Chandra Levy story because it seemed likely a member of congress was involved in her death. They SHOULD pursue such a story. I wish they gave more attention to the other wrongdoing by conservatives, which somehow get very little attention.

  10. There is nothing wrong with the 710 figure. Nor is there anything better about reporting the total number of missing people, or the number that are not indigenous. Somerby always thinks that if a reporter doesn't use the stats he wants, then they are wrong or incompetent.

    People use stats in news reports to make or illustrate points. They are not publishing a report in which all stats would be presented. They have limited space to talk about the topic they have chosen (which is not necessarily what Somerby thinks should be discussed), so they use only the most relevant stats. If you are discussing the fact that indigenous missing people are rarely in the news, then the 710 number is the right one.

    Strictly speaking, it isn't correct to refer to such a number as a "statistic". A statistic is a number that describes a data set (a group of numbers), such as a mean or standard deviation. The number 710 is a measurement or observation or data point. It tells us how many indigenous women have disappeared. It is NOT a statistic. The use of that number is a journalistic choice, not a statistical blunder, blooper or howler.

    Somerby would understand this if he had ever taken a statistics course at Harvard (or any time thereafter). It is a concept introduced on the first day of class, when you talk about data types and what a statistic is and is not.

    1. Somerby continually misuses the term statistics. That's probably because he's a moronic Trumptard.

  11. How's this for a statistic that won't ever be discussed by the Gwen Ifils of the world or the Bob Somerbys, or the Anonymushes who are all brainwashed to accept corporate-led plutocracy:

    "A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades."

    1. "...over the past several decades."

      Like almost everything about the gutting of the USA, it all started with Ronald Reagan.


  12. 'The statistical dumbness of this morning's Times report rises to the level of undisguised, flat-out Stupid. '

    Somerby doesn't understand percentages (as I've mentioned before). And as for statistics, he understands it even less than he does relativity (which is quite an achievement).

    Native Americans account for around 3% of Wyoming's population. Missing native Americans account for around 14-15% of Wyoming's missing. Most people would concern that a disturbing statistic and wonder if journalists should be covering this statistic. Not Somerby. He's just concerned that missing indigenous natives are being covered at all.

    Somerby is only concerned when negative stories regarding Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz are published -- then he leaps to defend them. Somerby is a malevolent, moronic Trumptard.

  13. By Somerby's reasoning, no one can ever care about those missing 710 because there will always be more white people who go missing.

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