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Media fact-checking priorities

Posted by Richard on November 21, 2009

It's a tough time in the news business, with lots of layoffs and red ink. So it's especially important for an organization like the Associated Press, which is cutting 10% of its staff, to allocate its limited investigative and reporting resources carefully, based on well-chosen priorities. James Taranto provided an excellent example:

An Associated Press dispatch, written by Erica Werner and Richard Alonso-Zaldivar, compares the House and Senate ObamaCare bills. We'd like to compare this dispatch to the AP's dispatch earlier this week "fact checking" Sarah Palin's new book. Here goes:

Number of AP reporters assigned to story:
   • ObamaCare bills: 2
   • Palin book: 11

Number of pages in document being covered:
   • ObamaCare bills: 4,064
   • Palin book: 432

Number of pages per AP reporter:
   • ObamaCare bill: 2,032
   • Palin book: 39.3

On a per-page basis, that is, the AP devoted 52 times as much manpower to the memoir of a former Republican officeholder as to a piece of legislation that will cost trillions of dollars and an untold number of lives. That's what they call accountability journalism.

I suppose that kind of prioritization of journalistic resources is why the evening news, CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo, etc., haven't dug into the many examples of bogus math and fiscal sleight-of-hand in the ObamaCare bills, like delaying most of the expenditures until 2013 (after the election) so that the CBO's 10-year projection includes only seven years' worth of costs. And they've been too busy with the Palin investigations to notice that both the House and Senate bills contain the regulatory framework that will eventually transform government panels' suggested standards of care, like those much-criticized mammogram and Pap smear recommendations, into the tools for rationing health care

I suppose it's also why you'll have a hard time finding any in-depth coverage of the bogus accounting and reporting of the "stimulus" bill's spending and job creation

This is nothing new. During the campaign last fall, the big media organizations sent scores of reporters to scour Alaska in search of dirt on Gov. Palin. But hardly anyone had time to investigate Obama's relationships with Tony Rezko, the Daley brothers, ACORN, Rod Blagojevich, Emil Jones, and other elements of the Chicago machine (well, to be fair, I think one reporter each from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Times and a couple of semi-pros from Newsmax doggedly dug into these things). 

But some journalists still have the courage to hammer interviewees with challenging, aggressive, well-researched, adversarial questions — at least when the interviewee is a 17-year-old Sarah Palin fan. Speaking Truth to Teenager. (By all means, take Finkelstein's advice and read the blog entry by interviewee Jackie Seals. Fascinating.)

Maybe the courageous Norah O'Donnell's next assignment will be to confront supporters of ObamaCare with tough questions like, "Do you realize that if this passes, you could be sent to jail for not buying an approved health care plan?" And then she'll go to some "Save the Planet" rally and challenge a Gore supporter with, "Are you aware that the Earth's core is 4000°, not a million degrees as Mr. Gore has claimed, and that many of his other claims are equally outlandish and unsubstantiated?"

Somehow, I doubt it. And I'm not holding my breath waiting for 60 Minutes reporters to ambush the perpetrators of the latest climate fraud, either.

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5 Responses to “Media fact-checking priorities”

  1. David Bryant said

    Hi, Richard. Just a couple of things today.

    Neither you nor Al Gore mentioned the temperature scale. Scientific types generally express temperatures in Kelvins. So the temperature at the center of the earth, which is estimated to run somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 degrees Kelvin, corresponds to an American style temperature of somewhere between 6,700 and 10,300 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly.

    The release of documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has not resulted in a flood of new information yet. I’ve been following this one in the blogosphere for several days, and mostly it’s just the same set of e-mail messages being hashed and re-hashed. It would be nice to read something about the many data files that are part of the zipped archive, but they probably aren’t easily interpreted.

  2. David Aitken said

    The emails from the CRU aren’t the smoking gun. The software and data are. See:

    http://www.devilskitchen.me.uk/2009/11/data-horribilis-harryreadmetxt-file.html

    and

    http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/11/the_real_problem_with_the_clim.php

  3. rgcombs said

    Wow, that [http://www.devilskitchen.me.uk/2009/11/data-horribilis-harryreadmetxt-file.html Devil’s Kitchen] post is devastating. These people aren’t just dishonest and duplicitous, they’re also sloppy and incompetent! Thanks, David!

    For about a bazillion other Climategate links, check out Climate Depot. And if you want to see for yourself what’s in the emails, there’s a searchable database available online. And of course, Watts Up With That? has posted extensively on the subject.

    This is at least the biggest scientific scandal since the Tuskeegee experiments were revealed, but the mainstream media are trying their best to ignore or downplay it. And the Prez is pretending it doesn’t exist. We’ll see. I suspect that things won’t go well in Copenhagen. 🙂

  4. rgcombs said

    Oops, David B., I forgot to respond to your comment. If you follow the link to the NewsBusters post, you’ll see that the temperature scale cited is Celsius (i.e., centigrade).

    The range of possible temperatures at the Earth’s core (4000-9000° C.) is a far cry from Gore’s claim of “several million degrees.” And it doesn’t matter what scale he’s using — he’s a liar or an idiot. I think the odds are 50/50, and it’s quite possible both are true. 🙂

  5. David Bryant said

    Well, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Gore knew what he was talking about, or even that 10,300 is roughly “millions”. I only wanted to clarify the fact that physical temperature is not a dimensionless quantity, and that there are two common scales of measurement in use.

    Just to be clear, astrophysicists and astronomers don’t quote temperatures in “Celsius” or “Centigrade” — they quote temperatures in Kelvins. The size of a “degree” is the same in all three systems, but the Kelvin scale starts at absolute zero. The modern Celsius and historical Centigrade scales are almost indistinguishable for all practical purposes, differing only in the definition of zero degrees. I’m not surprised that a reporter would think that a temperature in Kelvins is the same thing as a temperature on the Celsius scale, because the difference between those two scales is a constant (273.15).

    Interestingly, besides the Celsius/Kelvin and the Fahrenheit/Rankine systems that remain in use today, there are at least two other temperature scales of some historical interest. One is the Réaumur scale, whose degree is 125% of the Celsius degree, and the other is the Rømer scale, whose degree is roughly two degrees Celsius.

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