Random Myth Debunking

Image result for myth

By Mike Cronin

The latest myths and legends that need to be debunked:

Global warming caused Hurricane Michael. Nope. It was a normal hurricane following a normal path during the annual hurricane season. There was nothing special about it as a hurricane per se.  It was so destructive because of where it hit: Places where there are lots of people and many expensive buildings and assets.  Thankfully, most of the people were evacuated and the death toll has been low.

Taking a knee during the national anthem isn’t disrespectful.  If it wasn’t disrespectful, it would have no value as a symbol of protest! There would be no controversy, it wouldn’t make the news, and no one would be talking about it.

America has one of the highest murder rates.  Simply not true. Our murder rate is in the middle of the pack. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-per-million-people.

Violent crime is at an all time high. Again not true. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, ratings wars, and alternative media, reporting of crime is pervasive, because it gets ratings.

The now solidly conservative Supreme Court (SC) will overturn Roe v Wade and multiple gun laws.  It might, but not on a whim. First, a relevant case would have to be appealed through the lesser courts, then appealed to the SC, then the SC would have to agree to hear the case – then it might overturn a law, or it might not. Much depends on the exacting details of the case and what precisely is being argued.

There are more than two genders. Not quite. Homo sapiens reproduces sexually, thus, as with other mammals, we come in two sexes: male and female. No doubt masculinity and femininity are scales. No doubt there are transgender people and intersex people and people with chromosome disorders. They might feel “non-binary,” or they might be hermaphrodites, or they may feel that they want to be the opposite of what their genitalia indicate. I’m not hating on any of them. But nothing suggests there is anything other than male and female characteristics being desired or undesired, hormone levels to manipulate, and male and female organs available for surgical manipulation. Humans haven’t evolved new sex organs, new methods of reproduction, or new genders, we’ve just reached a level of technological development and affluence where it’s possible to play mix-and-match between the two existing ones.

Bias and the Seven Criteria of Newsworthiness

Be selective about what you pitch and be sure to pitch to the right people

By Mike Cronin

In the “About” section of this blog, I say that bias is one of the main “filters” we have to apply in our media consumption in order to make sense of it all.  The mainstream media (ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and others) are notorious for being biased. The right wing maintains that (with the exception of Fox) the bias is unabashedly liberal. Liberals are certain that Fox News is a propaganda machine for conservative Republicans.  There is no shortage of examples of bias to be found on each side; but for us to detect that bias reliably, it might help to first know what a “pure” news story is supposed to be about. The foundation of a news story is its newsworthiness.  In Journalism 101 courses throughout the country, students are taught several criteria to apply in order to determine if a story is newsworthy. There are various versions of the model, all of which boil down to roughly the same basics. The version I am familiar with has seven criteria:

Impact: The significance, importance, or consequence of an event or trend. The greater the consequence, or the more people affected, the greater the newsworthiness. “If it bleeds, it leads” fits here. National election results, wars, terrorist attacks, mass murder, natural disasters, and major industrial or transportation accidents are prime examples. 9-11 is the quintessential example.

Timeliness: This is the new in news. The more recently the event happened (or the more recently new information became available about an historical event), the more newsworthy it is. It doesn’t get much newer than when an event is broadcast live (or nearly so) as it happens. On the other hand, one can get headline fatigue when a “Breaking News” or “News Alert” ticker demands attention for reportage of every minor development in an ongoing major story.

Prominence: The doings and antics of prominent people (or corporations, major league sports teams, government agencies, etc.) are newsworthy – because they are prominent. Thus, almost anything a sitting president does is newsworthy, but nothing I routinely do is newsworthy.

Proximity: The closeness of an occurrence, either geographically or in terms of connections or values, is a factor in its newsworthiness.  The astronauts making the Apollo 11 moon landing were as far away from us as any humans ever have been, yet they were fellow Americans making momentous history, and that made them “close” in the sense of this criterion. (Of course, the first manned moon landing was newsworthy according to just about all of these criteria!)

Bizarre: The classic “man bites dog” headline is a classic example of the essence of this category.  It’s not news when a dog bites a man, but when the tables are turned, the situation is freaky, so it becomes newsworthy. There are entire publications devoted to this critieria:

Conflict: Controversy, drama, hypocrisy from leaders, investigative reports, political wrangling, etc.

Human Interest: Those stories that are funny, charming, cute, heartwarming, or otherwise entertaining fit here. Here’s a great example.

These criteria can give us a “baseline” to use when examining stories for bias. Sometimes it is not what a newscaster or reporter says or doesn’t say that exposes bias, it’s the selection of what is to be reported, or the time span a particular story spends in the headlines. If you read or watch a story that doesn’t seem to meet any of the newsworthiness criteria, or you know of a newsworthy story that has been ignored or downplayed, or you note that story X has received much more coverage than story Y, even though both are newsworthy, you are be observing bias in action.