Unethical Headline Of The Week, “Nah, The News Media Isn’t Promoting Fear And Panic” Division

What possible excuse can there be for this? There is none.

Let’s start with the “six wars combined” stat. That doesn’t count the  top six wars in  US history in combat deaths, each of which  also happen to have  had more than 10,000 deaths. The “battlefield” modifier is also a cheat: the headline actually calls deaths from the disease “battlefield deaths”! They aren’t battlefield deaths.  Meanwhile, the two earliest major wars in our history both had more than 10,000 military deaths, which is the usual way we tote up such things. The next three combined, The Iraq War (#9), the Philippine-American War (#10), and the Spanish American War (#11) add up to more than 10,000, so to  get to six you have to  carefully work around the list and drop in some wars nobody remembers.

But who thinks like that? We have have over 40,000 suicides every year. Almost 40,000 die ever year from car accidents. About 35,000 die every year from falls. 10,000 is less than the typical year’s deaths from fire, choking and drowning, and so what?

The headline is yet another cognitive dissonance trick: war is something we regard as especially horrible, so the idea is to get the public to associate the epidemic with wars, which involve violent death. Yeah, let’s really scare them .But the Wuhan virus has nothing to do with wars. The comparison doesn’t belong in the story, much less the headline. Comparing it with other pandemics and epidemics would be misleading enough.

The news media’s coverage of the Wuhan Virus epidemic  has been uniformly despicable: sensational, politicized, unreliable. At a time when a competent, objective press and broadcast media is essential—it always is, but in a national emergency especially so—journalism has dived to a new low.  None of the news media is beyond reproach: Fox News has frequently taken the opposite approach to the rest, hyping skepticism about the seriousness of the outbreak and various doomsday models, and spreading rumors and speculation as fact.

Hilariously, if you can laugh about it, at this time when the the rest of the mainstream media is constantly engaging in “future news” (the pandemic may do something horrible!) and obviously weaponizing the confusion to assist in its “beat Trump” agenda, Columbia School of Journalism professors joined other professors in the field in signing and circulating an open letter to the owners of Fox News condemning it for  “misinformation” and “false statements” regarding  pandemic.

Professor Andie Tucher, one of the signatories from Columbia faculty, cited Fox’s  partisan coverage as particularly harmful during this time of crisis, saying that “it has always played a sort of game of purveying information that is partisan, that is political, that is intended to shape the partisan debate but calling it truthful,” Tucher said. “And in this case it is just too deadly to let that pass.”

This is so tainted with bias that it’s tragic. Fox News is the dangerous source of partisan news coverage, and a journalism professor who is a supposed expert in “fake news” feels that it is appropriate to pick one news organization to condemn that just happens not to warp news coverage to advance her preferred ideology. These academics really can’t see how incompetent and  deluded this is, and how much it hurts their own credibility.  Bias doesn’t just make you stupid, it makes you blind.

Want to laugh some more? The author of the Columbia article, Candy Chan,  extolling the professors quotes the author of the letter, a Professor Gitlin, as saying that many have told him they were relieved that the experts had finally sounded the alarm—that Fox News was the purveyor of unethical journalism. Pretending (or believing, which is even scarier) that misleading headlines and contrived news reports from the opposite perspective, like the USA headline, do not appear across the full spectrum of the news media, every day, every hour, makes this criticism itself an unethical form of diversion, or perhaps gaslighting.

Chan writes:

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, a guideline for journalistic practices and standards, furthers that point, calling for journalists to “expose unethical conduct in journalism,” which Gitlin and professors across the United States have done.“It seems to me important that a profession stands up for its standards, its principles, its ethics, just like every other credential profession does, so this is a service we can do to the public,” Tucher said. “Journalism is a public good and this is one way we can manifest that.”

Wake me when these professors point out what’s wrong with the headline, or what will be on the front page of the Times tomorrow.

I wouldn’t watch Sean Hannity’s show if I was threatened with waterboarding, but his reaction to the letter is spot on:

“They’re guilty of what they accuse me of. I said it in 2007: Journalism is dead,” Hannity said.

Bingo. And in the field of journalism scholarship, so is integrity.


Late addendum: Minutes after I posted the above, I saw this from Professor Turley:

Will any open letters be issuing from the professors to CNN?

I think not.

15 thoughts on “Unethical Headline Of The Week, “Nah, The News Media Isn’t Promoting Fear And Panic” Division

  1. The only solution at this point is for Americans to pull out the weapon of the Leftist insurgency.

    Stop buying products or using companies that advertise on any of the media outlets and let those companies know why they are no longer spending money with them.

      • Aliza
        The definition of a public good is one that is freely provided because there is no way to avoid the free rider problem. Highways are public goods, snow plowing is a public good, public schools are public goods.

        Conversely, private goods are those goods you can prevent others from obtaining through price. A pure private good is a loaf of bread that must be paid for and when consumed cannot be consumed by another. A paywall is the mechanism to make a good a private good. Newspapers, and other writings are not pure private goods but simply private goods because the product can be consumed be many simultaneously.

        The concept of public goods comes from the study of Economics. Its definition is not subject to being redefined by some journalist who never took an econ class.

        • You will find, as I find, that we (a larger plural than just you and I) think, reason, perceive & understand different and perhaps tendentious aspects of a topic. You often speak of *market forces* as if it is the way that god and providence brings all good things to man. I suppose this is your libertarianism speaking? If you were a Christian Libertarian I suppose you would see the descent of the Paraclete as coming about because the successful activity of beneficent market-forces. It is (to my ears) an odd way to view reality and I was merely making fun of it. As if to reflect back to you your own ideas in a way that makes them seem a bit absurd.

          The more that I continue to read and study — again I mention I am now working my way through one of the most revealing sources I have yet encountered: One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth & Decline of the Klu Klux Klan in the 1930s (Thomas R. Pegram, Ivan. R. Dee, 2011) — I see evermore clearly that *information* and *perspective* all depend on who requires it, and for what purpose, and then what outlook & perspective one feels one must purvey to others: one’s receptive audience.

          The factionalism that has now resurfaced directly mirrors the ideological and definitional conflicts of 100 years ago. That is to say that the Culture Wars are extensions of battles that were outlined long ago. These are people-battles. So, depending on what group one is in, and what *perspective* one has & wishes to strengthen and replicate, will determine what periodicals one is willing to pay for in order to receive and integrate that perspective.

          Oddly, over and above all that groundling noise (the noise and clamor or partisan and particular views) there must arise a s sort of *overlord view*. Because factionalism, by its nature, is factional and fracturing, there has to be a voice of the great generality. This is a fabricated voice, the voice of ‘Americanism’ when it is taken up by government. Government being the agency responsible for holding together the disunited and conflicting factions. Or take for example the WSJ which comes at the whole question from a *market-favoring perspective*. Factionalism and ideological differences are irrelevant to strengthening a system of economic and business overlordship. So, who *buys* the WSJ?

          I suppose that what you might be suggesting is that *true journalism* be established by channeling tax monies in equal proportion so that these journalistic Guardians can undertake their Sacred Work without having to design and sell a specific product to their captive-consumer audience? It is in fact an interesting notion when you think it through.

          On a final, disconnected note, I was glancing through my copy of Thucydides ‘The Peloponnesian War’ and noticed that Victor David Hanson wrote the introduction to my version. I begin to understand what I think is his *version of interpretation*: a meta-historical perspective influenced by Classic literature and history. I then thought that what we need is a journalistic source which is firmly grounded in these perspectives.

          I would pay to get through that paywall! 🙂

          • Despite your lengthy response to the clinical definition of a public good the journalist used the term incorrectly. If a journalist misuses a term that journalist has failed to communicate factually.

            BTW. Market forces occur from human self interest not God.

        • Isn’t a subscription driven newspaper a club good…just like cable television or a “public” water system?

          All excludable, but with no rivalry in consumption.

  2. I saw one such meme that the fatalities projected would exceed 200,000, more Americans than were killed in WWI.

    However, the Spanish Flu killed something like 600,000 and in the same time frame.

    That is how propaganda works.


    • In a country of approximately 330 million people, an average of 7,500 people die every day. You could look it up.

      My favorite (so far) made up news is the official of some sort in NYC saying they were going to have to begin burying bodies of the virus dead in public parks. Other than paupers, when did the city of New York become responsible for finding burial sites for all decedents? Is this another human right, like the right to migrate?

  3. Unethical? Nah! And, of course, it’s not personal; it’s business. Not.
    And this narrative has been taking place for a week or so:

    NYT “News Analysis” – 1 April
    “Under the best-case scenario presented on Tuesday, Mr. Trump will see more Americans die from the coronavirus in the weeks and months to come than Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon saw die in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.

    The lowest estimate would claim nearly as many Americans as World War I under President Woodrow Wilson and 14 times as many Americans as Iraq and Afghanistan together under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.”

    MSNBC – 1 April
    “On the low end of the projection, with 100,000 deaths, the toll would exceed the more than 90,000 total American service battle deaths and nontheater deaths experienced in the Vietnam conflict, and be around double the same type of U.S. deaths in the Korean War. And it could match the 116,516 American deaths in World War I.”

    Vox – 1 April
    ” It’s more than American casualties during the entire Vietnam War.”

    Foreign Policy – 1 April
    “The coronavirus death toll in the United States—now over 4,000—has eclipsed the number killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to projections shared during a White House briefing on Tuesday evening, the eventual death toll could equal the number of Americans killed in the Korean War and Vietnam War combined—if it is on the most optimistic end of the current estimates.”

    International Business Times – 6 April
    “The U.S. never lost 1,000 men dead in a single day in the Vietnam War. New statistical models now predict more than 2,000 deaths per day from COVID-19 starting next week. The 10,792 deaths from COVID-19 as of Monday exceed the number of battle deaths from six U.S. wars combined, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA data reveals a total of 9,961 soldiers died during The American Revolution, the War of 1812 against the British, Mexican War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War and Desert Shield/Desert Storm.”

    Time – 6 April
    “Soon after the White House announced its projection, observers were quick to make the comparison to the Vietnam War, during which about 60,000 were killed on the battlefield.”

    WaPo (Milbank) – 7 April
    Headline: This pandemic is Trump’s Vietnam. He has earned his bone spurs.
    “Some call the pandemic Trump’s Katrina or Trump’s Iraq War. But in terms of American lives that will be lost, this is far greater than both. This may be the most consequential failure of government since Vietnam, in which 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese died.

    During the Vietnam War, as the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser pointed out, the U.S. military’s daily briefings from Saigon, full of false claims about progress, were dubbed the Five O’Clock Follies. Trump seems unaware of this ignominy when he holds daily briefings full of false claims and dubious medical advice — typically scheduled for 5 p.m.”

    Were I a conspiracy theorist, I say that it looks like members of the press collaborated to develop this narrative. While some might argue that “assholes” is a perfectly appropriate term to describe those who willingly participate in such orgies of partisan sophistry, I would argue that “presstitutes” would be much more accurate.

    It’s also interesting to note that none of these “defenders of democracy” have included the Obama/Clinton Benghazi debacle among their examples.

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