Friday, February 10, 2006

It's not that the media is biased...

It's that they seem downright dumb.

I often say "Don't attribute to malice what can be explained by simple stupidity". Take for instance the recent discovery of a new Tomb in Egypts Valley of the Kings. I was super geeked about this because I was there. I saw this with my own eyes.The news is just starting to show pictures and relate how and where the tomb was found. But in bouncing around several major news sites I am amazed at how many facts have simply been wrong.

Reuters listed the tomb as being 5 KM from King Tutankhamun's. This led me to believe that maybe the tomb was discovered somewhere else and the excavation I had seen with my own damn eyes must have been a bust. But 5KM puts the tomb outside of the Valley completely. The new tomb is actually 5 meters away. Big difference. Another story today stated that the tomb was found during excavation near the Collosi of Memnon. It is true that there is digging going on there, but the Valley is several kilometers away. The Valley is for tombs, the Collosi marked the entrance to a temple. I double checked my pic against the ones of the tomb entrance at, sure enough its the site we were at in the Valley. They are near each other in the same way Cleveland and Akron are near each other. That is, not very.

What's worse, the CNN story used a cute interactive map. When you clicked on Luxor and the Valley, you were shown two small images, except each images shows a scene that is on the opposite side of the Nile. I know, picky picky. I'll let that one slide, but missing basic facts? It makes one wonder how many details the media gets wrong when it reports a story. All media is under pressure to get the news out fast. First in print or on the air gets the audience. But in the process they are not reporting accuratly. And the devil, dear friends, is in the details.

Consider the current bruhaha on domestic spying. It's a complex issue. There are lots of laws with lots of words in them. So when someone comes along and says "Well this is what the law means, and previous Presidents did this..." Well, that saves you a lot of time. No need to do research or think. But once again a lot of facts are getting lost.

Remember New Orleans? I know that is So twenty minutes ago. Remember the horror stories of blacks reverting to savages in the streets, rampant raping and killing? But it wasn't true. In a farcical game of telephone, one person (or reporter) hears something and passes it on. This gets embellished or confused with another possible story. The beast feeds on itself. Guesswork is reported, thus becoming fact. But it isn't the truth.

Despite instant global communication and instant access to volumes of data, we are getting incorrect information. It's up to the minute and beamed from half way around the world. But its still wrong sometimes. Maybe more often than we know.

This is not a paranoid rant about the manipulation of the media. That's a tin foil hat for another day. This is just an observation and maybe a warning.

I can't speak for the spying scandal. But I CAN speak to the facts of the tomb discovery. And there is ample proof that the New Orleans horrors never were. Given these facts, maybe we should add a grain of salt to our media diet.


Anonymous said...

I heard a blurb on NPR one day after I saw your note about it and if my memory serves me correctly they had the story straigt. I do remember they placed the find in KV 5 and had an interview with someone that was involved in the exploration.


Anonymous said...

Steven. I am a lawyer. I have known for years that the media is full of turds. This is why news articles are typically not admitted into evidence. The law knows they do not have it right. Only the public believes that the media knows what they are saying. Recall also the report of the survival of the West Virginia miners...ooopppsss...sorry, only one lived. Dead. Alive. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

Well, OK, we media screw up sometimes, but the examples cited here are bad.

New Orleans: If there's no media, there's no national outrage at conditions, no feds ever getting there

And, more importantly, police and the Mayor (a turd also?) were spreading the reports of violence.

The media reports what people tell them, what documents show and what reporters actually see. In a place like New Orleans, reporters cannot be everywhere and see everything. There are no documents in that chaos. So it has to report what people are saying. When the turds supposedly in charge (Police, mayor) say something is a fact, that's about as much verification as you're going to get on the fly. Of course, they can also wait to get extra verification, but then the story doesn't get reported until days, weeks, months later and people die.

As for the miners, yeah, that was a big mistake. But also recognize that families were acting like they had been saved and the churches were ringing their bells as if in celebration. Those minister turds! Those wife and daughter and father turds!

Blame the town officials and mine company for not getting accurate real-time news out, if not to the media, then at least to the families.

Newspapers, (I forget who said this) are the first rough draft of history. New information will continue to cast events in a slightly different light all the time. If we wait until the absolute final word on something, the news will never get out.

- Patrick
A reporter who knows his field is flawed, but still believes it is vital to a democracy

Steve said...

You have a good set of points. The media is important. And many times it performs its functions very well. But when it fails it can cause a cascade effect.

Reporters (in the case of New Orleans) reported rumor. What at first was "We have unconfirmed reports.." quickly became "There is rampant violence in the dome". There must have been tremendous pressure on these reporters to move from 'we are hearing' to 'we now know for a fact'. No newsroom editor wants their reporters and anchors talking about what might be, they want their network to be the first on the scene, the first to break the story, any story.

The Mayor? He certainly failed in many ways. But he, like much of the country, trusted in the inherent authority of the media. He assumes they are on the ground, getting the facts. He wanted action and to spurn this action we cited these innacurate reports. But what were his choices, his resources? Police communications were gone, land line and cell communication was inoperable. The news has mobile satelite communication and would seem to be the best resource for information.

Patrick is right that reporters cannot wait for all the facts to come in, for the story to be over. But sloppy journalism or worse, sensationalism does more damage than we think.