Leading with Statistics

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on November 30, 2011

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-Read the excerpt below from the "Best of the Web" post by OpinionJournal.com's editor James Taranto (original post date 11/21/11).
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column. Then answer the questions.

From a post by OpinionJournal.com’s editor James Taranto (original post date 11/21/11).

Scott Brown is probably the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election next year. His likely opponent, Elizabeth Warren, is a hard-left Harvard professor who has described herself as having “created much of the intellectual foundation” for the anarchist-socialist [Occupy Walll Street] movement. Massachusetts, of course, is one of the few places where that may be a plus for a political candidate.

The New York Times’s Nicholas Confessore reports that Warren plans to make an issue of the contributions Brown has received from people who work in the financial industry. How much would that be?

Here’s one way of looking at it: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, so far in the 2012 cycle he has received just over $1.2 million from people working in securities and investment, plus $62,000 from industry political action committees [PACs]. That’s less than half of New York Democrat Chuck Schumer’s haul: [Schumer received] nearly $2.6 million from individuals and $147,000 from PACs. Kirsten Gillibrand, also a New York Democrat, has raised over $2.2 million from individuals and $190,000 from PACs.

But here’s another way of looking at it–Confessore’s:

Mr. Brown, a freshman who harnessed populist Tea Party anger to win the seat once held by Edward M. Kennedy, has taken more money from the financial industry than almost any other senator: all told, more than $1 million during the last two years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Presumably this is also true–the number of senators who have out-raised Brown in this sector is small–but you get a fuller picture when you know that at least two Democrats have done so by quite a large margin.

Here’s another example of the tendentious presentation of statistics, from Politico:

Overall this cycle, about 13 percent of labor groups’ political action committee contributions–just over $2 million–have gone toward GOP [Republican] candidates, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s still dwarfed by the nearly
$14 million
in union cash that’s gone to Democrats this cycle, but the GOP appears to be gaining ground with union donors after receiving only 6 percent of total contributions in 2010 and 8 percent in the 2008 cycle.

That’s the fourth paragraph. The headline: “Big Labor Shells Out for GOP Friends.” Again, it is consistent with the facts, but in a rather skewed way.

Read original post at OpinionJournal.com. (Scroll one-third of the way down the page to “Leading with Statistics”)

Questions

1.  Why is it important for a news organization to provide an accurate headline for every news article?

2.  Do you think the headline fits the article? Explain your answer.


Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
























Answer(s)

1. Headlines can greatly influence readers’ opinions about the news. The importance of an accurate headline is that most people don’t read every word of every article; they often just skim the headlines. Therefore, those who read just a headline are not accurately informed when the headline misrepresents the story.

2. Opinion question. Answers vary.