Monday, September 26, 2005

Press Innumeracy

Remember at the start of the Gulf War, the press had dire warnings of thousands of dead soldiers in the early days? Final total: 148.

Remember in the wake of the Twin Towers attack on 9/11, the press was telling us of 20,000 caualties? Final total: less than 3000.

Remember in the run-up and the early days of the invasion of Iraq, the press had lots of predictions of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of dead? Curent total, after 2 1/2 years: less than 2000.

Remember on Election Day 2004, the press was reporting most of the day that Senator John Kerry was winning handily? Final tally: 52% for Bush and 48% for Kerry.

Remember in the wake of Katrina, the press told of us tens of thousands of dead before settling for 10,000 dead? Current total: fewer than 1500.

Remember in Rita's landfall, the press warned us of hundreds of possible deaths, and days of rain as the hurricane sat in Texas unmoving? Current death toll: two. Location of Rita? East Tennessee and the Carolinas Over southeast Alabama and the Florida panhandle. (I had the tail and the dog confused there. And we may now be looking at the rebirth of Rita back in the Gulf!)

The press constantly gets these things wrong. And yet we keep tuning in and expecting them to somehow start getting it right? On what basis? What, anywhere, in the newsgathering, fact-checking and dissemination (print and broadcast) process has been changed in the past few years?

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