Friday, September 12, 2008

Minor Irritations

"Residents of the Texan coastal city of Galveston face 'certain death' if they do not evacuate, the National Weather Service has warned."

Assuming the quote is accurate, the Weather Service is lying. Weather prediction is not that accurate and even a catastrophic flood does not kill everyone. But it is hard to point out that people are lying when they are lying in a good cause without being accused of minimizing dangers or wanting people to die.

[Postscript, after the storm: "Ike killed at least two people in Texas and Louisiana." A lot more than two people chose to stay in Galveston.]

Meanwhile ... the Lancet reports that, worldwide, the child death rate has fallen by 28% since 1990. Breaking it down by region, "deaths in western and central Africa have fallen by just 18%; in sub-Saharan Africa the figure was 21%, while in eastern and southern Africa it was 26%."

How does BBC headline the story?

Huge split in child death rates

Beneath the headline, in boldface type:

"Progress in cutting the number of deaths among children under five is still 'grossly insufficient' in some parts of the world, Unicef has warned." The picture that accompanies it is of two black children, one crying and one looking grim.

The actual news is that things are getting better. But that is not the impression that the headline, the introduction or the picture is designed to give.

I switched from CNN to BBC as a source of online news in response to CNN's extraordinarily biased reporting of the FLDS case in Texas. BBC is not as bad—you only have to read to the bottom of the article to get the relevant information. To find out from CNN that not only was the phone call that set off the Texas raid a hoax, but the identity of the hoaxer had been known since a few weeks after the call was made, you had to follow links into the depths of their web site.

But BBC could be a lot better.


Anonymous said...

"Residents of the Texan coastal city of Galveston face 'certain death' if they do not evacuate, the National Weather Service has warned."

Assuming the quote is accurate, the Weather Service is lying. Weather prediction is not that accurate and even a catastrophic flood does not kill everyone.

I think you might want to look up the definition of "to face". While they may have been exagerating, you're exagerating as well.

It's not a big deal, but if you're gonna pick nits of others, don't be surprised when your own get picked.

Anonymous said...

America is really fascinating. On the one hand, American intellectuals and inventors drive 90% of the progress in the world, and lead in practically every discipline and have the best universities in the world.

Yet on the other hand, there are large numbers of extremely boorish "redneck" people, Christian fundamentalists, etc. who have extremely bigoted/simplistic views of the world. And this latter group is reflected in a media that is highly sensationalist, inaccurate, etc.

If you came to Australia and studied some of our media organisations, I think you'd find it reflects an overall more mature/intelligent electorate.

Adam Ruth said...

According to my OED, to face has several definitions:

2 confront and deal with or accept : honesty forced her to face facts | [ intrans. ] the candidates choose not to face up to the pragmatic issues.
• ( face someone/something down) overcome someone or something by a show of determination : he faced down persistent hecklers at a noontime rally.
• have (a difficult event or situation) in prospect : each defendant faced a maximum sentence of 10 years.
• (of a problem or difficult situation) present itself to and require action from (someone) : if you were suddenly faced with an emergency, would you know how to

Substituting any of those definitions doesn't really materially change David's interpretation. It's not "facing" that's the issue, but "certain".

Even the third definition, which seems closest to that you meant, doesn't quite work:

"Residents... have in prospect certain death if they do not evacuate."

Still seems to fit.

Adam Ruth said...


I don't know, it seems quite easy to find boorish people in Australia who's views on the world are equally simplistic. Not too many Christian fundamentalists, but I can't swing a dead cat without hitting true believes in astrology, faith healing, space aliens, and other such nonsense.

At least in America, a huge chunk of the morons don't vote. Not so down here.

Anonymous said...

The National Weather Service is doing this because, whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a very submissive society. By that I mean that people like to be told what to do.

An example. . .

I live in Kansas which is the heart of tornado country. Today there were two major storms within ten miles of us. I couldn't begin to count how many people were walking down the streets. Worse, the radio was repeatedly warning people to not attempt to outrun a tornado.

People, generally, like to be told what to do. This is hard for anarchists, such as myself, to fathom, but I think it's true.

We rely on "experts" to tell us what to do. That's something we need to work on. . .

Anonymous said...

The British press is, in general, pretty bad. Perhaps because Brits have the straight-laced BBC shoved down their throats, the rest of the media takes a contrasting approach - one that is breezy and sloppy.

Anonymous said...

The residents do indeed face 'certain death' if they do not evacuate. They also face certain death if they DO evacuate, since we all face certain death sooner or later.

See, it's not really a lie after all...

Anonymous said...

It's very easy to face certain death without dying.

Patrick said...

I've often heard it said that the BBC's world service tends to be more proportionate and objective.

However, its national service is a statist propagandist disgrace. They barely criticise govt, even when egg is clearly all over the politicians face. one imagines the BBC to be there merely to help clean the egg off of their faces.

To be frank, the BBC is one of many news organisations that offer nothing in tms of real news. Comments are given to comedic journalists for whom the establishment now will never be taken seriously.

As for Australia being better than the US? I have to say, much like Canadians, get your heads out of your statist arses please.

Paul Sand said...

I've seen the NWS warning quoted elsewhere as those who stayed faced "the possibility of certain death."

This manages to be both less dire and significantly weirder.

Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure that last "CNN" in your original post was meant to be "BBC".

David Friedman said...

Albatross writes:

"I'm pretty sure that last "CNN" in your original post was meant to be "BBC"."

You were correct. It now is.

Aaron Brown said...

"World ends; women and minorities hit hardest"

Anonymous said...

David, you're having me seriously worried. First you support Obama, and now you are promoting a government run news institution (well known for its bias, no less) over a private news enterprise.
Tsk tsk...

montestruc said...

Minor point, the weather service was predicting a storm surge more than 10' higher than actually happened.

I think that was not malicious but was a simple error. In any case the storm would have been far far more deadly had this higher storm surge materialized. Wind and rain can kill, but not like high water flooding along with wind and rain.

I live in Houston and have some experience with Galveston. I thought people trying to ride out the storm in Galveston were foolish.

montestruc said...

Oh, and the death toll on Galveston Island was 7, not 2, and the death toll in Texas was 23.

I heard the 7 on Galveston on local radio, and could not find it on internet.

Unknown said...

My primary source is Google news - stories from hundreds of news outlets all in one place.