How #MSM creates conspiracy theories with clickbait headlines

This gem just in from John Myers at the LA Times.

5 million Californians are expected to vote by mail, a new record for a statewide primary

LA Times

His bio sure reads like someone who should know better. Then again, concern about accuracy took a backseat to revenues a long time ago in the mainstream media business model.

Being a journalist, though, ought to still mean one chooses his words carefully in order not to sensationalize what is being reported. Given the attention span and appetite for the salacious that too many Americans have, however, his approach might be forgiven.

I still think it should be understood. Let’s break this down, shall we?

1. Expected vs Estimates

The word “estimates” in the body of the article should not be overlooked or discounted. The Field Poll he is citing did not survey anyone. The report he linked to makes it clear that the Field Poll is estimating how many votes they think will be cast by mail.

The word ‘expected’ in the headline, on the other hand, is a dramatic overstatement.

Expected means, “regarded as likely to happen.” To estimate, however, is, “to form an approximate judgment or opinion.” These are not trivial distinctions, so one demerit to Mr. Myers and the LA Times editors (do such people even still exist?) for a clickbait headline.

2. Who are these voters?

The report itself does not distinguish their estimates (or any historical data listed) by party affiliation. While they are willing to estimate that 5 million votes could be cast by mail, they don’t know it to be the case, and they don’t distinguish between Ds and Rs.

Neither does Myers, but I know how I felt when I first read the headline. I feel safe about speculating that each of us had some kind of emotional reaction depending on your party affiliation and your favorite candidate.

3. Doesn’t add up

According to the New York Times, all precincts have reported and….
1,560,820 votes were cast for Rs
3,475,720 votes were cast for Ds

That’s 5,036,540 counted votes so far. I say ‘so far’ because I readily admit that I don’t know if that number includes mail-in ballots. I assume it does. From what Blitzer et. al. were saying last night, the very first numbers that came in were reported as very likely the mail-in ballots. Again, I don’t know.

Conclusions

Even if the reported numbers from all precincts don’t include the mail-in ballots (which seems really far-fetched to me at this point), and considering that just over 5M votes have already been counted in a state in which, according to the same Field Poll report, there are 17.9M registered voters, the idea that there are still another 5 million uncounted votes out there somewhere seems almost ludicrous. If they are out there somewhere, it would mean that something like 56% of registered voters actually voted in the primary. That would be a truly astonishing turnout.

Finally, there is this. It’s absolutely inconceivable that even if they existed that all 5M mailed in ballots would go to Bernie, right? If we just go by the percentages of the people who did show up and who have already been counted, there’s no reason to believe the split would miraculously erase the 12.6% gap between Hillary and Bernie.

This article, IMHO, is how conspiracy theories are born. I have to believe someone who has been in journalism as long as Mr. Myers has must know this and, therefore, must be intentionally baiting the reader with his headline. I’m not a journalist, so I’m under no deadlines, but this “research” took me all of 10 minutes.

So, no, there’s nothing inaccurate in the LA Times piece. There are no incorrect statements and, as far as I can tell, no false statements were offered about a nonpartisan’s reported estimates.

It simply requires a very, very careful reading when it comes to what the headline says, what the article says, and what the cited report says.

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2 thoughts on “How #MSM creates conspiracy theories with clickbait headlines

  1. Nailed it again, Peaceful Patriot! Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the lack of attention to detail in reporting and the inaccuracy in extrapolating information from gathered data is intentional or just plain laziness or, worse, poorly educated, inexperienced reporters overseen by editors of the same calibre. Print media journalism is such a challenging profession to be in these days. A casual reading of a fairly broad sampling of online blogs and viewing of YouTube “news” channels can make one begin to wonder whether an enormous swath of the American population even comprehends basic correct usage of the English language. “Journalists” with an intent to manipulate public opinion can have a field day in this kind of atmosphere of ignorance and mental laziness. Fortunately, we have people like you who are willing to spend the time to explore what smells fishy and help those of us willing to keep an open mind how to recognize when we are being manipulated. Thanks for this insightful post!

    1. Thanks for sharing your excellent insights, thoughts, and kind words, too! I just can’t sit idly by when I see things like this, and it’s very gratifying to know that you find value in what I have to share.

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