The Media Story Is Often Not The True One
Article ID: 2179
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,919
Times Read: 14,467
Posted: August 10th. 1998
Times Viewed: 14,467
It just sounds more interesting than the truth!
I had other plans for today, but an Associated Press article in the July 29th edition of the New York Times set me off on an interesting search. A search for statistics. Joe Friday would have been proud.
"The facts and just the facts" seems to no longer be a fashionable concept in these days of television hype and media rating wars. We have professional "spin doctors' posing as journalists, "hard-hitting' news programs resorting to pitting extreme right and left wing advocates against each other ala Jerry Springer and the endless coverage devoted to the alleged sexual antics of the White House.
O.K., so now we know sex sells; sleaze sells; and that everyone loves a good public brawl. But what else do we know?
Maybe not a whole lot.
After watching the school shooting coverage of the past year, I had the impression that our public schools were now teaching the three "R's" of "reading, 'riting and rapid fire assault weapons."
Not so, it seems. According to the Times article, "Study Finds Fewer School Shootings":
"The number of school shooting deaths across the country was lower during the past school year than five years ago, but the horrific nature of several of this term's shootings and heavy media coverage left the opposite impression, a private study said today."
The study-''School House Hype''-was paid for by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that supports many juvenile justice efforts, collected data on fatal school shootings from several federal agencies and the National School Safety Center at Pepperdine University. It found there were 55 school shooting deaths in 1992-93, 51 in 93-94, 20 in 1994-95, 35 in 1995-96, 25 in 1996-97 and 40 in 1997-98. (See Note 1)
I began to wonder why I didn't know that. And a "wondering" Wren can be a pretty intense little bird with a Mac computer and a search engine.
Doing The Research:
If we listen to the ranting and ravings of the Religious Right (Oh? You just knew I'd get to them sooner or later, huh?), we as a nation are on the brink of moral collapse. One the reasons that they "know" this to be true is the "increasing violence in the schools". And who could dispute that fact as evidenced by the "growing number of school related shootings"?
Well, just about anyone, it turns out, who knows how to look up statistics.
Perhaps all the televangelists who can't wait to point their moral fingers at the Supreme Court -and its irksome decision to remove government endorsed prayer from schools -don't have research departments? As I have never seen any statistics to support the claim that children became murderous monsters the minute the school prayers stopped, I guess they don't. (See Note 2)
Not that anyone who thinks that simply repeating a bunch of words-or being forced to listen to a bunch of words being repeated-will ultimately cure all the country's ills would be much interested in statistics anyway.
Statistics can introduce the scary notion that things may not always be what we are being told that they are.
Disturbing things, those statistics. Best left to stuffy academics and government bureau chiefs. They certainly hardly ever make it to the 6 o'clock news. Who'd bother to watch that?
But if there is not enough market-share appeal for the airing of real factual information presented without prejudice or the guest commentators' "slant", then how are we to make up our own minds? (See Note 3)
By the way, only about 0.5% of young people commit violent crimes. -("Crime Time Bomb," U.S. News & World Report, March 25, 1996)
What else did I discover?
The "Spin Doctors" At Work:
The printed media had us worried that teenagers are having sex all over the place.
Not according to "Truth is often the loser in the battle for people's attention"- By Robert J. Samuelson, Globe Columnist, 07/07/98.
"The clean little secret about teenage sex is that there's less of it than there used to be: not much less but enough to reverse a long, upward spiral. You would not have learned this, however, from Time magazine's recent cover story: ''Everything your kids already know about sex.'' Teens know more about sex than ever, it said. So, there must be, it implied, more teen sex than ever. The first notion may be true; the second isn't.
Surveys by the National Center for Health Statistics show that teenage sexual activity has declined in the 1990s. In 1995, the proportion of girls 15 to 19 who had ever had sex was 50 percent, down from 53 percent in 1988 and 55 percent in 1990. That ended years of increases: In 1970, only 29 percent of teen girls had had sex. Boys showed a similar drop.
The story's writer, Ron Stodghill II, said he knew of surveys showing less teenage sex but minimized the drops because they occurred from levels much higher than in the early 1970s (true). He emphasized ''how kids are bombarded with sexual images'' and how parents have less influence over their behavior.
Halfway through, the story briefly mentions that the teenage birthrate is down 12 percent since 1991-a fact attributed to more contraception. --The full text of this article can be read at : Journalism's More Common Sin
The Religious Right pro-family folks had us all alarmed about children who are in terrible danger these days from strangers on the Internet.
Well, the Net IS a new way for potential child molesters to play their game. No doubt about that. But the statistics still show that children face a greater risk of being abused somewhere else.
The "Guardian Angels" told us that the public streets are no longer safe for women. However, if these women could only make it to the street, maybe someone wearing a beret would stop to help them.
- Child protective services agencies determined that almost 1 million children were identified as victims of substantiated or indicated abuse or neglect in 1996, an approximate 18 percent increase since 1990.
- Seventy-seven percent of perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents, and an additional 11 percent were other relatives of the victim.--Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Child Maltreatment 1996: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998).
- Most abused kids probably don't worry too much about the bogeymen on the Net. They are too busy trying to escape the ones that live in their own home.
- "Almost four million American women were physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends in the last year alone.
- A woman is physically abused every nine seconds in this country. Two-thirds of attacks on women are committed by someone the victim knows -- often a husband or boyfriend. Forty-two percent of murdered women are killed by their intimate male partners.
- Women are more often victims of domestic violence than victims of burglary, muggings, or other physical crime combined."-Source: The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FUND)-(See Note 4)
So, What's the Scoop?
Well, Monica has this dress, see? And on this dress, she says there is....Oops! Wrong story!
This is where I was going to just urge everyone to look closely into the all too general claims of the Religious Right when they moan about the sad, mad state of the nation today. I was going to ask you to confront them with the facts and not let them get away with these unsubstantiated statements.
But then I realized that there was something else here. Something it took me two more days to bring into focus.
What all the above statistics have in common is that they all reflect relationship situations-more specifically, FAMILY situations.
And that also happens to be the one big platform of the Religious Right and their Republican political puppets.
Walk in Light and Love,
August 9th, 1998
The Witches' Voice
Note 1: Of the 40 reported school shootings this past year, 13 students and one teacher were killed by a total of six different individuals. So while the figure is higher than the previous year, it doesn't mean that more kids are shooting other kids in school. It means that those kids who do shoot other kids are shooting more of them. But my question is: "Where'd the kid get the gun?"
Note 2: Actually the only survey that the Christian Coalition has been touting for four years has been proven to be seriously flawed and possibly even unethical.. The CC is was still using this poll's results in April 1997 and it is still on their website. See : Poll Finds Americans Want More Religion In Public Life To Address Moral Concerns.
The Executive Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) announced on April 23, 1997 that a 14 month investigation found pollster Frank Luntz violated the Association's Code of Professional Ethics and Practices.
AAPOR found Luntz, who heads the Luntz Research Companies in Arlington, Virginia, repeatedly refused to make public essential facts about his research on public attitudes about the Republicans' "Contract with America." In particular, the AAPOR inquiry focused on Luntz's reporting, prior to the November elections in 1994, that his research showed at least 60 percent of the public favored each of the elements in the GOP "Contract." When later asked to provide some basic facts about this research, Luntz refused.
Note 3: And just exactly when did we create that official news position of "the commentator", anyway? It does sound more professional than "spoon-feeder of the masses" though.
Note 4: And that is actually some 'good' news because 'intimates' committed fewer murders in 1996 than in any other year since 1976. In 1996, just over 1,800 murders were attributable to intimates-down 36 percent from nearly 3,000 in 1976. -Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics-March 1998.
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