Tag Archives: media

Old Posts About the Media

I’m currently working on a post about credulity in science reporting and the problem of “balance.” That may still be a few days off, but in the meantime, here are some of my previous thoughts on the media. These are mostly from older blogs on different platforms. There’s not a lot of substance to many of these, and I will probably mine them for future, more developed posts.

Steakcharmer: PR and Journalism
Though generally about one specific incident, this post briefly touches on a topic I find fascinating: public relations, the news industry and the fake news.

Steakcharmer: Local news hyper over substance.
A brief post on the local stations’ need to get news out before actually having a story. It’s the journalistic equivalent of the Youtube “First!” comment.

Steakcharmer: Science/Health reporting posts number 1 and number 2.
Science reporting is generally bad. The first post talks a bit about that, and the second talks about a study that shows that science reporting is bad.

Steakcharmer: Flaws of Broadcast Journalism (intro to a piece by someone else, linked at that article), News Beef Misinterpreted by Bloggers (just a brief facepalm).

Paperdubs on Vox: Woo in Local Broadcasts (brief post is from 2007 and criticizes the legitimization of psychics and “ancient Eastern practices”).

Paperdubs on Livejournal: The Uncertain Future of the Fake News (2007. Dated, but still interesting if you’re interested in the fake news.)


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I just realized that in my last post, I mentioned “a couple of clips” and then only gave one example. Below are the other clips that set me off that day. To avoid rehashing everything from the last post, I’ll just say that this is more evidence of completely credulous reporting (if morning shows can really be considered a form of reporting – they’re sort of newsertainment) on what amounts to low-level magic tricks.

First, there’s Connecticut Style‘s segment with relatively well-known Patti Sinclair, a so-called medium in the John Edward vein, preying on people’s grief and fragile emotions in connection to lost loved ones to make money. Note the rather hamfisted cold reading techniques. Dead childhood pet? Really?

Next, there’s clairvoyant Dougall Fraser on Good Morning Texas, giving us psychic advice about Chris Brown and Rihanna and telling us about soul mates. Oh, and he had accurately predicted Obama’s victory. I guess everyone in the effing world is also psychic. Oh, and he has a book to sell and a new one in the works. The new one is about wearing certain colors to change your life. I predict it will suck.

Finally, there’s the video below from WAAY’s 31 News Morning. Again, my apologies for the poor source quality, but my options were limited. This one is particularly hilarious. First, he says that people can come out to a convention to learn about crystal skulls and 2012 end of the world prophecies. This kind of thing blows my mind. It’s like people that still believe the Amityville Horror story, despite the people involved having admitted the hoax. I can’t believe people still buy into crystal skulls. It’s beyond me. Anyway, there’s also a brutal attempt at cold reading and prediction which fails miserably. The anchor doesn’t give him anything to work with, which is pretty funny, especially when he tries to hedge his bets with the elderly family members.

Just think about all of the relevant, important news that could have occupied these spots. Hell, think of the interesting human interest fluff pieces that could have aired instead of these segments. What a waste of resources.


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Dismayed, But NotĀ Surprised

For the past seven years I’ve worked in the media intelligence field, tracking and analyzing news and entertainment media — mostly broadcast news, though the last year I’ve spent working with text and web content as well. In the past, in other outlets, I’ve criticized the manufactured nature of broadcast news and have complained about poor science reporting and credulous reporting on pseudoscience. My working experience has done nothing if not destroyed any faith I might have had in news media outlets.

After so many years, one might think that I had seen it all, that nothing remained to surprise me, and for the most part, I think that’s true. A common phrase among my friends at work is “dismayed, but not surprised,” and that’s generally how I feel when I come across news segments credulously reporting on nonsensical topics. I’ve learned to never underestimate the absurdity possible on the news, but it still perturbs me. Today, I came across a few segments that reinforced these feelings.

WTTE’s Good Day Columbus provides the first segment, in which reporter Johnny Diloretto has his toes read by a low-rent reflexologist. Yes, that’s right: he has his toes read, live on air. The video is below. My apologies in advance for the poor quality; it was all that was available.

If you don’t care to watch, it amounts to two minutes or so of the “reader” explaining that somehow — no explanation offered, of course — certain physical characteristics of our toes reflect aspects of our personalities and/or “blockages” in our lives. It is completely nonsensical and looks like nothing more than a new spin on cold reading, an update on palmistry, using the same techniques that play on the subject’sĀ  inclination to believe, confirmation bias, and selective and subjective validation. Statements are made with no explanation or evidence; it would be no different to see someone doing simple card tricks and claiming with sincerity to be some kind of powerful warlock.

What’s more problematic for me than simply the fact that this made it to air is that the reporter never once questions anything about the process. He plays right along, making little jokes and generally behaving as if it’s all genuine and not at all abnormal. Whether or not he believes in it or is just acting — I suspect the latter — he gives the viewers the impression that this practice has some validity. That’s bad enough, but the whole segment is really, at the base, just an advertisement for the seventh annual Gift of Light Expo, a perfect storm of every type of woo and pseudoscience one can imagine.

This is time that could have been used to talk about real science issues or breakthroughs. Instead, it’s spent advertising a hucksterism convention. Science and health reporting have been suffering in recent years. Science reporting is disappearing, and health reporting is too often reduced to oversimplifications or new studies or outright advertisements for new treatments. It’s a sad comment on our society that we allow real, meaningful news to be supplanted by blatant advertising for what is at best entertainment and at worst a scam meant to serparate the gullible from their money.

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