Commentary

Journocide

Far too much time and energy is wasted in this country arguing about whether lefty-righty bias has driven the faith in traditional media to an all-time low.

Yes, it would be nice if the media operated without bias, but that is impossible. Bias is little more than a reflection of human judgment, and judgment is inevitable on the part of intelligent and educated people.

The only definitive way to avoid the intrusion of judgment is to embrace ignorance, and that is not a sensible solution.

Trust me.

I once worked for an editor at the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) who seemed to think ignorance was the ultimate form of objectivity. His idea of improving reportage was to have stories covered by people with no knowledge of the subject material.

It was a little like a hospital trying to eradicate malpractice lawsuits by getting rids of all the surgeons and replacing them with mechanics. I said then, and I will repeat here once again, that any story reported well by a good reporter interested in at least an effort at fairness will – no matter the reporters bias – be better than a story reported by someone who knows nothing.

A reminder of this came today in an ADN story about the pandemic headlined “Bethel hospital patient needing treatment in Anchorage had to wait an extra day for an ICU bed.”

Wrong

In defense of the state’s largest newspaper, the story was not reported by its staff. It was picked up from the Associated Press (AP) which picked it up from KYUK, the public radio station in the rural hub city of Bethel in Western Alaska.

The story had a huge reporting problem obvious to anyone who has been even remotely paying attention to the pandemic in the 49th state. ICUs – intensive care units – at hospitals in Alaska have been running significantly below capacity since the pandemic began, in part because Alaskans in general have been avoiding hospitals (and possibly dying at home) for fear of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and in part because a state home to 750,000 people who have become accustomed to welcoming more than 2 million tourists every summer saw a fraction of that number this year.

Worse, anyone who read that headline and the story below it, and wondered “what the hell?” could in a few clicks on a keyboard check the state’s online COVID tracker: covid19alaska.gov.

What it revealed on Friday was that 82 of the state’s 221 ICU beds – or about 37 percent – were empty. That did not necessarily mean ICU beds were available in Anchorage, but it was an easily available red flag saying there was a good possibilty the report was wrong.

Alaska’s two biggest hospital – Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital  – are located in the state’s largest city. And a quick call to Providence revealed it alone had 29 beds available, although a spokesman said excess capacity has generally been running in the low 20s.

So there could have been fewer beds available when the story was originally reported by KYUK, and some nurses who work at Providence say there have been staffing issues tied to staff reductions tied to the lack of business during the pandemic that could have in reality further reduced the number of ICU beds readily available.

A Providence spokesman said that is and was not a problem, but whether it was or not, there were clearly ICU beds available in Anchorage. That a busy reporter in Bethel might fail to double-check information picked up from the director of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation suggesting otherwise is undertsandable.

The few reporters left at local news operations are overworked, and it was the YKHC chief of staff who said, “This was an ICU-level patient, and all the ICU beds in Anchorage were full. So we’ve already reached, I think, the limits of our capacity of the healthcare of the state. So it makes some of these mitigation strategies more important.”

Reporters to some degree have to trust those in authority because journalists simply don’t have the time to check every fact. But how this story moves up the food chain through the AP and the ADN without anyone noticing is mind boggling.

Asleep at the switch?

The former reporter who first read the story and sent the link to me immediately noticed the potential problem. About 10 seconds after clicking the link, reading the story, and going to the state COVID website, it became obvious to me the story was likely wrong.

One quick phone call to Providence confirmed the more than two dozen ICU beds open there.

This sort of media error isn’t exactly fake news, which suggests a deliberate case of misinformation. But it does have one thing in common with fake news.

It follows a preconceived narrative.

COVID-19 cases in the 49th state are on the rise. This is obvously not a good thing, and Alaskans should be keeping their distance from others to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The YKHC’s chief of staff clearly has good intentions when she made the claim to ICUs at capacity.

She “shared that information with Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Kimberly Hankins in an interview that was aired on KYUK Wednesday, Sept. 30,” the public radio station reported. “(She)  said that YKHC has mitigation measures prepared to open up more beds and increase capacity at the Bethel hospital to the extent to which they are capable.”

And it appears that at the time the statement was made there might have been a shortage of ICU beds at the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage, where many of the residents of the predominately Native community of Bethel get sent for treatment.

But the ANMC is not Anchorage, and these details are important. There are some number of Alaskans today of the belief that the media is part of a government conspiracy to over-hype the dangers of SARS-CoV-2.

The media appearing to over-hype the dangers of SARS-CoV-2, whether accidentally or intentionally, only serves to reinforce that belief.  That does no one any good.

And from a purely buiness standpoint, it does the media in particular no good to get things this badly wrong. If what the media reports as “news” is no more reliable than what your friends post on Facebook or Twitter, why do you need the media?

And never mind the even bigger question of why would anyone purhcase media coverage if it’s no better than what their friends provide on online for free.

 

 

 

 

20 replies »

  1. How interesting – the 90% of Republicans who do not think well or very well did not change. This is probably highly correlated to the perception by Republicans that 90% of the people in the news media use their positions as a covert or overt platform to advocate for Leftist policies.

  2. Imo the majority of what’s called media bias is actually just really poor reporting. Basically looking for the answers that support the story the editor wants to tell. I don’t call that biased. I call that flat dishonesty. When a story is told one sided and important facts are left out that any researcher can look up then its not bias its just dishonesty. When a story is most defined by whats left out then its a lie . Sure occasionally even a good reporter can make a mistake. That’s inherent in the buisness until artificial intelligence takes over news reporting. What we have in this era is narrative pushers who know theres more to the story and choose to leave it out . Stupidity is not a good excuse. Its not rocket science to report in full . In 2020 leaving out part of the story is not acceptable unless you want to be complicit in a lie . Imo Bias is the conclusion you arrive at after all facts were examined. Say an opinion writter or a reader who puts more weight on certain information. That’s tough to get away from but not impossible. Three methods for balance and bias reduction is to ask what if i was on other end of stick? Have i taken my own thoughts out of this and reduced it to the basics ? Is there an alternative way to think about this ? Have I removed all emotion from my conclusion? Does my emotion towards one answer have a valid reason? ( removal of emotion doesn’t guarantee a correct answer- we have emotions for reasons) what happens if i take emotion out ? What happens if i put emotion in and does it give more accuracy to a balanced conclusion? What are pros and cons and end game of the conclusions? Personally i don’t believe bias is guaranteed inherent .Thats a fallacy thst allows division. It can be a choice. When checking for bias am I equally fine with either answer? Am I equally intrigued and interested by all sides . Am i happily interested in the opinions of both sides? I truly don’t think what we see in the press currently is just bias . I would argue its run away opinions looking for backing. A choice to not carefully ethically report all sides . Dishonesty is being hidden under a tarp of bias imo . Bias is just an inadequate intellectual effort with poor discipline.

    • Btw – i second stines concern for assange and the danger his imprisonment holds . especially concerning honest reporting and a free democracy or republic. Without men or women like assange, medred , greenwald , snowden and others I expect tyranny and a form of slavery to keep the upper hand . Any ethical court would release assange immediately. Frankly the proud boys and antifa should put their energy to good use eork together and force assange to be released by protest or prison break. That would be an honest show of America’s patriotic spirit.

      • DPR, the difference is Proud Boys support the US Constitution and ANTIFA punks support the Communist Manifesto. There will be no meeting of the minds. Just “soy boys” screaming like little girls.

      • Yeah i hear you Brian. The point is wouldn’t the proud boys make a louder patriotic point by organizing and pulling antifa in the right direction and freeing an unjustly held man being held in a foreign country ? ( assange) Then they would have something to be proud of . Encouraging and egging on a bunch of misguided fools like antifa to act out creating a scene isnt much to be proud of . Obviously they are free to march and I respect that but wouldn’t it be more impressive to organize and free assange especially if they turned antifa to the right side ?

      • DPR, while I support your cause, but, I don’t think anarchist, Communist, psychotics like ANTIFA (who do not even know what the word fascist means) are good for anything other than envy trashing and smashing. They are useless parasites who deserve no restraint. So, forget that Group of losers..

      • Brian im sure you are 100% right. I would argue they need redirecting though. If the press was honest and balanced in their reporting of world issues antifa would go away.

  3. Speaking of “Journalism”…Why are no U.S. reporters covering the Jullian Assange case at this time?
    The case against Assange has grave implications for the future of a “free press” in America.
    How can an Australian citizen be held in solitary confindment in London and face extradition to the U.S. for reporting on information released by a whistleblower in America?
    It seems the far reaching American Empire has taken control of what is reported these days and government leaders control the narrative through press release statements and only answering scripted questions?
    We are seeing this media/gov control cycle first hand during the Coronavirus scare in America…
    The seasonal flu this past year infected nearly 50 million Americans and led to the death of as many as 60,000 people but yet the only headline day after day is COVID?

  4. I saw that article yesterday morning, read it thought that’s weird, went back to look and it was swallowed up into the ether. Part of good reporting is reporting when you get something wrong, they failed to do that too!

  5. Good article and very interesting. . Craig, it is great appreciated the amount of investigation you put into your work.

    In the words of Robbie Robinson, professor at the ASU George Putnam school of journalism and former chief editor of the Boston Globe Spotlight investigative reporting team, “ A good journalist should aim to walk down the center isle and shoot out both sides.”

    • thank you. love that quote. sadly, there is another from Don Marquis that sticks too often in my head these days:

      “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

  6. Beds available does not mean staff is available to treat the pt. Some pts wait in ER because staff is not available for hrs or days.

  7. Craig, to YKHC, “Anchorage” IS ANMC. Most working reporters today are young, poorly educated, and use language very imprecisely. Few have any ability to think critically, and most have, in fact, been taught to think emotionally, so their observations are fraught with confirmation of personal bias.

  8. It almost appears they wanted people to think things were dire for the poor victim. Mean people!

    Years ago in Kenai, they hired a new reporter who moved up from Minnesota. He said on the way up the Alcan he saw bison on the road which surprised him because he thought they were extinct.

    He also said he was laughed at by a friend when he said he was driving to Alaska. The friend said they don’t have roads to Alaska, fool.

    So it was no surprise when the new guy wrote a story lecturing us all for a poor voter turnout, let’s say 54.23 %.

    He arrived at this conclusion by dividing the number who voted by the HUGE number of people on the voter rolls (which was larger than the entire borough population)

    So the true turnout was closer to 70 to 80 percent. Impossible to tell.

    After a snarky response to my polite email, I called him and we talked for a few minutes. I attempted to explain to him how the borough maintains a list of “registered voters”.

    People die or move away, and for the sake of brevity, either are not taken off the rolls for years, or are simply left on the rolls forever.

    The second issue I tried to bring up was that he represented a number to the hundredths of a percent, which gives the mistaken impression of extreme accuracy. in reality he would be doing good to get a number that was accurate to the nearest percent.

    In this case, he was off by about 20 percent, but represented that his number was extremely precise.

    In the end, he was quite rude, unrepentant, and he understood exactly nothing I said. This conclusion was further enforced by his later articles. He was assigned to write stories about the local fishery, yet he did not know there were different species of salmon. He did not know there was a conflict between commercial fishing interests and sport fishermen. He did not know there was both a drift fishery and a beach fishery.

    It would take a long time to further elucidate that which the young man did not know. Yet, there he was, employed by our local paper, telling us all how irresponsible we were because the voter turnout was a paltry. 54.23%.

    Hee hee.

  9. “The only definitive way to avoid the intrusion of judgment is to embrace ignorance”

    Asking for a friend. Why should anyone try to avoid judgment? Why is the media incapable of reporting the facts? Just the facts, Ma’am. Too many people need to be told what to think. It’s a habit currently learned in school. Education is controlled by the Left. And my judgment is: we’re doomed..

  10. I must strongly disagree Craig. It isn’t “right bias” that has sent “journalism” down the toilet. That achievement is strictly from promotional “lefty bias”.
    What once was “news” is now left-wing propganda peddled by the likes of China, Soro’s and Democrats (notice those 3 in the same breath).
    Plus, it doesn’t help to have CNN and MSLSD staffed all by former Team Clinton or Obama. Same with the ADN. Just another “lefty bias” rag.
    Normal Americans recognize this and tuneout with their wallets – “Go Woke, Go Broke”.
    I mean, it feels good to say “both parties do it”, no they don’t.

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