Signs and Wonders: AP’s passive coverage of North Korean threats
Newsworthy | Warren Cole Smith
Korean chaos. You may have read that North Korea on Thursday vowed to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States. An unidentified spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the country would exercise its right for “a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors” because Washington, the Associated Press reported uncritically, “is pushing to start a nuclear war against the North.” Despite this news, AP says not to worry: “Although North Korea boasts of nuclear bombs and preemptive strikes, it is not thought to have mastered the ability to produce a warhead small enough to put on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. It is believed to have enough nuclear fuel, however, for several crude nuclear devices.” Note the use of the passive voice in these last two sentences. Using the passive voice is sloppy writing and sloppy journalism. It means the reporter didn’t bother to find a real person who “thought” or “believed” what the reporter wanted to say. If a North Korean bomb goes off in the United States, I wonder if AP will headline: “Mistakes were made.”
Bias by omission. The Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly a third of people diagnosed as children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) still have the condition in adulthood. This new study also found these adults are more likely to develop other mental disorders and to commit suicide. U.S. researchers published their findings in the journal Pediatrics on Monday. They found that about 29 percent of participants in the study who were diagnosed with ADHD as children ended up carrying that diagnosis into their late 20s. A Reuters article on the study says ADHD is “the most common neuro-developmental condition, [affecting] between 3 percent and 7 percent of American school children.” Lots of people also say its over-diagnosed among boys, in particular, and the result has been a dramatic over-prescription of drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall—but you find none of these concerns in this story.
Loving animals to death. A 24-year-old woman described by her father as a “fearless” lover of big cats died when she wanted direct interaction with a 550-pound lion at a private zoo in California. Dianna Hanson’s Facebook page featured photos of her petting tigers and other big cats. According to the Associated Press, she was frustrated that the exotic cat zoo in California where she had worked since January did not allow direct contact with animals. The lion dispatched her with one vicious swipe of its paw, breaking her neck and likely killing her instantly, according to an autopsy report. Ironically, because of the woman’s actions, the animal that she claimed she loved had to be destroyed by authorities.
If, if, if. In 1999, James Glassman and Kevin Hassett wrote the bestselling book Dow 36,000. They said, “It is impossible to predict how long it will take” to get to 36,000, but they nonetheless made a prediction: “Between three and five years.” Well, that obviously didn’t happen. Now, writing for Bloomberg, Glassman defended his prediction: “We wrote our book before the Sept. 11 attacks, the dot-com debacle, the 38 percent decline in stocks in 2008, the “flash crash” of 2010 that sent the Dow down 1,000 points in minutes, the Japanese tsunami and the euro crisis.” He doesn’t explicitly say, but does suggest, that these “black swan” events are his excuses, and that without them the market would definitely be at 36,000 now. Of course, the problem with that excuse is that “black swan” events, while not predictable, are inevitable. Note Glassman’s own words: He identified six of them that have happened since 1999. Go back another 15 years and you can likely find six more. I make a habit of not predicting the future, but I will predict this: Over the next 15 years, we will see yet more market-disrupting “black swan” events. If you read a pundit whose predictions don’t take that reality into account, run for the hills.
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