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home : most recent : statewide implications August 23, 2017

3/11/2017 12:34:00 PM
COMMMENTARY: Media's data can be one-sided when reporters don't do all their homework

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, teaches ethics at Butler University's Andre B. Lacy School of Business. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.

I recently received an e-mail from Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of the New York Times. He wrote to “assert the value of quality journalism,” since “the truth matters, now more than ever.” He claimed “the truth ... is also incredibly hard to get to.”

Sulzberger likely had "fake news" in mind. However, a larger problem exists. Newspapers don’t do all their homework. The New York Times article, “Is a Teen Moody? Or Depressed?” began with this sentence: “The hardest questions pediatricians must routinely ask teenagers at checkups are those about depression and suicide” and observed, “The trend toward more depression was steeper in girls than it was in boys.”

It asked, “Why was the prevalence of depression increasing, and why was it more intense among girls?” The article concluded by quoting the American Academy of Pediatricians: “Suicide risk can only be reduced, not eliminated ...”

Were I the parent of a daughter, I’d be concerned. I’d also ask, "What about my grandsons?"

I went to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which states, “Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81 percent of the deaths were males and 19 percent were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys.”

Yes, depression is more prevalent in girls, but boys are the suicide victims, not girls. That fact would be useful to know for parents of boys. How hard is it to get? Truth may be “incredibly hard to get,” but I found this data in six minutes.

Time magazine, Nov. 7, 2016, had a female teen on the cover for a story on “Anxiety, Depression, and the American Adolescent.” The article had talk of suicide but no data on suicide rates for young men and women.

The media’s handling of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is another example. Data on arrest-related deaths show that 42 percent are white, 31 percent are black, and around 20 percent are Hispanic. Blacks, 13 percent of the population, commit 46 percent of the homicides. The 2005 NCJ Report 207236, “Color of Crime: Race, Crime, and Violence in America” stated, “Of the 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence that involved Blacks and Whites, 90 percent were committed by Blacks against Whites; Blacks were thus 250 times more likely to commit violence against Whites than Whites against Blacks.” Data for 2012-2013 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show blacks committed approximately 560,600 violent crimes against white but whites committed around 99,500 violent crimes against blacks.

Why do the data go unreported? What purpose does it serve to tell less than the full truth? Would the fact that more whites than blacks are killed by police help race relations or hurt race relations? Is truth supposed to be reported only if it helps girls but not boys?

Coverage of the recent vandalism to Jewish cemeteries is another example. USA Today provided no data in its coverage. The New York Times coverage of the Missouri vandalism reported 664 incidents of anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2015. It did not explain the data: More hate crimes are committed against the Jewish population than the Islamic population.

But when I ask my students which religion suffers the most hate crimes, they say, “Muslims.” My students read the papers and respond with the story, not the reality.

A March 1 Indianapolis Star report on the “Plight of Women in 2017” spoke of unequal pay for women. Yet, the Star printed this sentence in 1996: “The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth compared people aged 27 to 33 who never had a child and found that women earned 98 percent of men’s wages.”

The media could and should present complete coverage on all groups, by race, by sex, by religion. Who knows? Maybe media coverage will become what every progressive person hopes: more inclusive.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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