Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stossel on "dangers"

What makes John Stossel one of the most important reporters in America?

For one thing, he reports what most other MSM reporters ignore or underreport.

You learn things from Stossel you don’t hear very often from other reporters.

Would you like to know more about the current risk to Americans from bird flu? How about child safety and guns? Read on:

For the past two weeks I've written about how the media -- part of the Fear Industrial Complex -- profit by scaring us to death about things that rarely happen, like terrorism, child abductions, and shark attacks.

We do it because we get caught up in the excitement of the story.

And for ratings.

Worse, because many reporters are statistically illiterate, personal-injury lawyers get us to hype risks that barely threaten people, like secondhand smoke, or getting cancer from trace amounts of chemicals. Sometimes they even con us into scaring you about risks that don't exist at all, like contracting anti-immune disease from breast implants.

Newsrooms are full of English majors who acknowledge that they are not good at math, but still rush to make confident pronouncements about a global-warming "crisis" and the coming of bird flu.

Bird flu was called the No. 1 threat to the world. But bird flu has killed no one in America, while regular flu -- the boring kind -- kills tens of thousands. New York City internist Marc Siegel says that after the media hype, his patients didn't want to hear that.

"I say, 'You need a flu shot.' You know the regular flu is killing 36,000 per year. They say, 'Don't talk to me about regular flu. What about bird flu?'"

Here's another example. What do you think is more dangerous, a house with a pool or a house with a gun? When, for "20/20," I asked some kids, all said the house with the gun is more dangerous. I'm sure their parents would agree. Yet a child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool than in a gun accident.

Parents don't know that partly because the media hate guns and gun accidents make bigger headlines. Ask yourself which incident would be more likely to be covered on TV.

Media exposure clouds our judgment about real-life odds. Of course, it doesn't help that viewers are as ignorant about probability as reporters are.

To demonstrate that, "20/20" ran an experiment.
You can read the rest of Stossel’s column here.


bill anderson said...


I will give the explanation from someone who is an economist, but also was a J-school grad and a former newspaper reporter. Individuals look at things on the margin, that is, what is here and now.

We tend not to notice those things that are more common, even if they are more dangerous. Instead, we work on the margins that seem to be more spectacular.

Conversely, news that deals with things that happen in large numbers, like fatal auto accidents, is not "news," because it it not "different." Instead, we look for those things that are "unusual," something that was part-and-parcel to my journalism training.

Thus, the very thing that does not happen very often suddenly becomes Big News when it does. Likewise, because Americans believe that government can fix anything, when the unusual happens and there is a tragedy, people react by demanding government DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Thus, we get bad and reactionary public policies that follow these rare events.

Anonymous said...

Stossel is the bane of modern "journalists" (who used to be called reporters or {politically incorrectly, newsmen}) because he is intelligent, he is literate, he has a discerning mind, and he has the ability to think critically--all attributes sadly lacking in "journalists." In short, they recognize his superiority and they hate him for it. I've dealt with these buffoons and most of them have room temperature IQs and all the curiosity of a sponge. It's no wonder their products are uniformly atrocious.

bill anderson said...

5:59 is so right! The two dumbest sets of people with whom I have dealt are politicians and TV journalists.

straightarrow said...

5:59 has nailed it. I can't add anything further. So, this is just an acknowledgement of his great accuracy.

TombZ said...

Bill -

Re: Politicians and journalists

Not just dumb, but arrogant.

These two 'classes' have huge egos, and as a consequence are easily manipulated by those who play to their preconceptions.

BTW, in the interest of accuracy, I propose we assign a new name to those who would 'formerly be named as journalists':


As for politicians, there are a host of 4 and 7 letter words that may be freely applied.

Anonymous said...

I watch Stossel evertime i get the chance. He reminds me that some in the media still have some concern for the truth. ABC Disney deserves credit for keeping him on the air. I would like to see him with his own talk show.

がんこもん said...

I am late in the day to comment, but I completely agree with the comments from thos who have gone before. As a historian, I regret greatly the passing of the many fine journalists and statesmen who made this country great. The curent crop is of decidedly less talent.

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