Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dilbert Was Way Ahead Of This Game

There's a great old Dilbert comic strip in which Scott Adams illustrates the way in which wild-assed guesses become "facts".

In the first frame, an annoyed engineer looks at his off-the-page questioner and says, "I don't know, anywhere between one and a million".

In frame two, a marketing person spreads the news to her off-the-page gossip partner, saying "They say it could be as much as a million!"

In the last frame, a TV news anchor solemnly intones, "Experts say one million."

Here's a post which explains the recent MSM Katrina dynamic.


So far incredible news from Katrina, the dead body count is really low compared to the numbers in the thousands we heard about.

So how did the media get the number and keep putting it out?

A few thoughts.

Let's say you are a reporter at the scene. The going story is that it is a disaster. The biggest ever. Every network is live with the same story. The pictures sure match that thought.

Does the producer or reporter take up any airtime saying well maybe it is not as bad, maybe there is some good news? No. Why? It is the old story that that a house on fire is news, the house not on fire is not news.

So you show the house on fire. If someone drops a number like there could be thousands dead, the story is that there are probably thousands dead, then officials are expecting thousands dead, then by the time the evening news is on it becomes thousands are dead.

But wait what if the information from someone else is slow down we never said that? Does the reporter change the story? Probably not. If they do it probably becomes "officials confused and argue about death toll."

Again the house not on fire (maybe fewer dead) isn't going to get airtime. In fact if anyone came to say maybe the estimate is going to go up BOOM on the air they would go. You would never see it go backwards. Can you think of ANYONE reporting "we were wrong earlier today saying there are thousands dead, that was an alarmist and premature report and we regret the airing of the story."

Tell me when that happens...


One image I was told about were the dead bodies floating around NO. It was a popular story. Probably true. There are probably pictures on the web. But the way I heard it reported was to give the impression that dead bodies were everywhere. Like some zombie movie. Reporters saw them everywhere they looked. Was that true? No.

But if you are reporting the story the sensational report like that gets passed on. It is the hot headline and even if you didn't see it, well you heard about it and since you are giving the report from the scene for the evening news report you have to mention it. Did I ever see a tempered report about there not being that many floating bodies or a tempered report about anything? No. It was always the sensational. When you see the same sensational footage replayed over and over remember it is because it was the most sensational footage they filmed NOT because it was the most accurate representation of the situation.

It is like showing sports highlights of a game on ESPN. The news has become a highlight reel. Maybe it always has been.

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