Friday, 27 March 2009

The Press

Reporting the housing figures- hiding the bad news

Home sales “up” in February!  Oh really?

A parade of the mathematically innumerate business writers (and even worse headline writers!) continue to misread data. The latest evidence? New Home Sales.

After incorrectly reporting the Existing Home Sales, the mainstream media misread the Census department report of New Homes.

No, New Home Sales data did not improve.  In fact, they were not only not positive, they were actually horrific.  The year over year number was a terrible down 41%.  Sales from this same period a year ago have nearly been halved.

Why did the media report this as positive?  If you only read the headline number, you saw a positive datapoint:  February was plus 4.7% over January... - Barry Ritholz[1]
...but that number falls within the Bureau’s margin of error of ±18.3%, which means there may have been no improvement at all.

Ritholz says it’s incompetence, not agenda, noting that
...many of these folks incorrectly misinformed you that Housing wasn’t getting worse in 2006, 2007 and 2008 — just as Home sales and prices went into an historic freefall.
Still, it’s interesting that nobody seems to have gotten it right.  What do they do, copy from each other?

And then there’s this chart, from the front page[2] of today’s Wall Street Journal...

Pretty dramatic, huh?  Except the chart starts with January, not with the market’s 2007 high of 14165.[3][4]  Also note the label “Start of bull market.”  Anybody ready to put some money on that?  Safer to say: “Start of the present rally.”

To be fair, the accompanying article (and its headline)[2] are more pessimistic (in paragraph 2):
To many skeptical investors, it seems to be a Cinderella bull market, however: one that will turn out to be an illusion when the clock strikes midnight.
and more accurate (in paragraph 5)
Still, the Dow remains down 44% from the high of 14164.52 it reached in 2007.
But how many readers will just glance at the chart, and believe they’ve got the whole story?

Related:  Changing the recession narrative? (Via: Instapundit)

Ritholz link from Howard.
[1]  Ritholz’ own headline also fails the accuracy test:  “New home sales fell 41% in February, 2009”  No they didn’t.  They were 41% below (“fell from”?) the February 2008 figure, but near steady (“the same as”?) January 2009.

“Bears Are Wary as Bull Returns • Dow is up 21% in 13 days in quickest rally since 1938, but doubts of strength persist” by E.S. Browning, The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2009, page 1 [not found online]

[3]  ...which would have put the top of the chart above the top of the page. (snark!)

[4]  And what about that suppressed zero...?  After all, stocks weren’t valueless on March 9th.

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 16:30:58 GMT | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Press

WSJ’s “two stories” opinion page

There’s an intriguing “how’s that again?” moment on today’s Wall Street Journal Opinion page.  First, start at the top: In his column, headlined “The Real AIG Disgrace, ” Holman Jenkins, Jr. begins his defense of the American International Group bonus payments in the face of widespread outrage by noting

There is not a shread of justice in the hysteria that followed.  As AIG chief Ed Liddy explained on the Hill last week, the people receiving retention bonuses were not the same people who launched AIG’s unhedged housing bets...
All clear so far?

Not so fast.  In the next column down (“The ‘Populists’ Are Right About Wall Street”) Thomas Frank asks:
Why did the Treasury Department allow the payout of many millions in bonuses to executives of the unit that sank the company?
Hey, wait a minute..!

One would think that, after almost a month of sound and fury, hours of television time, thousands of column inches of newspaper coverage and a Congressional investigation, everyone  would know exactly which groups of AIG executives were on track for bonuses.  But there appears to be some confusion in the Journal’s opinion department.

Or perhaps not.  Frank very carefully says “executives of the same unit.”  What he does not say is “the same executives.”

Now I know the standards for opinion writing are (supposed to be) different from those of pure reporting.  If it’s opinion, personal disparagement, exaggeration, and loaded language are all part of the tools.  But when a writer shades the truth, or omits relevant facts just because they don’t agree with his position, this reader is going to call him out of bounds.  It’s like the witness who tells the court, “I didn’t hear anything,” but fails to mention that the reason he didn’t hear anything was because he was playing Grand Theft Auto with headphones on and the volume turned up.  In this case, Frank’s construction, while true (in the sense of “not false”), leads the reader to the (mistaken) conclusion that the people slated for the next round of bonuses are the same ones who killed the company.  Great for stoking populist fervor, but unfair to the audience, and not strictly true.[1]

A newspaper column shouldn’t have to be parsed like a contract.  Lawyer tricks with language only reduce the writer’s credibility.  And if those storied “multiple layers of editors” allow those tricks to make it into print, it’s the entire publication that suffers.

Two stories make a great house.  But when it comes to facts, “two stories” isn’t what I want from my newspaper.

UPDATE 090325 17:00:  So, Mr. Frank, was stoking the fires of populist fervor a good idea or not (especially since, thanks to the bailouts, “we” now own 80% of the company)?
[1]  Not that there’s a lack of valid targets. Consider the newspaper industry, where Gannett Corporation just awarded $2 million in bonuses to CEO Craig Dubow and four other top executives,[2] despite widespread layoffs and furloughs (with more to come), a number of newspaper closures, and an 80+% fall in stock price.  But maybe that’s too close to home.

[2]  Admittedly, Dubow’s bonus is down 50% from last year’s.  This year he gets $875,000- atop his salary of $1.17 million.[3]

[3]  See, that’s how it’s done:  Tell the whole truth, mention any extenuating circumstances, and still leave the reader thinking it was a bad deal!

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 16:31:20 GMT | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Press

Openness and transparency, yadda, yadda...


For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.
...’s hard to trace JList’s influence in the media, because so few JListers are willing to talk on the record about it.
One byproduct of that secrecy: For all its high-profile membership — which includes Nobel Prize-winning columnist Paul Krugman; staffers from Newsweek, POLITICO, Huffington Post, The New Republic, The Nation and The New Yorker; policy wonks, academics and bloggers such as Klein and Matthew Yglesias — JList itself has received almost no attention from the media.
You’d think that some public-spirited soul would have dumped the entire archive to Wikileaks by now.

Oh wait, that’s only for right-wing conspiracies.

Via:  IP

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 16:41:59 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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Friday, 06 March 2009

The Press

Well, he *does* have a point...

Fox News:

Addressing the nation on his weekly television show on Sunday, the Venezuelan president laid out plans for his next crusade, ordering his governors and mayors to draw up a “map of the media war” to determine which media are “in the hands of the oligarchy.”

Chavez said that “if it weren't for the attack, the lies, manipulation and the exaggeration” of the private media networks, the Venezuelan government would have the support of at least 80 percent of the population.
t-bird notes:
Multiple newspapers, multiple TV stations will present the opposition viewpoint?

Venezuela is more advanced democratically than we are?!

Via:  Ace

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 16:03:13 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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Wednesday, 04 March 2009

The Press

Just like Pravda in the old days


The [Chicago] Tribune covered the anti-protest smear, but didn’t cover the protest itself, leaving that to blogs, etc.  And we’re supposed to cry for the disappearance of newspapers?  Maybe if they actually did what they claim they do, people would miss them more when they were gone.  Heck, maybe if they actually did what they claim they do, people would actually subscribe now.  You never know.
John O’Sullivan[1]:
They often denounced “anti-Soviet lies.” These “lies” had never been reported by them.  Nor were they lies.  And their exposure was the first that readers had been told of them.  By reading the denunciation carefully, however, intelligent readers could decipher what the original story must have been.
In Today’s America, you find out what’s going on by noting what gets denounced in the establishment press.

[1]  More newspaper stupidity (or, How Not to Maintain Your Authority):  This link, from 2004, is now dead.  The quote (found by Googling) is preserved at Florida Cracker.

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 14:55:46 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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