Saturday, March 30, 2013

The next best thing to lying

Here's  a lovely bit* of news framing from the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, and it's either going to take you back to your first-year macroeconomics class or last fall's election, whichever:

The U.S. economy is teetering further on the edge of recession, with revised numbers showing economic growth clocking in at an anemic rate at the end of 2012.

We're at the dimly lit corner of Evidence and Opinion here. On the one hand, there's data: the stuff we collect, or monitor the collection of, so we can draw reasonably consistent conclusions from it. On the other are the conclusions themselves: what the data mean, or ought to mean, in the context of real life. And whatever the pesky facts, we're all entitled to our own opinions about them -- at least, that's the core of the whole "marketplace of ideas" thing that we can trace back to Milton or Mill or whoever.

There comes the occasional time, though, when the sanctity of opinion runs up against a particularly nasty outcrop of fact:

Analysts expect the numbers to pick up this quarter, but a succession of revisions for the final months of last year give a bleak picture. The Commerce Department estimated Thursday that the gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, grew at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the October-December quarter. That was just slightly better than the previous estimate of 0.1 percent, and an estimate before that showing the economy actually contracted in that period.

I'll be happy to agree -- owning a house here in Michigan and all -- that "bleak" is a reasonable description for some parts of the overall picture. The problem, though, is that pesky revision to the fourth-quarter 2012 GDP number. Like it or not, "slightly better" is a form of "better," meaning a number that was shakily positive is somewhat more positive. And going by a simple definition of "recession" -- say, two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth -- one of the few conclusions you can't draw is that the US economy is "teetering further on the edge of recession." That'd be a lie under almost any circumstances, and you may appropriately conclude that Fox's intent here is not to inform you, but to deceive you.

It isn't a surprise to run across further evidence that Fox is run by liars. It's a little unusual to find such a blatant example in the middle of the homepage, but that's sort  of the fun of journalism, isn't it?

* Inquiring minds might note that it fell off the homepage pretty fast, considering the investment of staff effort that goes into turning an AP story into a Fox-worthy rewrite.

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