Sunday Morning, When Facts Don’t Matter

I admit it: I’m a sucker for a well-played French horn.  And I’ve been a fan of CBS’ Sunday Morning since Charles Kuralt held the reins. That his fellow Charles, the Osgood one, wears a bow tie is a bit dated, but still, the French horn intro is magnificent.  It’s very hard to blow a good French horn. [Ed. Note: As I’ve since been informed, it’s a trumpet, not a French horn, which means I’ve been watching for years for the wrong reason. My bad.]

But a segment yesterday morning was shockingly bad. Not because it took an ideological position with which I disagree, but because it was factually vapid.  The website write-up began with the discredited “According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in five college women will experience some kind of sexual assault while in school.”  Would it be too much to expect that a news organization like CBS be aware that these numbers, which don’t come from the DoJ, have been so thoroughly and utterly debunked that not even the most radical feminist organization will use them anymore?

Apparently not.

Perhaps the wording of the segment was chosen for subtlety, to avoid the appearance of being a campaign ad for New York’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who was accompanied to the State of Union address by Columbia University’s mattress girl, Emma Sulkowicz, despite the fact that her alleged rapist has been twice exonerated.

I suspect not.  The laxity of factual accuracy in this report persuades me that this was ideologically driven, and the wiggly language was a deliberate choice to overcome the fact that it was monumentally one-sided.  The report was crafted to misinform while maintaining a minimal level of plausible deniability.

While readers with sufficient interest to follow the facts despite the abusive use of anecdotes designed to appeal to emotion will know better, a report on CBS Sunday Morning will reach millions of viewers.  Not just millions, but millions of people who are reasonably thoughtful and, as such, reasonably influential.  The sheer number of people made stupider by this report is painful to consider.

In contrast, I got an @ twit yesterday from someone named Francis Walker, linking to a post addressing false rape statistics.  It was an exceptional post, thorough, documented, and persuasive, and I strongly commend it to anyone interested in the issue.  While I can’t say how many people have read this great post, I feel confident in saying that it is at most a minute fraction of those who watched the insipid segment produced by John R. D’Amelio.

Most bizarrely, the report uses the Rollling Stone/UVA “rape” scandal, a scandal because it’s turned out to be unfounded, as if it actually happened, with the caveat that even though it’s “now discredited” (so why raise it?), “it’s helped fuel a national conversation about sexual assault on campus.”  No, it has not. What it has fueled is a national conversation about the false claims, the lack of due process, the lies being fed the public, to promote an ideological agenda that has no factual basis.

They left that part out.  To the extent the Rolling Stone/UVA scandal began a return to sanity elsewhere, not on CBS.  Not this Sunday Morning.  Not to the millions of viewers who weren’t paying close attention to the harm this ideology was doing, so that they knew that the segment was factually empty.

The media is a very powerful tool, to be used to inform people or make them stupider.  CBS grossly abused this tool by airing this segment, and there will be millions upon millions of people who will now believe themselves knowledgeable about these issues for having watched it.

12 thoughts on “Sunday Morning, When Facts Don’t Matter

  1. Larry English

    This type of advocacy “journalism” is becoming more the norm than the exception. There was a time when investigative journalism actually meant digging for facts and filing a story based on those facts. Now we have journalist that write stories about interviews that they never coducted, slant stories to fit their ideolody and frequently file stories that are just plain false. One has to wonder, what exactly is the profession of journalism today.

  2. Doug Crice

    I was surprised that they didn’t use the bogus 1 in 5 quote in the segment, and didn’t even show Obama or Biden saying it. That tells me they knew that the statistic was bogus, and didn’t want to embarrass those two. It would have provided better coverage if they had mentioned that the statistic was bogus and talked about the real number, but as you say, this is advocacy, not reporting.

    I’m also surprised that you don’t know the difference between a French Horn and the Trumpet, played by Wynton Marsalis every Sunday morning (except this one, which featured a Stradivarius segment).

    1. SHG Post author

      Damn. You’re right (apparently originally played on a baroque trumpet by Don Smithers, later on a piccolo trumpet by Doc Severinsen, and now by Wynton Marsalas, no less). So I didn’t have to watch at all.

  3. John

    In response to what people I know talk about, I have read Kilpatrick, a couple of NCVS reports and several papers you are not talking about. Since they are ideological and my friendships are valuable to me, I have declined to discuss my friends’ dubious assertions with them. The papers and reports are quite easy to understand even for people with a weak grasp of statistics. I am unconvinced by Kilpatrick et al 2007 cited by the Department of Education to justify their recent initiatives. However, I am far less convinced by that utterly vacuous article by Emily Yoffe who shows no indication she has actually read anything other than press releases and talking points (the banes of researchers who work in areas unfortunate enough to draw popular or political interest).

    You seem to be confusing “debunked” with uncertain. NCVS and Kilpatrick et al 2007 used different definitions and different surveying methods. The methods they used, their justifications for using them and their methods of analysis are all plainly laid out in their peer-reviewed papers and reports for the general public to peruse at will. It is unsurprising that they came to different conclusions.

    “Debunked,” of course, implies that it has been shown that data were falsified, survey questions were misleading, the analysis was statistically flawed or some other objective measure says “this is unreliable.” The limitations of the methods of the Kilpatrick paper are widely available across the internet. Limitations of NCVS are also widely available*, although not as widely advertised. Claiming something is “debunked” in this case is not honest. Different methods of study seem to have come to different conclusions (not surprising). The difference in conclusions of the NCVS and Kilpatrick are predicted in the Kilpatrick paper itself.

    There is a body of literature out there on studies using different methods that “contradict” both Kilpatrick and NCVS which, oddly enough, Yoffe seems unaware of even though they are cited in all the relevant papers and reports. Unlike Yoffe, Kilpatrick has passedpeer review by professional academic criminologists and statisticians who use the NCVS in their work. An article or blog post seriously analyzing the literature on the subject would be a lot of work and, frankly, would not be understood by many [ideological, confirmation-bias driven] readers. It is so much easier to look at a study that seems to contradict Kilpatrick because they used different survey methods, had different criteria and used greater resources and say Kilpatrick has “been so thoroughly and utterly debunked” with a link to non-peer reviewed, non-academic source citing sources that do not even claim to be “debunking” Kilpatrick**.

    *Oddly enough, I see nobody rushing to throw out all old NCVS surveys because DoJ researchers have changed their own methods because they felt their data collection methods were flawed. When NCVS changes its methods again in a few years (their methods change in their never ending quest to improve the quality of their data), we will see if the likes of Emily Yoffe say “never mind” about the analysis she cites in her Slate article.

    **I am guessing because I have not read the most recent one, but I see no reason to believe it will be any different in tone than the others I have actually read.

    1. SHG Post author

      Rarely does anyone knowledgeable about statistics approve of any non-statistician’s attempt to discuss stats. That’s okay.

      1. NateWhilk

        Knoll’s Law of Media Accuracy: “Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge.” –Erwin Knoll, editor, “The Progressive”

        Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect: “…You read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate on those subjects than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” –Michael Crichton

  4. David Mitchell

    Today, on CBS This Morning, Gayle King referenced the “1 in 5” stat once again, referring to it as “stunning.” I was thoroughly “stunned” that a national news organization like CBS is STILL quoting this so thoroughly discredited Obama Administration statement as fact.

  5. FN


    Never pose with signs. It makes it far to easy to wipe off the sign and post you back up with a different message you may not appreciate as much as the frat boy in all of us.

  6. Pingback: The Myth That Won’t Die | Simple Justice

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