Fake News

Since President Trump entered the political arena we’ve heard constant accusations about “fake news” and biased media. Are such accusations accurate? Sure. At least some of the time. But not always. Just because the media write or report things about which you disagree doesn’t make that news “fake”.

It is a given that media are biased because newspapers are written by humans, TV news is reported by humans, and news websites are managed by humans. Humans are biased. However, legitimate news outlets do everything possible to minimize that bias whereas some sources of information don’t even try. Unfortunately, it seems that a sizeable portion of my fellow citizens tend to pay attention to information reported by the most biased and unreliable sources.

The general assumption is that news outlets in America tend to be left leaning and unfair to more conservative points of view, and there are certainly a good many liberal news outlets. However, there appears to be an almost equal number of right leaning outlets, especially in recent years.

Also, Political Scientist David D’Alessio, a noted expert on media, published an important work analyzing media reporting of campaigns from 1948-2008. D’Alessio focused on 99 previous studies of presidential campaigns and how media reported on those campaigns. Guess what he found? No general media bias. In other words some sources such as FOX news predictably leaned right in reporting on presidential races and others like MSNBC leaned left.

But why? Is it because the media outlets are trying to cause people to accept liberal or conservative opinions or candidates? No. They report conservative and liberal ideas because that is precisely what their readers want. People who watch FOX are “conservative”, so FOX offers conservative reporting. People who watch MSNBC are “liberals” so they are fed what they want as well. Both FOX and MSNBC are corporations driven by profit and they maximize that profit by pandering to their viewers. And CNN, the oldest satellite news channel, is also motivated by its viewers’ political views because that network also demonstrably leans to the left. 

Interestingly, we tend to trust the print media more than broadcast outlets, but an exhaustive study of newspapers clearly demonstrated that if a newspaper has a larger number of conservative readers it will offer more conservative reporting and the opposite is true of papers with mostly liberal readers.

Does this mean these news sources are always unreliable? No, but it means we should consider the source’s reporting in light of its ideological leanings. Most if not all media outlets are biased, but even the most liberal and most conservative media may report stories truthfully. The problem is that our own biases lead us to ignore those outlets that tend to report in a way that contradicts our own biases, so we don’t always get both sides of stories.

This chart, taken from a report published last week by the Gallup/Knight Foundation, clearly demonstrates Americans’ biases and how those biases impact our reliance on trusted media outlets. It should be no surprise that Democrats and Republicans trust different news sources.

We get the news we want.

What is my point? As individuals we are biased, we tend to pay attention to news sources that support our biases, and those outlets favor our bias because that is what we want. And they do so because they are in the business of making money.

So what are America’s MOST and LEAST reliable sources of information? Oddly, I tend to trust The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) more than most other sources, but that trust depends on the topic. I think, for example that BBC does a pretty good job of covering American domestic news but it hasn’t been as objective on Brexit (Britain leaving the European Union). I also generally trust NPR although the writers and reporters there often let their agendas impact their reporting as well (again, they are human). And I believe the Wall Street Journal tends to be fairly objective.

And what source of information is the least trustworthy? As it turns out it may be President Trump himself. Last week he set his own weekly record by making 103 false claims. That means he made false claims at a rate of 15 per day. If you believe this is fake news I encourage you to read this report that provides each of the 103 statements then compares those statements to demonstrable facts.

The bottom line is that news outlets do sometimes report “fake news”, but President Trump, the loudest indicter of “fake news”, reports such news at a much more alarming rate and gets away with it. The Toronto Star found that during the first 821 days of his presidency he made 1,829 false claims, or about 3.5 such claims each day. Most of these are not outright lies but are instead exaggerated statistics, attempts to misdirect the public’s attention, or attempts to inflame the emotions of his core supporters.

The most problematic source of fake news is pretty obvious.

The solution? Pay attention!

A NOTE: I begin a new job next week and have no idea whether I’ll have much time to add to my blog. I certainly hope I will. Thanks so much for following along.



This One is Personal

I’ve had most of this post written for more than a year but was advised by our attorney not to publish it until the issue was resolved. Yesterday was resolution day. Please bear with me because although this is a little long I’ll get to the story shortly.

Laws should, above all, protect citizens.

Government’s primary function is protecting its citizens and it does so in two primary ways:

  • First, government must obviously protect us from foreign threats, and in that regard our government has done a good job overall.
  • Second, government is responsible for protecting us from each other. This was probably the first function of the first governments several thousand years ago. Population density reached the point that people increasingly had trouble getting along, so a government (probably a tribal leader or council) was given the authority to pass laws. Some of this is pretty obvious. Government passes laws that prohibit killing each other, robbing from each other, assaulting each other, and much more.

People often forget, however, that under this second area of protection, protecting us from each other, government should also protect us from unscrupulous corporations or other organizations that are too large for individuals to combat alone. This means that laws are passed to restrict banking practices to protect our money, limit air pollution for obvious reasons, require regular inspection of airplanes, and allow governmental officials to ensure that factories, mines and other workplaces are as safe as possible. We know from history that without governmental intervention some factory owners will pollute the air and water, will provide unsafe working conditions for employees, will employ children, and will engage in other unscrupulous behavior.

We also know that some areas of regulation are more effective than others. Why?

Well, those folks being regulated often oppose government’s restrictions and, depending on the wealth and influence of that group, may be able to impede or even control the government’s regulations.

A few examples should suffice. Bankers don’t like being restricted, so they form powerful lobby groups to put pressure on the government to minimize regulations.  Coal producers and others that benefit economically from relaxed environmental control may be successful in their attempts to achieve looser regulations. Those standing to profit from the collection of personal internet data may successfully lobby the FCC  and political parties to reverse net neutrality laws on the collection and dissemination of that data.

The best interests of citizens often suffer while powerful groups benefit.

And by the way, for my friends who use such examples to argue in favor of increased state and local control and minimizing the national government’s power, it is no better on the lower levels. Local realtor organizations have a great deal of control over zoning boards and local cities council, and they fight for zoning ordinances that favor realtors. An organization of undertakers likely has control over state laws regarding embalming or other aspects of our burial. State bar associations have control over laws regulating the practice of law, thus protecting the interests of lawyers. You get the idea.

A personal issue for me is workers’ compensation.

On September 8, 2013 my wife, a nurse, was hurt helping move a patient onto a hospital bed. The pain was in her neck and shoulder and by the end of her shift she could not even turn a door knob. That night we went to the emergency department and, of course, they referred her to the work comp doctor.

FYI: Work comp doctors work for the insurance companies not the workers in spite of the Hippocratic Oath.

Without an x-ray, MRI, or CT Scan the doctor diagnosed my wife with a “dislocated rib” and sent her to months of extremely aggressive physical therapy (the therapist was the doctor’s wife, by the way). I actually went with her to PT once after she told me how painful it was. The therapist was twisting her into unnaturally contorted positions, often leading to tears. After these PT sessions she often could not return directly to work because she needed time to compose herself, an accommodation thankfully made by her supervisor. The pain became increasingly worse during the next four months of physical therapy so the work comp doctor finally referred her to another doctor who actually did order an MRI.

As it turns out she NEVER had a dislocated rib. Instead she had two bulging cervical discs (neck) that had actually herniated since the injury, almost certainly caused by the physical therapy. So instead of making her better, the work comp doctor made her much, much worse, and a $150 x-ray could have avoided it. And then after she had the accurate diagnosis (now several months after the injury) the work comp doctor decided the injury WAS NOT WORK RELATED although three other healthcare professionals had witnessed the injury. The doctor dismissed her from treatment.  At this point most injured workers tend to give up, but not my wife.

She had to fight the work comp insurance company to get another opinion. They finally sent her to St. Louis where a miracle occurred; she landed in the office of an ethical work comp doctor who said that not only was the injury work related, she should have had surgery five months earlier. She had surgery shortly thereafter fusing the two damaged discs. After a year one had not fused so she had to have a second surgery. Four years later both are now fused and she has been released by the surgeon.

OK. Other than having an opportunity to vent after watching someone I love suffer since September 8, 2013, knowing she will never again be completely pain free, will forever have a metal plate in her neck, and will never be able to practice bedside nursing (her passion) again, I do have a point. This was not necessary. It should not have happened. By misdiagnosing her injury without even an x-ray the work comp doctor changed the trajectory of our lives. Our lives have now been adversely affected by a workers compensation system that is broken. Why?

To a very large extent the insurance companies determine the laws for work comp, and I can assure you those laws do not always favor the workers.

  • If a worker takes one penny of work comp money that worker cannot bring malpractice claims against the physician regardless of how careless the doctor’s treatment. There is some evidence that doctors choosing to represent insurance companies are not among the best healthcare providers. One must wonder if they choose this medical path BECAUSE they can avoid malpractice suits.
  • The insurance company can reject the conclusion OF THE DOCTOR THEY ASSIGN TO THE CASE! Two years ago my wife’s surgeon said there was no clear evidence of fusion from the second surgery and wanted to keep treating her another year until fusion was clear. Rather than accepting that diagnosis the insurance company sent her to yet another doctor who told them exactly what they wanted to hear (that she was recovered and should be released). Thankfully her surgeon has an impeccable reputation and the company essentially had to reject their second doctor’s faulty conclusion.
  • “Pain and Suffering” are not a consideration in work comp cases. From watching what my wife has gone through the last five years I know that is just wrong.
  • When lawmakers succumb to the influence of insurance company lobbyists  and reduce long-term benefits to workers who are permanently disabled on the job, the taxpayers wind up paying for long-term healthcare for those workers through Medicare or other cost-shifting processes.
  • The system is based on patients giving up and not fighting for the benefits to which they are entitled by law. Most folks who are injured on the job either are unwilling to demand their lawful benefits or simply do not know how. We had to hire an attorney who helped ensure that her rights and benefits were protected.

I could continue because at this point I could write a book on problems with workers’ compensation laws. So what is my point?

Government should protect citizens and work comp is a perfect example of it not doing so. Because of powerful lobbyists protecting insurance companies, a work comp system specifically designed to protect workers often considers workers’ rights as secondary to insurance company profits.

Until we remove money from politics this will not change. We should begin with campaign finance and lobbying reform so that lawmakers care more about the voters than about the corporations that fund their campaigns or take them to dinner.

Fiercely’s Friday Musings

The phrase “drinking from the firehose” means someone is overwhelmed with new information or responsibilities. Changing jobs at age 64 I now have an intimate  understanding of that idiom! I’m still paying attention to social and political issues but don’t have much time to write about them.

Here are a few observations.

  • At age 71 Mitt Romney is running for the opportunity to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate. Ok. Me starting over at 64 doesn’t seem so odd.
  • If you have read my posts over time you know I have trouble understanding or accepting President Donald J. Trump, but lately I have really wondered why he consistently attacks our allies while supporting tyrants such as Russian Vladimir Putin and  Turkish President Recep Erdogan and North Korean bloody tyrant Kim Jong Un. I’ve also wondered why folks continue to accept his numerous excuses for refusing to release his tax returns (yes, he is hiding something).
  • How can we as a society tolerate the policy allowing the separation of children from their parents? If you’ve missed this story, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify taking children of immigrants from their parents and housing them in deserted Walmarts and tent camps in Texas. I think he might want to read the entire Bible. Maybe Mark 9:42, for example, which states “And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea”. Read this story about a Brazilian grandmother and her handicapped 16 year-old grandson who asked for asylum at the American border ten months ago and have since been separated. She is being detained in Texas and he is in Connecticut. The grandson has severe epilepsy and autism. Where in the Bible is such treatment justified?
  • A Justice Department report found that James Comey had actually used a private Gmail account to conduct FBI business, the same thing for which he was investigating Hillary Clinton. Geez. And, by the way, don’t believe the White House’s spin on that DOJ report. The truth is that President Trump should appreciate Comey because the letter he sent Congress eleven days before the presidential election announcing he was reopening the Clinton email investigation probably provided the final push Trump needed to win.
  • One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to “drain the swamp”, yet his EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been constantly embroiled in self-serving scandals. Most of the scandals involved using taxpayer money for personal use. Even conservative commentators are beginning to go after Pruitt yet he remains in office.
  • Arctic ice is melting at near record levels.
  • Uber has started investing in research to develop “flying taxis”. Um…no.
  • Some colleges have started offering video game scholarship. Too bad pinball scholarships weren’t available years ago because I was pretty good!
  • In addition to five guilty pleas, according to Fox News Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” has thus far resulted in the indictment of thirteen Russians and four former associates of President Trump (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos). 
  • I’m really hopeful that President Trump has reduced the possibility of war with North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s reliability is still in doubt, however, and he is certainly no nice guy. A 2014 United Nations report concluded that atrocities in North Korea entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”. 
  • You might want to pay attention to the growing trade wars with our major trading partners. In the end it is very likely American workers, consumers, and corporations will suffer.
  • Thanks to conservation efforts the number of Mexican Jaguars has increased by 20% in eight years. Jaguars were once on the “endangered” species list but have now been moved to “near threatened”.
  • Deforestation in Brazil was reduced by 90% after the Brazilian government began aggressively creating protected forests and parklands. Even better, “reforestation” in Brazil is catching on with one private group planning to plant 73 million trees during the next seven years.

I have had one post written for more than a year but could not publish it. I hope to be able to do so next week. Yes…that is a teaser!

Thank you for reading!