Wait a minute…

I’ve been reading Matt Taibbi’s archives and chortling over some of his phrasing. Here’s a great one:

It used to take the commercial media at least a day or two to spread a botched news story from coast to coast, but these days, when you add new technology like Twitter to Tea Party paranoia, you can hang a black t-shirt over a web-cam and within ten minutes half of middle America thinks it’s a total eclipse of the sun.

He’s referring to an incident at the end of August, when actor John Cusack tweeted, in all capital letters:


Now, most of us would look at that and say, “Joke.” I mean, the all caps are kind of a giveaway, yes? If not, then surely the reference to a satanic death cult center.

The folks at FOX News are apparently not like most of us, because they immediately seized on this tweet and reported on it in all seriousness, complete with talking heads (including a Beverly Hills psychiatrist) and discussions on Cusack’s incitement to violence.

Fast forward to October 21, when the Nielsen Company put out an article based on its survey of iPad owners, claiming that 32% of them were “download virgins,” meaning they had never downloaded an app.

MSNBC, BBC, Wired, and a gazillion Apple and tech blogs promptly reprinted this claim, only to look like idiots when Nielsen put out a correction the next day. Turns out the number of download virgins is a little smaller than previously stated — rather than one iPad owner in three, it’s closer to one in ten (9%). This makes a lot more sense to me and any other tech-oriented person.

These two erroneous news stories have one thing in common: they’re both examples of what happens when news organizations rush to press. (Or to the air, in the case of FOX News.) In yon olden days, when newspapers came out once a day, and tech magazines came out once a month, information was fact-checked. Editors and writers both took the time to say, “Wait a minute…” when something didn’t look right. This didn’t eliminate all errors, but it certainly reduced them.

All of which is to say, be careful out there. The old joke of “I heard it on the news so it must be true” has never been more ironic.

(Note: for the purposes of this blog post, I’m assuming that FOX News really did make an error, and wasn’t knowingly and cynically pushing misinformation and innuendo on its viewers. That is a big, fat assumption, and probably as flamingly wrong as both of the referenced news stories.)

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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2 Responses to Wait a minute…

  1. Kugai says:

    In other words, there’s truth, lies and the modern media – not that that’s anything new.

    And as for Fox (Un)News, I take anything they broadcast with a grain of salt considering whose mouthpiece they are.

  2. Chase says:

    I think all caps is yelling. I accidentally left caps on for an email back in the days of yore, and the person emailed back quickly demanding to know why I was so angry with them, screaming in all caps.

    The media being 24/7, quite literally, is not a good thing. They need to fill the time so they rush to print/video. I’ve told my nephew, “Just because it’s on You Tube does NOT mean it’s true.” That would, of course, apply to Twitter et al.

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