Media Malpractice: Reporting on Post-Election Hate

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There’s not just fake news out there. There’s also a lot of reporting that’s just plain unreliable and biased, but is accepted uncritically by people because it fits their preconceived expectations and those of their like-minded circle.

Tales of hate incidents, threats and intimidation of minorities abound, with many commentators suggesting there’s a linkage between the incidents and Donald Trump’s election.

Much of the recent debate has relied on data gathered by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

On Nov. 29, the SPLC released reports “documenting (emphasis mine) how President-elect Donald Trump’s own words have sparked hate incidents across the country and had a profoundly negative effect on the nation’s schools”. The reports said that in the ten days after the election the SPLC counted 867 incidents of harassment and intimidation.

Most of the incidents cited by the SPLC involved anti-immigrant incidents (136), followed by anti-black (89) and anti-LGBT (43). A “Trump” category (41) referred to incidents where there was no clear defined target, like the vandalism of a “unity” sign in Connecticut, which the SPLC categorized as “pro-Trump vandalism”.

The New York Times jumped on the report, observing that, “Hate Crimes have surged across the country,” linking that assertion to the SPLC ‘s “hate crimes” reports and denouncing Trump for not being more aggressive in “condemning the hate talk and violence being done in his name.”

The New Yorker, citing the SPLC reports, said, “Since Donald Trump won the Presidential election, there has been a dramatic uptick in incidents of racist and xenophobic harassment across the country.”

“Hate, harassment incidents spike since Trump election”, CBS News reported, basing its report largely on SPLC’s data.

Willamette Week picked up the SPLC’s report, running a story headlined, “Report on Post-Election Hate Incidents Shows Oregon at Top of List; New Southern Poverty Law Center info paints alarming picture of Pacific Northwest.”

NPR’s All Things Considered also had a segment on the topic.

“Since Tuesday (Nov. 8), the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has counted some 250 incidents…. ,” said NPR’s Eyder Peralta. “While they have not verified all of them, they include anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-Muslim messages and, in the case of a Michigan middle school, a lunchroom anti-immigrant taunt – build the wall.”

“I think that the emotions that were unleashed by the Trump campaign’s use of bigotry as a tool to get elected has reached every part of our society, “ said Heidi Beirich, an employee of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described as an expert on various forms of extremism. “I think that the emotions that were unleashed by the Trump campaign’s use of bigotry as a tool to get elected has reached every part of our society.”

Because the SPLC is widely recognized as a reputable source, or because many media outlets have taken the easy way out and simply parroted the SPLC’s reports, the media have been awash in reports citing the SPLC data.

There’s one big problem. Media don’t note that the SPLC has not verified the incidents it cites so breathlessly as evidence of a spike in hate crimes..

On its website, the SPLC admits the hate incidents it cites came from news reports, social media, and direct submissions via SPLC’s #ReportHate page. “These incidents, aside from news reports, are largely anecdotal” and “…it was not possible to confirm the veracity of all reports” the SPLC says.

And there’s no way for the public to even read the details of all the reported incidents because the SPLC’s website doesn’t provide access to them.

There may, indeed, have been a recent rise in hate incidents, and the SPLC’s reports make for bone-chilling reading. But the reports don’t “document” hate incidents if the word is taken to mean providing hard evidence.

Hanna Goldfield addressed the critical need for writing to be accurate, even if an alternative version is more “beautiful” or makes a story stronger, in a piece she wrote for the New Yorker. “The conceit that one must choose facts or beauty—even if it’s beauty in the name of “Truth” or a true “idea”—is preposterous,” she said. “A good writer—with the help of a fact-checker and an editor, perhaps—should be able to marry the two, and a writer who refuses to even try is, simply, a hack.”

Reporters should also recognize that data sources are rarely neutral observers. the SPLC, for example, has a position to plead, a message to deliver in order to generate contributions, a desire to be quoted so its influence will be enhanced.

Paul Sperry, a former Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily, also points out that although the SPLC claims to be a nonpartisan civil rights law firm, it receives funding from leftist groups, including ones controlled by billionaire George Soros. And a review of Federal Election Commission records reveals that its board members contributed more than $13,400 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

In summary, there’s a lesson here for current and aspiring reporters. Reporters shouldn’t just accept and promote information that affirms their biases or makes for a story that attracts a lot of clicks.  That’s sloppy reporting that undermines trust in the media, and rightfully so.

 

 

 

 

A different world: the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy

The deaths of female babies by drowning, sex-selective abortion, malnutrition, denial of health care and abandonment.

These are some of the grim consequences of China’s one-child policy.

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In 2012, CNN reported that Feng Jianmei, 22, was detained and coerced into having an abortion in the seventh month of her pregnancy, according to her husband.

But they aren’t the only ones.

China, once fixated on explosive population growth and worried about the economy’s ability to cope with it, now has a new problem, too sharp a drop in birth rates and too many old people.

The ramifications for China and the rest of the world could be severe.

In 1979, Liang Zhongtang, a Chinese economist and demographer, insisted that the one-child policy would be a “terrible tragedy” that would turn China into a “breathless, lifeless society without a future,” but he was ignored.

In 1980, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, fearfully contemplating a population of one billion, initiated a one-child policy.

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The rigorous enforcement of the policy quickly got ugly, with a particularly devastating impact on female babies, as families favored having male children.

“Chinese women’s reproduction is utilized as a feature of socialist modernization, a sacrifice for the good of the state,” said Winter Wall, founder and Managing Member at W3 Global Consulting in Denver, CO. “Reproductive rights in Chinese society have been co-opted by the government as a component of a broader push towards socialist modernization.”

While most Americans think of China in terms of the cheek-to-jowl masses of people crowded into Bejing, there’s much more to the story.

NPR reported this past year on the consequences of the one-child policy in China’s Rudong County in Jiangsu province.

The county launched a family planning pilot program in the 1960s. “Having a second child wasn’t allowed, so we had to work on (pregnant women) and persuade them to have an abortion,” Chen Jieru, the Communist Party secretary of a village at the time, told NPR.

The result? The policy, in combination with an exodus of young people to cities for better opportunities, has left the county’s young population shriveled while the elderly population has exploded.

The increasing number of the elderly is soon going to be a problem across China. There are now five workers to each retiree, but in a little more than 20 years that is projected to shift to 1.6 workers to every one retiree. “It spells shrunken tax coffers, reduced consumer spending and all-around diminished productivity,” said Mei Fong in her recently issued book, “One Child – the story of China’s most radical experiment.”

A senior Chinese economist, Liu Mingkang, speaking at the Asia Global Dialogue in 2012, said China’s population growth will end as soon as 2020 when its population will peak at 1.6 billion.

Youhua Chen, a demographer at China’s Nanjing University, has also gained some notoriety by warning about a sharp drop ahead for China’s population. The decline will be accompanied by soaring health care and pension costs, and collapsing real estate markets, he has warned.

Prof. Chen has predicted that China’s population will peak at about 1.4 billion and then fall precipitously to 500 million. His graph is below.

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Title: Figure 1   Estimated China Population Growth 1950-2100   (Black line): Low (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Pink line): Medium (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Blue line):  High (Plan, Program, Prospects)   Graph courtesy of Mei Fong, Fellow, New America                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

If Prof. Chen is right, this means lots of problems.

“These problems will compromise economic development, strain social harmony, and place the traditional Chinese family structure under severe pressure; in fact, they could shake Chinese civilization to its very foundations,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy with the American Enterprise Institute.

There are already signs of a slowing Chinese economy that will be exacerbated by the aging of the population. China’s economy is “like a speeding bicycle that has to keep going just to keep from falling over, “ said the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a report on China’s Long March to Retirement Reform.

Gordon G. Chang, writing in World Affairs, has posited that the decline in China’s population will also exacerbate China’s economic challenges, particularly its competition with India.

China has recently loosened the one-child restrictions, but it hasn’t resulted in a baby boom. So the prediction still holds that sometime in the next 10 years, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous state at some point before 2025, Chang says, and India will keep growing while China declines. India’s India’s workforce will pass China’s by 2030, according to the UN.

“When you see a country’s population decline, the country will definitely degrade into a second-rate one,” said Yao Yang, an economist with Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research.

In light of all this, it’s India, not China, that could end up dominating the middle of this century.

That will change things…a lot.