I am an inveterate and unapologetic listener of NPR. I love to feel like I am getting something useful out of being stuck in traffic and I find their reporting to generally be much better and more in-depth than that of the print media. However, this week, All Things Considered’s reporting has really irritated me. Not just because they almost exclusively focus on the horse-race aspects of the presidential race, but because they’ve been doing a pretty poor job of reporting their statistics in a correct and understandable way.
First the confusing example, from yesterday’s story about McCain and Obama rolling out negative ads:
According to the Advertising Project, one out of three McCain ads has been negative, criticizing Obama. Nine out of 10 Obama ads have been positive, stressing his own background and ideas.
But you are listening to the radio, driving through traffic. Can you manage to quickly mentally convert those to percentages and reverse the phrasing so that the negatives or positives are always up front. Can you come up with this mental image? Without missing a turn? With a toddler in the backseat?
Here’s the correct mental image:
Let’s rewrite NPR’s statement too, while we are at it: “According to the Advertising Project, one 33% of McCain ad have been negative, criticizing Obama. 10% of Obama ads have been negative. The rest are positive, stressing his own background and ideas.”
After the jump, NPR conflates correlation with causation.
This gem came from Tuesday’s All Things Considered in a story about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians in the military. Here’s the substance of the story:
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama favors letting the estimated 65,000 gay service members serve openly rather than keep their sexual orientation a secret — as they are required to do under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Arizona Sen. John McCain, who voted for the rule in 1993, has said the policy works and should be left in place.
And here’s what they closed with:
The two candidates’ stances on the issue are being watched particularly closely by at least one group of voters. A Harris poll this month found that among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans, 60 percent said they supported Obama compared with 14 percent who favored McCain.
Right, because GLBT voters couldn’t possibly be basing their support on other issues – like, say, the war, the economy, or the environment. Anyone other than straight, white males must be a single issue voter, easily identified by their ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
I expect better of you, NPR.