Friday, December 5, 2008

Oakland Tribune's Poor Reporting / Scare Statistics

I picked up the Tribune this morning at the Bart station -- something I rarely do since I canceled my subscription some five years ago. I canceled because of their failure to deliver papers to my house in any sort of reasonable fashion. I'd say I received the paper three or four days out of the week.

Now I know that the Tribune has been largely decimated by the ongoing difficulties in the newspaper industry. But I opened today's issue to find a statistic that seemed hardly believable. And sure enough, when I did a minimal amount of research I determined that the writer or editors had redacted key words from the story, causing its content to be false in important ways.

The particular story was on the front page of the Metro section, dealing with a program to help prevent AIDS. Here is the specific quote which caught my eye:
African-Americans make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, but black teens accounted for 69 percent of new AIDS cases in 2005, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This statistic shocked me for obvious reasons. The implication is that fully two-thirds of all new AIDS cases occur not just among blacks but among black teens.

I don't want to belittle the magnitude of this problem one bit. There is a great deal of data out there suggesting that AIDS now has a disproportionate impact among the black community. There are various theories and explanations for this fact, but for now I'd like to comment instead on the Tribune's reporting.

Here is the correct information, courtesy of the Black AIDS Institute webpage:
Although African Americans represent only 16 percent of U.S. teens, they represented 69 percent of all new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2005.

Notice the difference? The statistic is still a serious problem, but what the Tribune reported was just preposterous. I've encountered several other examples of this sort of issue in local reporting, and I would echo the sentiment of other bloggers that part of the reason Oakland suffers under such tyrannical government is a lack of serious journalism.

But, I guess that's what we bloggers are here for.

In any event, I do hope the Tribune prints a correction.

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