Actual, non-factual

justin farmer 5.20.09There he goes again.  Justin Farmer is blowing the whistle on wasteful government spending.  Just like last time, the story is designed to make the viewer angry at the stupidity of government.  When Farmer clobbered UGA for sending some of its professors overseas for “academic enrichment,” UGA challenged Farmer’s methodology.  This time, his methodology is even more suspect.

First off, Farmer bases his report on interviews with two members of Congress.  One is Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia of Roswell.  The other is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma.  It appears both men were interviewed in their Congressional offices by somebody other than Farmer.  Their remarks are boilerplate, and unchallenged.  They could have come straight from a Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee feed, though we’d like to believe that an actual reporter was somewhere in the room when the interviews took place.

Farmer begins on what appears to be pretty solid ground, with a line about government subsidies for dead farmers.  Sure it’s outrageous.  It was also reported by the Washington Post in July 2007.  But it’s news to Farmer, and Rep. Coburn gets an opportunity to decry its wastefulness on WSB.

Farmer then reports that Sen. Coburn “was able to convince Congress to stop funding a stress reduction center here at the CDC, once it was revealed that nearly $400,000 was spent on zero gravity chairs, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas for CDC employees to relax.”  Farmer recites this line in a slick standup with post-produced graphics.

Sounds awful.  It’s also wrong.

justin farmer2 5.20.09Yes, the CDC bought a stress reduction center (or fitness center if you prefer, with exercise machines and such).  Yes, the whole thing cost nearly 400k.  But the evidence is that the lights, chairs and saunas cost about $35,000.  Coburn stopped that, apparently.  And sure, you could say it’s silly.  But it ain’t “nearly $400,000” as Farmer reported.

And curiously, Farmer probably knew this.  Following the erroneous standup, he reported “the CDC says Senator Coburn is wrong.”  But Coburn didn’t get it wrong — Farmer did.  Farmer interviewed a CDC spokesman who corrected the information.  So WSB didn’t completely mislead its audience — much. But if you know the information is wrong, why put it on TV to begin with?

(Might it be because he’d already shot a damn fine standup — with graphics and everything — and didn’t want to re-do it?  What other excuse could there be?)

Farmer concludes the piece on familiar ground:  Bashing academic research.  “This one may take the cake,” Farmer tells his audience.  He reports on a government grant for “a Detroit professor to study drinking and AIDS among prostitutes in China.”   It’s a one-line dismissal, presuming that there’s no value in this kind of research.

With the UGA piece, Farmer mostly explored a few issues and made an effort to give the piece balance.  Here, the only balance is on the CDC spending — the only local reporting he apparently did.  And he managed to get it wrong.

The news business is more forgiving than you’d think.  You don’t have to get it right all the time.  But you do have make a good faith effort to get the facts right, and sincerely believe that what you’re reporting is correct.

Even if it means shooting the standup again.  Grade:  F+

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

17 thoughts on “Actual, non-factual

  1. rptrcub

    If AJC treats their readers like retarded fourth-graders, like Certain Speculation says, 2 treats their viewers like special needs preschoolers.

    Reply
  2. LBJ

    The CDC is a huge organization. Show me any other organiztion of a similar size…private or public…that doesn’t have a whole part of it’s Human Resources department dedicated to “Employee Development”, or a similar name, which spends money on stress reduction, time management, etc. There is plenty of government waste, but this was a worthless story. (Which reminds me to ask Richard Belcher how many TV2 employees have damaged a company vehicle in the past few years.)

    Reply
  3. kiddo

    The scary part is how wsb prides itself. A stand up journalistic institution.

    Sorry justin….you should raise the red flag on yourself. But you just want to get your pretty face on TV and impress miriam why you should be pruitt’s replacement. Not

    Reply
  4. Fraank Booth

    Just a thought: In some weird kind of fairness, calling viewers “special needs preschoolers” really is a comment on a good bit of the people that live around you. You realize they kind of clobber the other stations in ratings? Somebody must want to see it

    Reply
  5. 2video1

    LBJ, Cox is a huge organizatiion which WSB is part of and I’m sure WSB does not have a program for stress reduction!

    Reply
  6. gooberpeas

    based on what I’ve seen of his work, this guy should be in show business….he certainly hypes everything he does, making it appear more than it really is.

    he has no credibility with me.

    his parents must be proud

    Reply
  7. 2video1

    LBJ, Zero exercise facilities. You must be confusing WSB with Cox Corporate Headquarters in Dunwoody which has those amenities! Clark Howard even offered to pay for the equipment if WSB would dedicate space, it was denied based on liability issues.

    Reply
  8. Erik

    Wes: I had the exact same thought! He’s clearly making a name for himself as Stossel-South. Just what we need.

    As for CDC, LAF clarified the actual expenses. CDC is a public health agency and, agree or disagree, the decision has been made to practice what it preaches. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is not just an old saying. It’s really true. So CDC wants to lead by example.

    As for bashing scientific research into connections among alcohol use, HIV, and sex workers–at home or abroad–does Farmer know anything about epidemiology or the fact that disease doesn’t respect borders…etc etc etc.

    He’s not doing anyone any favors with this sort of thing.

    Reply
  9. Element

    I’ll admit that I probably would have taken that at face value. I’m not making excuses but the news environment is ripe for quantity and sadly not enough quality. It was probably the best info he had by edit time. But it is still important to get it right.

    Reply
  10. meme

    The best info? What does that mean? Was he sure it was correct if so, then go with the story. But if there were any doubts or questions a solid journalist would say – WAIT.

    Reply
  11. 2video1

    Hey Doug, I’ve got a great new topic for discussion here! Let’s talk about processed language that all stations local and networks are using now! Actual,Non Actual as “in just now” even tho it happened hours earlier how about this one, “our cameras were there when it happened” when it was only one camera. What happened to truth to the viewers?

    Reply
  12. Pingback: Anti-Intellectualism « Left on Lanier

  13. Pingback: Duck, and cover up « live apartment fire

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