In the era of instant communication, it is a prerequisite that journalists provide us with facts, nothing but the facts. Sometimes the media present sheer nonsense ("Today it was revealed that Ronald Reagan's era of greed . . . ") as truth through the use of politically charged data presented as objective science ("According to a national study by the reputable Public Citizen, the nonpartisan consumer-rights organization ....") More often than not, however, they ignore any semblance of scientific research and present as truth their own conventional wisdom.
In this age of media truth squads and "reality checks," it's time for reporters to examine their own performances. It won't be pretty. Some media "truths" are sheer poppycock that drive billion-dollar government programs. For example:
* Medicare and Medicaid "cuts." On CNN's Inside Politics on June 22, reporter Wolf Blitzer suggested that White House aides know a deal "won't be easy, given the difference on such sensitive matters as ... the amount of cuts in Medicare and other social programs." In 1990, CBS reporter Susan Spencer typically claimed, "Medicare took a direct hit in this agreement -- $60 billion in savings, half the domestic spending cuts." There are literally dozens of such statements made every year in the media.
What cuts? Medicare and Medicaid are among the biggest and fastest-growing programs in the budget. From 1989 to 1993, Medicare grew from $85 billion to $146.4 billion, up 72 percent; Medicaid rose from $34.6 billion to $80.3 billion, a 132 percent jump. So much for those dramatic cuts in the 1990 budget fiasco.
*Mushrooming homelessness. Beware the claims of light-headed network anchors on this one. In January, NBC weekend Today cohost Jackie Nespral claimed: "Nationally, right now, 5 million people are believed to be homeless ... and the numbers are increasing."
But in 1990, the Census Bureau conducted a one-night count of America's homeless population, employing 15,000 enumerators (the largest effort in history). The Census Bureau counted 220,000 homeless people. That does not match NBC's read on things and might explain why NBC never reported those findings.
NBC isn't alone. Many reporters use the figure of 3 million. Where was that number born, and how many reporters realize that it was invented by Mitch Snyder, the late advocate for the homeless, as a publicity stunt? As Snyder told Congress in 1984, "These numbers are in fact meaningless. We have tried to satisfy your gnawing curiosity for a number because we are Americans with Western little minds that have to quantify everything in sight, whether we can or not."
The coming explosion of heterosexual AIDS. This epidemic is becoming about as believable as swine flu. On June 11, CBS reporter Bob Arnot warned: "Heterosexual AIDS among Americans is growing faster than any other risk group, up 30 percent in 1992 alone.... Heterosexual AIDS in America is exploding." Michael Fumento, author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, reports that the Centers for Disease Control found "cases attributed to heterosexual transmission increased 17 percent in 1992, down from a 21 percent increase in 1991. …