Numbers, counting and sensationalism in the Media

The last few days I have read, watched or listened to a lot of news stories whos only apparent raison d’ĂȘtre are numbers or stats. This morning as I completed the “repeat” portion of lather, rinse and repeat in the shower, the reporter on the radio informed me in breathless tones that at that exact moment [7:46AM] the US population had crossed the 300 million person mark. I was told to remember what I was doing for posterity. How absurd! The truth is the “event” may have happened last week or will in actuality happen next month. I may have happened at [7:56AM] while I was looking for a pair of socks. The whole “event” did not merit such special coverage. Next came speculation as to whether the 300 million person was a birth or the current political whipping boy an immigrant. Amazing.

Another story involved counts, body counts to be exact.The news story concerned the number of US Military casualties for the month of September. The reporter claimed there were close to 60 casualties. I always find a reporter chortling about “temperatures tomorrow being near 100 degrees” or after a disaster estimates that “the Katrina death toll could reach 10,000″ very disturbing. Does the news agency not know what the casualty number was last month? Was it 54 or 58 or 50? All three are close to 60. Is it that difficult to just say last month there were 56 casualties without sensationalizing it? Is the temperature tomorrow really going to near 100? Will it be 99.8 and thus the merit in the use of near? Or will it be 97 or 98? Can a human tell the difference between 97 and 99 degrees anyhow? A 100 degree day I guess makes for bigger news than 98. How about disaster death tolls, can the death toll really reach 10,000? What was the final count? I remember reporter practically salivating as they used words like massive to describe the possible death toll. I guess that if we were to discover tomorrow that a rogue astroid was heading toward earth the media headline would probably read “Massive Astroid headed toward Earth: Death Toll could reach 6.7 Billion.” I wonder where they will put the camera?