Sunday, August 28, 2005

This morning's New York Times

Due to it being an all nighter at The Third Estate Sunday Review, I've pulled those who haven't yet gone to bed over here to help with this entry. Think of it as a Third Estate Sunday Review roundtable where the sole topic is the New York Times.

Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ty, Jess, Dona, Ava and Jim, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), and Elaine who's filling in for Rebecca at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude.


Ty: The paper should refund everyone the five dollars they're charging for today's edition.

Kat: There's nothing in here that really impresses me.

C.I.: Okay, well, I'll note Abby Goodnough's front page article "In War Debate, Parents of Fallen Are United Only in Grief." I found that worth reading. I'm not thinking of anything else.

Elaine: That's a good article to address because it raises a number of issues.

Dona: Goodnough and other reporters who we aren't listing because if there contributions were important enough to the paper, they'd share the byline with Goodnough and not be buried in a list at the end of the article inside the paper, are surveying the parents of military fatalities who died in Iraq. While an article like this can give a cross-section, there's no data that acompanies it and you never know how the people were selected or how representative they are.

C.I.: Last week, when we all did this, Elaine was speaking of how journalists know their field but often make mistakes in others. And as someone who majored in poli sci, I don't know that Goodnough's article is less scientific or representative than something with polling data running beside it. Questions are rarely raised as to the issue of sample size, for instance, utilizing less than a thousand respondents to represent the entire nation. There's no notation of how many refused to be polled. There are any number of factors -- and let's not get started with the questions or, in the Times case, the interpretation of raw data -- that might not show up in a sidebar listing percentages but that would render a poll seriously flawed. Conventional wisdom says you have to just focus on that margin of error but the reality is there are other steps involved that will speak to whether or not a poll is precies. Precise for a poll, I should say.

Ava: And of course, as is obvious from The Common Ills, you prefer a range of voices.

C.I.: Right. I personally prefer this sort of survey or overview as opposed to a poll. The people are actually responding and not just choosing yes or no or number three on this list or whatever. I also think Goodnough writes these well in terms of flow. Dealing with a large number of voices and attempting to turn it into something readable isn't easy but she does a good job at it, not just this time but in previous attempts.

Dona: That's a good point regarding polls. There is a tendency to go to the sidebar and glance or check the margin of error and think, "Okay, sound poll."

Elaine: There's a variety of voices and, for me, the ones who were most effective were the ones who attempted to speak for themselves regardless of where they stood on the war. The ones who felt the need to weigh in with "Cindy should" statements lost me. I could go on about this article for hours but I'll note something because I think it's important. There's a feeling on the part of some that you can't question a comment made by a parent who's lost a child, whether it's Cindy Sheehan or someone from the right. Here's the problem with that. I'm all for allowing people to grieve in private; however, the ones participating in this article have decided to go public with their grief, on both sides, and they're offering their opinions on a war that our country is engaged in. To suggest that someone can't respond unless they're in the same situation is unsound.

Mike: I agree. It's like the people who would make jokes about a nun can't teach sex-ed because she's never had sex.

Kat: I might be willing to go along with that if it would mean the Pope would shut up about abortion. But I do understand what Elaine's saying. We're all involved in the invasion/occupation and we all have a right to speak up. Disagreeing with statements that someone has made publicly is fine. Attaacks are not, correct?

Elaine: Yes.

Jess: I don't now about the worst article. I think the front page one by Robert F. Worth and James Glanz is pretty bad, "Assailing Draft, Sunnis Still Seek Charter Changes." Other than a phone call, I'm not seeing that they really did any work, other than reading the wires, to report on the Iraqi constituion.

Ty: Yeah, Mike did that much better.

Ava: I think we need to note the front page article by Gardiner Harris, "Drugs, Politics and the F.D.A." I was wondering what Elaine thought of that.

Elaine: I thought it was nonsense. It's labeled "news analysis" but it's full of questionable analysis which isn't surprising considering the way medicine is reported in most papers. The biggest problem I had with the analysis was when he made the comment: "Nor is it news that politics would play an important role in the decisions of the F.D.A. or any other politically appointed regulatory agency." I'm reading that to suggest that politics came into medicine on this story as a result of the "important role" played by a "politically appointed regulatroy agency." Politics of all sorts greatly impact the medical field but Harris seems unaware of that.

C.I.: It's a nothing paper and Dona's points are valid. Did anything else stand out?

Jim: I loved the football preview.

Mike: And Lee Jenkins' article on USC.

Ava: And that's about enough rah-rah on the sports section. Kat?

Kat: Jay-Z, for some unknown reason has a lengthy profile in the arts section. Were the story to run in the business section, I'd have no problem with it. But it's not an arts story. And it's badly written.

C.I.: As are most pieces by Lola.

Kat: She always reads like someone who decided ahead of time what she wanted to say and then cherry picks data to back up her argument.

C.I.: That's really it. Later today, Isaiah's latest The World Today Just Nuts will go up and I'll repost the news review from The Third Estate Sunday Review. But they've agreed to do their "A note to the readers" later today if I'd agree to just do this entry for the morning. We're all tired and exhausted.

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