DCI (Brazil): “Yellow Economic Journalism in a Nutshell”

…[I]t is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire. –Thucydides

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane –Marcus Aurelius

Confirmation bias is one reason why a so-called psychic may only average one accurate hit for every fourteen guesses, yet will be described as “totally accurate” by the client after the reading: it is due to the fact that people place a lot more importance on confirmatory evidence than on contradictory evidence.

According to a Globo TV journalist, who preferred not to identify himself, before the first round of the presidential elections [in 2006], Mello commented that he had received instructions to “go easy” on economic indicators that might be interpreted as favorable to the government. –see Rede Globo Ratfinks Dissident Journos

Stealth marketing harms, I argue, by degrading public discourse and undermining the public’s trust in mediated communication. Doubt that an editor has an authentic voice leads to an overgeneralization of distrust as audiences come to believe that mediated speech is inauthentic or untrue even when it is not. The law of bribery as well as public discourse theory helps to show how such distrust corrupts the kind of communicative public sphere hat a democracy needs. –See Big Think of the Day: “Stealth Marketing and Editorial Integrity”

Entrelinhas is the Web log of Luiz Antonio Magalhães, political editor of the Diário Comércios, Indústrias e Serviços — which I am adding to the NMM open-source Bloomberg box — and associate editor of the Obsérvatorio da Imprensa.

Como manipular uma notícia (December 17, 2007) might be one for the Numbers Guy — I want to be more like the Numbers Guy when I grow up.

Manchete do UOL na manhã desta segunda-feira:

UOL headline this Monday:

Vendas no varejo do país têm primeira queda do ano

Retail sales show first decline of the year

O que diz o lide da reportagem:

The lede states:

As vendas do comércio varejista brasileiro declinaram 0,2% em outubro ante setembro, registrando a primeira taxa negativa do ano, informou o Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) nesta segunda-feira. Na comparação com outubro do ano passado, as vendas no varejo brasileiro avançaram 9,6%.

Brazilian retail sales declined 0.2% in October, compared with September sales, the IBGE said this Monday. Compared with October of last year, retails sales were up 10%.

A chamada do UOL para a tal “primeira queda do ano” é uma bobagem, uma vez que outubro foi um mês com praticamente três feriados e muito menos dias úteis do que setembro. Tanto a tal queda é um ponto fora da curva que a comparação com outubro do ano anterior as vendas no varejo avançaram quase 10%. Em geral, para se medir o que ocorre na economia, a comparação usada é a com o ano anterior. Mas se a idéia é deixar o governo mal na fita, como dizem os jovens, aí o melhor é sempre pegar o número que se encaixe melhor à tese que se quer provar. Jornalismo marrom é isto aí …

UOL’s headline about the “first decline of the year” is nonsense, given that October is month with three holidays, and many fewer working days than September. This decline is an “off the curve” data-point next to the fact that October sales were up almost 10%, YOY. In general, the measure of economic performance is same period, previous year. But if the idea is to make the government look bad … the thing to do is lead with the number that best fits the theory you want to prove. Yellow journalism in a nutshell.

I still need to find a good idiomatic translation for ponto fora da curva.

What, I wonder, was the figure for retail sales growth or decline from September to October last year?

And in the last decade?

Is some sort of slight October retail poop-out itself an established trend?

PS: dois leitores fazem correções justas a esta nota. Primeiro, é correto dizer que outubro teve dois úteis a mais do que setembro, embora os feriados certamente tenham esvaziado as vendas nos dias úteis enforcados e vésperas. Outro leitor adverte que evidentemente não há “curva fora do ponto”, mas ponto fora da curva, o que já foi corrigido. No mais, a manipulação aconteceu e temos dito.

PS: Two leaders made corrections to this post. First of all, October actually has two more working days than September, although the holidays almost certain emptied the shops on working days just before and after. Another reader advises that I wrote “an out of the data-point curve” rather than “an out of the curve data-point,” which I have now corrected. But the manipulation did take place, and we have said so.

The perils of push-button publishing. Stop blogging and hire a good copy editor today.

Such points may seem fairly trivial, but they tend to get fought over tooth and nail here — to the point where some cases of honest mistakes and genuine cluelessness probably get lumped in with “yellow journalism” unfairly, and David “Fear and Misinformation Abound” Sasaki-style fear and misinformation abound.
This because of accumulated political frictions, and because they really are jaw-droppingly routine, and add up in the long run.

Paulo Henrique Amorim notes a similar case of government statistics-fudging (“disinformation”) by the embattled Treasury minister — the way the native press treats its incumbents, this should probably be the official title of the office: “The Embattled Minister of the Treasury” — although he does not detail it.

One of the panelists on Cristiana Lobo’s show the other evening mocked it neatly, and fairly enough, I thought: Mr. Mantega had told the press there would be no “package” of [executive provisional measures] sent down to Congress “this year” to replace the defeated Tobin-style “check tax.”

On which see

Mr. Mantega was then left to describe two executive provisional measures — an authoritarian hangover (Alan Garcia currently has authorization to do this in Peru) that can only be voted up or down, but not ameneded — sent down last week as “not a package” (there were only two) and “not going back on our promise” because they were technically handed down in 2008 — “next year.”

Go figure.

Then again, what do you expect?

The guy is a politician. This is what politicians do for a living — preferably with less visible discomfiture than this.

The guy should probably fire the flack who suggested the “Bubba Clintonian close parsing of language” approach to the issue.

The DEM will now appeal the tax hike — which unlike the CPMF only requires a simple majority — to the Supreme Court.

Imagine that happening back home.

An Amorim reader puts their finger on the dilemma nicely, Amorim says:

… o Conversa Afiada mereceu de uma inteligente leitora uma pergunta – por que o Governo Lula não sabe informar o povo ? Tentamos, modestamente, a seguinte resposta: “O PT e o Governo Lula são desde sempre perseguidos por uma dupla sina: não gostam da imprensa, porque sempre foram tratados por ela com preconceito e discriminação; e não sabem tratar a imprensa. (Aqui entra uma certa brisa stalinista que sopra do ambiente político poluído do ABC…) Lula e o PT se esquecem que a imprensa é o cano por onde passa água. O que interessa é a água e não cano. O que interessa é informar a sociedade. Mas, o que fazer?

A smart reader favored us with a good question: Why can’t the Squid government learn how to keep the people informed? We essayed the following modest reply: …

The hermeneutics of suspicion generated by this constant, petty politicization of spreadsheet numbers does tend to drive you nuts after a while.

It just plain gets hard to hear yourself think.

Constant, gabbling, ideological noise in the channel, creating a business environment in which inventing a better mousetrap is subordinated to the constant, balls-out struggle to seize — and plunder — the State.

If reasons of State require generating moral panic over the specter of bubonic plague, the invention of a better mousetrap that might successfully mitigate that risk becomes politically inconvenient.

It also reflects, and reinforces, the same sort of historical revisionist, stealth-authoritarian neo-corporatism — “the democratic rule of law is not a necessary condition of economic development — that is constantly harped on by the likes of Veja magazine, which tends to promote the vision of a Brazil that is more like Singapore, the Emirates — or apartheid South Africa. See


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