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Friday, December 12, 2008

Media bias or laziness?

I vacillate between the laziness and biased explanation for reporters who simply report factually wrong information. My guess is that both explanations are valid in certain contexts but it is difficult to identify when one prevails over the other.

This interesting (and short!) paper concerning suicides and the Holiday Season is an interesting case. The report starts out with the following paragraph:
One of the more persistent myths about the end-of-year holidays is that suicides rise during this period. According to a recently completed analysis of news reporting during last year's holiday period, there was renewed repetition of this myth in newspaper reporting. Despite the sizeable drop that occurred during the preceding holiday period in 2006, newspapers displayed a surge in both the number and proportion of stories that supported the myth (see Table 1).

Here are two pictures of interest from the report:


The data used to claim that suicides are down (the circled points in the graph above) shows an unconditional comparison between suicides during the Holidays and those in other parts of the year. One could quibble with that, but my guess is that if you had data on macroeconomic variables and so forth that you would still find a negative (but possibly insignificant) parameter on a dummy variable that took a value of on e for the months of Nov., Dec., and Jan.

The release of this information seems to be a natural experiment that might be conducive to testing the lazy/agenda driven hypothesis, but I haven't been able to formalize it yet.

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