Lies, Damned Lies, and News Reports

cell phone news

An earlier, more temperate report on cell phones and cancer has supposedly been eclipsed by a newer, better one. But wait.

“U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.”

“Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.”

These are just two examples of headlines that circled the world in the past week, subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge. Of course there were others: the “violent, chair-throwing riot” at the Nevada Democratic convention that turned out to have involved no violence, no chair-throwing and no riot; the long, dumbfounded pause when a group of pro-gun people were asked a hard question by Katie Couric, a pause that in reality was neither long nor dumbfounded. And on and on.

How are we to fulfill our responsibilities as informed citizens  (I know, it’s a quaint concept) when the information we get is consistently wrong and/or incomplete? For starters, it helps to understand the nature of the problem — in this case the dumbness and dumberness of American journalism. First Rule: when something is happening either because of stupidity or a conspiracy, always assume stupidity. These people aren’t smart enough to maintain a conspiracy.

Consider, for example, “U.S. Leads Globe in Oil Production for Third Year.” Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the oil industry in recent years knows that can’t be true. So how can a slick website like Climate Central,  “researching and reporting the science and impacts of climate change,” join the knuckle-draggers who published and believed it?

Hard to say. The Energy Information Administration report to which these articles referred had a slightly different headline: “United States remains largest producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons,” which does not mean, it turns out, that the US is biggest in both petroleum and natural gas, but is biggest when you add petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons together. Moreover, “petroleum,” as used in the EIA reporting, is not the same thing as “crude oil,” although the reporting assumes it is: “Government estimates show that crude oil production has continued to grow across the country, from nearly 8 million barrels of oil per day in 2008 to about 15 million in 2015.”

In fact, government estimates show nothing of the kind. According to the EIA, the same agency being quoted in these pieces, crude oil production in the United States has been declining sharply and steadily for a year and a half — from a high of less than 10 million barrels per day. Saudi Arabia and Russia are both pumping slightly more than 10mgd, meaning that the US is in third place, right where it’s been for years. Moreover, says EIA, world crude oil production has been declining since last November.

The only way you get the happy numbers used in these puff pieces is to change the definition of oil, to include things like biofuels, and suspend your critical faculties. Not what we want our journalists to be doing.  

Now to the other journalistic atrocity, “Major New Study Reveals Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer.” No, actually, it did not. It revealed that if you bombard rats with the radio frequencies cellphones use for nine hours a day, the male rats in the group irradiated at an intensity 75 times the maximum allowed human exposure from cellphones had a slightly elevated chance of developing two types of cancerous tumors.

The study did not receive the peer review that is normal before publication,perhaps because the first few peers to look at it had serious problems with it. It had no explanation, for example, for the fact that the irradiated rats lived far longer than the control group, who received no RF radiation at all. Or for why none of the female irradiated rats developed tumors.  

Frankly, I smell a rat, and so should every journalist writing and reader reading about this travesty of science, or about the oil business. .


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18 Responses to Lies, Damned Lies, and News Reports

  1. Jeremy says:

    God bless the late, great George Carlin.
    He sums it up well.

    Thank you for your continued writing Tom.

    • colinc says:

      That Carlin clip _IS_ a “classic.” Thanks, Jeremy. However, do you ever wonder why “1/2 his audience” (or more), in THAT theater during THAT performance or subsequently “online,” don’t seem to grasp that George is actually referring to them, personally! Personally, I always get a “kick” out of that concept. Thanks, again, for the “refresher.” :)

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks Mr. Lewis, for your thoughts on what passes for journalism these days. It would appear that “the news” is there to keep the viewers eyes on the device in order to watch corporate ads that are not only interjected at about 10 minute intervals, but also interspersed in the stories themselves! The content is so washed out from what used to be NEWS (important events that may impact the viewer), that we currently call this pap “infotainment,” as it includes what’s on tv, who’s doing what on the social scene, and other nonsense. Even the timing of the presentation of these stories is baffling: Raging forest fire in Canada, followed by a new baby’s weight compared to the norm for babies in India (for example), and now the weather!

    They can’t even get THAT right any longer. As Colin, who comments here, recently pointed out in an e-mail conversation, if one checks the forecast for even the same day – it changes throughout the day! A morning forecast of 80% chance of rain this afternoon changes, in the afternoon, to 60% chance of rain overnight, then, by evening to 70% chance of rain tomorrow. By tomorrow nobody remembers any of it and listens to the morning forecast to decide whether or not to carry an umbrella.

    The news itself is not even relevant as far as most are concerned – it’s become background noise – and when it IS relevant, there’s almost never any “follow-up” the next day. All stories are for temporary interest, only to be forgotten and replaced in the Etch-a-Sketch of our minds, by the next iteration’s stories. So, for example, the Fort McMurray fire that’s been raging in Canada was followed for maybe a day or two, but has been lost down the memory hole of most people even though it’s still burning out of control after a month.

    You rarely see any stories on the (thieving) big banks, any corporation (like life-killer Monsanto), especially those who SPONSOR the news or programming with ad dollars to the various media, other than that of mergers and acquisitions or touting some new product line (of useless crap that is most likely harmful in some aspect that they fail to mention or gloss over like those Big Pharma ads for their poisons), or even the (hegemonic, NSA-controlled) government, besides ads for (useless) candidates.

    How we live in this culture is controlled and defined by these corporate-owned media that show the kids (and the rest of us) what they want them to do, buy, or be, in the service of self-promotion of capitalism and the further generation of revenue for those at the top.

    Brings to mind the John Prine song (Spanish Pipedream) that includes the refrain:

    Blow up your TV throw away your paper
    Go to the country, build you a home
    Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
    Try an find Jesus on your own

    Thanks again, Mr. Lewis. Your essays always point out what most don’t even recognize.

    • colinc says:

      Thanks, Tom. For those who may not have “grasped” Tom’s reference, I propose an “experiment” to one and all. If you’ve not endeavored in something akin to the following, you may be in for some “surprise.” I’ve been telling “people,” for nearly a decade, that “the weather is broken.” I know some of you may have already “sensed” that, but the following will “confirm” it.

      Using whatever “weather” forecast site your choose, but I recommend Wunderground for its “ease” of observation (their “Graph view”), check your local weather forecasts, or anywhere on the globe (1 or more locations) you’d prefer, 3-4 (or more) times per day, just for a week or so. However, PLEASE, when you do check (intervals are irrelevant), do so “attentively.” Note, a couple of months ago I suggested this “exercise” to a friend in the “desert southwest,” who’d only noted that the “weather” was pretty much “always the same.” However, after noting how often, sometimes “dramatically,” the forecast “changed,” he admitted to being “amazed.”

  3. John Stassek says:

    Mr. Lewis,

    I think Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom was a good depiction of television media today and highlights your post. It ran for three years on HBO. Here’s the opening of the first episode:

    William Catton, in “Overshoot”, wrote we suffer from “fundamental ignorance lubricated by superficial knowledge.” (Resulting in myopic wisdom). I wonder how we got here?

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I saw every episode, and admired it greatly. In my years in television news, many of them in Washington DC, I participated in pretty much every argument about the news business that Sorkin depicted. And lost pretty much every one of them…..

    • colinc says:

      The Catton quote is astute and, perhaps, prescient. However, I think the parenthetical would be best left at “Resulting in myopia.” I perceive little to no “wisdom” in anything that “man” hath wrought.

  4. SomeoneInAsia says:

    At least as far as the coming Long Emergency is concerned, I believe there’s a perfectly understandable reason for the continued misinformation coming from all the usual recognized media outlets. The reason is that almost no one would be able to handle the truth. The truth — that we’re all now headed for this giant shithole and there’s little chance of escape — is simply going to be too horrifying for everyone to accept.

    Imagine all the major media outlets seriously telling everyone the truth — that we’re running out of cheap fossil fuels, that no renewables or combination of them can ever replace fossil fuels, that consequently the trillions of dollars of debt weighing down on different countries around the world, above all the USA, can never be repaid, etc etc. What will happen? Panic will explode in the world’s cities, entire economies will crash, the whole world will turn upside down. Do you want to see that happen? Or cause it to happen by telling the truth?

    How, then, can you blame those media outlets for routinely lying to everyone that all is well, or will be well? What choice do they (the media outlets) have?

    Such is the sorry state of affairs to which our world has come. Sigh…

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I blame them for not doing their job, as I would blame a doctor for deciding to withhold the news of my fatal illness, so as not to upset me, as I would blame the captain of the Titanic for withholding the news of the ship’s condition, on the grounds that the passengers are going to drown anyway, why upset them. It is not the right of any person to withhold essential information from another, especially when the person with the information is paid to gather and disseminate it. And there’s more blame, I think; if the newspapers and the broadcast media had followed the story of our dawning awareness of the destabilizing of the planet in the 1970s, we might have been upset, and we might have actually done something about it. So I blame them to some degree for that.

      And one more quibble; we will not cause the crash to happen by telling the truth. Surely there will be panic, and a great turning upside down, caused by hundreds of years of corruption and mistreatment of the planet. But if we tell the truth, hard as the truth may be, something of us may survive. If we don’t, then probably not.

      • colinc says:

        Dear Mr. Lewis, an astute comment to an equally astute comment and article. Your adherence to “truth telling” is beyond admirable but, “truth be told,” you are also simultaneously “correct” AND “wrong” in presuming that “we will not cause the crash to happen by telling the truth.” I’m sure you’ve seen the ubiquitous yearly “chaos” that happens on “Black Friday” and other, similar “events.” I’m sure you saw what happened in the aftermath of the Rodney King debacle and other such “incidents.” Make no mistake, I am NOT “criticizing” you for, or “objecting to,” your “truth telling.” In fact, I admire it more than you will ever know. Alas, I also don’t see much point in it. It _IS_, for lack of a “better” word, a kind of “sustenance” for those of us reading your writings. However, “we” are a minuscule, even “insignificant,” fraction of “humanity.” SIA _IS_ correct in the deduction that such “knowledge,” if and when it’s “internalized” by the preponderance of the abject idiots comprising the bulk of “humanity,” the resultant chaos will do no one any good. Moreover, it won’t make one bit of difference in the overall trajectory of “life” on this rock.

    • colinc says:

      Most honorable SomeoneInAsia, I really think you are “on to something there.” The only “real quibble” I have is with your expression of a “Long Emergency.” (Did you “borrow” that from Kunstler?) While the “emergency” MIGHT have been viewed as “long,” given a perspective from 3 or 4 decades (or more) ago, it is now somewhat less than “long.” While A. Bartlett’s “remorse” regarding “our species” lack of understanding of the exponential function is/was astute, it’s actually more appalling and rueful how few understand the term “non-linear.” A “state”(/phase) change can, and often does, happen “in the blink of an eye.” That is to say, even parabolic, as well as hyperbolic curves are still, unequivocally, “linear.” THAT is a “lesson” that is unlikely to EVER be learned. Ç’est la vie.

  5. Raphael Awen says:

    I like your point SIA, what do we expect news media and politicians to do? – teach Sunday school? Okay, bad analogy, they probably do teach Sunday school. Railing at the abuse of the system and the media is often a smokescreen for our own disempowerment where our own choices and response is concerned. The ‘system’ needs to go through a death and rebirth in my view, and we also need to go through our own corresponding personal death and rebirth in relation to collapse.

  6. Tom says:

    Picking up on what our esteemed SomeoneInAsia stated – since whether the media tells the truth to everyone or not, the events of economic collapse, combined with those of the dying out of our habitat, both just preceding those of extinction of not only humanity, but all life on Earth (as it retreats into a former state that its spent most of its existence in) are going to occur and the media telling the truth (INFORMING everyone) only hastens the realization, which, in the coming few more years will become blisteringly obvious to everyone.

    Those who want to know, like the commenters here (where our host is a source of information/point-of-view for people to consider), seek out the answers, get multiple opinions, check the facts out for themselves and draw the only possible conclusion (if being honest) – the whole of civilization is a big lie. Our jobs are bullshit, our economy is RIPPING THE HEART OUT of the planets ability to keep us alive. Using fossil fuels is identical to dumping toxic pollution into the air supply. It’s killing trees (at the roots) and harming vegetation. We may as well be sucking on our own running vehicles’ tailpipes before long. And that’s just ONE pollutant. Think of all the others.

    Now add all the toxic waste we’re dumping into or creating by concentrating extraction from the ground in the production of all “our resources.”

    Finally, we adversely effected the vast ocean, at least 75% of Earth, too.

    That’s the biosphere, and it’s dying right in front of us because this is the way we live.

    We all have to come to grips with it and answer the question in our own heart – what am i going to do?

  7. John Stassek says:

    “what am I going to do?” reminded me of a poem I wrote several years ago about what happens when our hubris overcomes our wisdom. It’s a bit long and I don’t know if Mr. Lewis will allow it but here it it:

    Infallible, Unsinkable and Inconceivable: A Bell Curve in Three Parts


    of green
    and fertile
    earth, far from
    other land. Poly-
    nesians settled long
    ago, and came to under-
    stand. Three days of labor,
    tilling the soil, could feed them-
    selves all year. Easter Island was
    paradise; they found a good life there.

    Time was abundant, since food was easy to
    grow in the rich fertile soil. Idle minds couldn’t
    be controlled, thought the leaders, royal. Something
    was needed to occupy and otherwise engage, by sweat.
    Good stone was there, to please the gods; all their requirements met.

    Statues were carved, fierce images in stone, most weighting several tons. Trees by the thousands were cut for roads; down to the coast they run. Infallible gods watch the clans compete: Who will the winner be? Thousands more fell, for levers and rolls, to move those blocks down to the sea.

    The work went on, for years and years, ‘til finally there was only one tree. Soil depleted by overuse; no trees meant the rain could run free. Obsession continued, all was neglected, faster and faster they hauled. Food became scarce, their hunger burned as they watched that last tree fall.

    Oh, my god! What have we done? How come we never knew?
    I must be asleep. This must be a dream. There’s no way
    this can be true. We trusted our leaders, we
    thought they knew best. And no one
    disputed their view. My family,
    my kids! I can’t let them
    die! But what am
    I going to


    was the
    most luxurious
    ship that ever sailed,
    a testament to man’s imagination.
    Water-tight compartments, she could not
    sink; appointments that met high expectations.
    Fifty two thousand tons, built by the best of Belfast.
    Her skipper, Captain, E. J. Smith, had experience deep and vast.

    She sailed from Southampton, on April Tenth, Nineteen Twelve, AD. More passengers boarded, at Cherbourg and Queenstown; then Titanic steamed out to sea. On the eve of the fifteenth, she was making good time, on a moonless night, calm and cold. She’d arrive in New York, much sooner than thought, for White Star Lines worth more than gold.

    Just past eleven, lookouts were perched, high above the deck. Iceberg warnings had come and gone; but her speed hadn’t been held in check. Binoculars forgotten—just one of those things, as they tried hard to see in starlight. At eleven-forty, a dark mass right ahead; they’d failed in their duty that night.

    The watch-crew tried to turn the ship, but her rudder was built much too small. With twenty life boats stored on deck, too few by half for all. Ice opened her keel, the North Atlantic poured in; the captain woke up from his dreaming. Turned out the pumps could have held thru that night, if Ismay hadn’t said, “Resume Steaming!”

    Oh, my god! What have we done? How come we never knew?
    I must be asleep. This must be a dream. There’s no way
    this can be true. We trusted our leaders, we
    thought they knew best. And no one
    disputed their view. My family,
    my kids! I can’t let them
    die! But what am
    I going to


    of life,
    to those from not
    long ago. That it was all
    taken for granted, would have made
    it seem doubly so. Since the dawn of time,
    muscle and sweat was the currency of power.
    Then something magical came along and all the old ways scoured.

    Those in the late industrial age, those of at least modest means, could
    travel at thirty-thousand feet, and eat food from three thousand miles. Fresh water on tap at every temp from icy cold to hot; heating and cooling, and so much more, common in most domiciles. Travel was fast and comfortable, but still thought of as a chore. The Green Revolution increased food supply by several-fold or more. Advances up and down the line in every part of their lives, added to their life spans as their living standards soared.

    Few realized all this came from something buried deep below. Fossil fuels were ancient plants; Sun’s energy made them grow. Extracted and consumed by fire, this energy released; creating never-ending power, at least that’s how it seemed. Two trillion barrels of oil; seventy-six cubic miles; half was gone by two thousand five, and gone were all their dreams.

    Fossil fuels had enabled them to draw-down and deplete, resources they relied upon for all their daily needs. Using up these resources more quickly than they formed—every day their numbers rose, two hundred thousand more to feed. Financial systems crashed when fossil fuel supplies fell short. Global warming came on hard, reducing earth’s support. This gigantic house of cards was built because of closed
    eyes. The ending when it finally came caught most of them
    by surprise.

    Oh, my god! What have we done? How come we never knew?
    I must be asleep. This must be a dream. There’s no way
    this can be true. We trusted our leaders, we
    thought they knew best. And no one
    disputed their view. My family,
    my kids! I can’t let them
    die! But what am
    I going to

    • colinc says:

      Alrighty, then! I can no longer “contain” myself. That _IS_ an astute AND poignant poem, John, to say the least, and I, for one, appreciate that Mr. Lewis has let it stand. However, imagine my “surprise” that a search using the poem’s title resulted, foremost, in a link to a NBL article from 2011!?!?! Of course(?!), that was during my “hiatus” from that site (for various, assorted and sundry “reasons”) and I regret having “missed it” then. It’s unfortunate that formatting of text is, at best, “inconsistent” from one venue to the next. While the “horizontally oriented” bell-curves should be obvious to most, how many readers, including you, John, are “aware” that the “bell-curve” is a “fraud.” In other words, it does NOT exist, at least in any “real” terms or applicability. If anyone doubts the veracity of that statement, I highly suggest attentively reading “Fooled by Randomness,” “The Black Swan” and/or “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb. (On the other hand, I have little doubt that the knowledge of “math” required to understand Taleb’s writings WILL be beyond the capacity of most readers.) Regardless, good poem.

  8. Tom says:

    Great writing, John, from the title to the three examples. Thanks for sharing that!

  9. Mike Kay says:

    I am astounded that thinking people would find it so easy to accept a lying newsmedia.
    I personally find the media largely useless, no-BEYOND USELESS due to their penchant for fantasy. The newsmedia is responsible for foisting upon the public mendacious distortions that cause serious mental distress, while smoothing over situations that clearly call for serious investigation. I could cite so many examples of this reckless crazed behavior that it would fill volumes, even if I limited my focus to high profile events.
    Did it ever occur that a license for fraud, lies, and intentional distortions EVER result in a society worthy of the title FREE??????
    There is a very good reason for the 1st amendment, the very first one, to declare that a free press is indispensable.
    It also should have demanded an honest one.

  10. Michael says:

    To Tom and fellow commenters I say. “right on.” Objective reporting (I know I’m being a wild eye optimist using that term) seems to be dead–or at the very least taking a long nap. Add low information folks to people who actually want to be informed, but are being fed horribly skewed information and the result is a woefully under informed population. It creates an environment where sensationalism and propaganda are too easily spread. Like others, I find it alarming wonder what the future of information holds… Just my thoughts.