PURR Numbers


The July 4-6 issue of USA Weekend magazine reported on a poll that they conducted and titled "The Beliefs We Share". The article once again supported the concept we've discussed regarding "Purr" words. This feature expanded the notion of "Purr" beyond just individual words and into an examination of the order of facts that one might use to support a preconceived notion.

The story begins with some very reassuring findings such as the fact that 95% of those polled believe freedom must be tempered by personal responsibility, 89% believe it's their responsibility to help those less fortunate and 76% believe government should care for those who cannot care for themselves. These results were printed in large, bold and colored letters and stood out forcefully on the page.

Next to these facts and figures was printed a smaller side-bar entitled "Other Findings", an transparent attempt to make the included figures appear less important than their bolder, more colorful counterparts. Here, the print was smaller and all black. It was here that one could see the obvious slant that began simply in the order that the percentage of positive and negative answers were presented.

In slightly larger and bolder type, the conclusions begin with 56% of those polled believe the USA's greatest days are ahead, 52% believe, in general, that allowing immigrants to enter the country is the right thing to do and 49% think the nation is generally on the right track. Suddenly, instead of reporting what the majority of respondents felt, it began reporting the minority's opinions in bold type and the majority's answers in much smaller type at the end of each summary. They tell you that 35% feel, by and large, the justice system works and people get the justice they deserve but wait till the end to report that a huge 62% did not agree. Next was the statement that 19% believe, in general, all people are treated equally and fairly in America while a vast majority of 79% disagreed.

Think about those last two examples. Twice as many people responded that they did not believe that the justice system works. That's an important fact but exactly the opposite of what the author had been trying to persuade you to believe. The second example is even more glaring in its deception. Nearly four times as many people did not agree that there is equality in America as answered in acceptance of that obvious misconception.

Nevertheless, those who aren't as perceptive as my readers won't notice the juxtaposition of the facts and will be misled by the author's misrepresentation of the results. The authors of this poll unmistakably wanted their readers to leave with the wonderfully positive impressions about America that the writers desired rather than the more negative opinions that a faithful reading of the facts would leave on these two important issues. This is a very subversive style of manipulative reporting but not the exclusive liability of the author of this poll.

About a year ago a report was aired in just about every media market stating that marijuana use among high school students had doubled from 1990 to 1995. The announcement caused wide spread consternation that the Clinton administration was too soft on the so-called "War on Drugs" (a war lost years ago), even though the amount spent in the federal budget during his three years as President had nearly doubled. Buried deep within the stories (the seventeenth paragraph in the LA Time's story) was the astounding fact that the real numbers were 0.7% in 1990 and 1.3% in 1995. Consider that! From less than one in a hundred to far less than two in a hundred. This was the "doubling" that caused such nervousness and panic.

How often have you heard the talking heads on TV report that there was a 10% drop in consumer confidence or corporate investment or whatever? Taken as a lone statistic, 10% sounds impressive, doesn't it? But 10% of an unknown isn't information, it's just an orchestration of the viewers who aren't paying attention. Conversely, the fact that there is 6% unemployment sounds like such a small amount until you realize that this is equal to 15 million Americans without a job.

Numbers are very useful when used honestly but are truly a rich source of misinformation for those who wish to only further their own agenda at the cost of truth. It is, as all thinking people realize, up to each of us to consider the actual meaning of the facts presented to us by every source, particularly those whose agenda will become so obvious on closer inspection.

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Copyright 7/15/97