Diane Sawyer

On the evening news tonight, Diane Sawyer reported that home sales were up.  She credited the rebound to tax credits because some percent of the home purchases were made by first time home buyers.

She may be right about the impact of the tax credit.

Or wrong.

I can’t tell based on the information provided.

It would be more convincing had she provided the usual percent of home purchases made by first time home buyers as a comparison.  For example, if she said that 50% of purchases were made by first time home buyers when that figure is normally 10%, that would be more convincing, but still not necessarily correct.

But, she didn’t provide the comparison.

This is an example of an irritating phenomenon.  News organizations analyze and interpret rather than reporting the news.  In this case, Diane could have simply said, “Home sales are up.”   Next story.   That’s news reporting.

Telling us home sales are up because of the first time home buyers credit is analyzing, interpreting, editorial and narrative, which are all better left to other venues like talk shows or the opinion section of the newspaper.  In those venues, the viewer at least knows that the narrative has been added, can take it with a grain of salt and decide whether they agree or disagree.

When it’s reported as Diane reported on a news program, it seems much more like fact than opinion.  To the unsuspecting viewer, the way this is reported makes tax credits seem like a good thing — even if they’re not.

Another irritating phenomenon is that we rarely notice it.  We take it as fact and rarely entertain the idea that the news narratives might be wrong.  Though, I think subconsciously we do know.  That’s why newspapers and TV news are struggling.  They’ve lost credibility by lacing narratives with reporting.

In this case, Diane didn’t us enough information to draw our own conclusion.  That’s either sloppy narrative or because the facts don’t necessarily support the case.

Finally, even if Diane had provided a comparison that made a convincing case that tax credits were driving home sales, it would not necessarily be true that tax credits were the cause.    There might be other plausible explanations.  All I want to know from my news program is what: homes sales are up.

If they want to give me their opinion, fine.  Tell us that.  “Home sales are up.  In the opinion of the producers of this program, that’s because of the tax credits!”

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