Real News from Real Sources

Want to know where to get facts?

Forbes ArticleThe other day, one of my Facebook friends shared a link to an article on Forbes that discussed the difficulty of finding reliable news sources in a world where so many sources are labeled “fake.” The article listed, with objective descriptions, what the author considered honest and reliable news sources. I’ll run down the list quickly here; I urge you to read the article to get additional information about each source:

  1. The New York Times
  2. The Wall Street Journal
  3. The Washington Post
  4. BBC
  5. The Economist
  6. The New Yorker
  7. Wire Services: The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News
  8. Foreign Affairs
  9. The Atlantic
  10. Politico

There are runners up and financial resources, too. Again, I urge you to read the article to get those lists. (Spoiler alert: CNN is on a list; Fox News, Brietbart, Huffington Post, and Mother Jones are not.)

As I added on Facebook when I shared a link to the article, the real trick is convincing the people who already turn to less reliable news outlets that these news outlets are better and more truthful. Another challenge is getting people to understand the difference between fact-based articles produced by journalists and opinion pieces produced by pundits.

If you’re interested in doing the right thing during these difficult times — and don’t don’t fool yourself: these are difficult times — start by informing yourself about an issue by turning to reliable news sources. (Note the plural there; try to learn from at least two good sources.) Be careful to get information from journalists and not pundits. (In other words, skip the OpEd and political commentary pages/columns.) Go beyond the headlines! Think about what you’ve learned. Discuss it with other people you know and trust who have done the same thing. Then form your own opinions and act accordingly. Acting means calling your congressperson or senators when an issue comes up to vote. These days, it also means showing up for peaceful protests and doing what you can to help convince those sitting on the fence to see things your way and also act.

It’s sad to me that so many people are falling for “alternative facts” fed to them by unreliable news sources, many of which are playing political games for ratings or other gains. What’s even worse is that the “fake news” label is being applied to what are truly reliable news sources.

Stop the ignorance. Get your information from reliable sources and make your own decisions.

Twitter vs. Facebook: Ferguson Edition

It’s exactly what others predicted and I expected.

Last night, I was relaxing with a glass of wine, watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on my big TV, when I happened to check Twitter to see what was new. The Grand Jury had just handed down its decision in the Michael Brown case: They were not going to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him. There would be no trial, no punishment for the man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager.

On Twitter

The first Ferguson-related tweet I saw last night.

The first inkling I had of this came in a retweet made by a friend that was timestamped 8:06 PM (Pacific).

I already knew deep down inside what the Jury’s verdict would be. I think we all did when we saw how Ferguson was preparing before releasing the news.

I scrolled backwards through my Twitter timeline and saw dozens of tweets, many of them with photos of the rioting going on in Ferguson: looting, burning cars — including police cars and businesses, tear gas smoke, national guard deployments. The situation in Ferguson had gone to hell quickly, fueled by anger and frustration. In other cities — Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Oakland — protesters were gathering. Journalists out in the crowds reported dealing with close calls, injuries, and thefts. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of the documents related to the case appeared in tweets with commentary. The President’s speech, which I also missed, was quoted a handful of times.

I only follow 193 Twitter accounts — many of which are product-related or not very active — and my timeline was packed with a never-ending stream of #Ferguson tweets, many of which were retweeted by NPR News. When I scrolled back to the most recent tweets, each time I refreshed another few tweets about Ferguson would appear. Intermingled with those were non-related tweets; more on that in a moment.

I turned off Lara Croft (who was enjoying a luxuriant bath after successfully destroying a robot in her own home) and tried to pick up “antenna TV.” No joy. (Note to self: get a decent antenna for the TV.)

On Facebook

I went to Facebook. It was like stepping into another world. Only one of my Facebook friends — a woman who lives in St. Louis — was posting updates related to Ferguson. The same updates appeared in her Twitter stream on my Timeline. On Facebook, however, she was the only voice talking about Ferguson among a stream of people sharing cat videos and blown out HDR photos and lists of Top 10 Spelling Peeves and links to link bait content.

Were these two social networks operating on the same planet?

Content Filtering

This tweet appeared in the NPR article; it summarizes exactly what I observed last night.

The difference between Twitter and Facebook feeds did not really surprise me. Only hours before, I’d shared a link (on Facebook, ironically) to an NPR article titled “Silicon Valley’s Power Over The Free Press: Why It Matters.” The article discussed how the media has lost control of distribution by allowing social networks to fill a void they left by initially ignoring social media as a distribution method. The danger to the public is that social networks have the power to control what you see in your social network. Nowhere is that more apparent than when comparing Twitter, which doesn’t (currently) filter timelines, and Facebook, which does.

From the article:

Algorithms and protocols that run social platforms affect discourse, and the engineers behind those protocols don’t have to think about journalism or democratic responsibility in how news is created and disseminated.

A prime example of this is the first nights of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. If you were on Twitter, you saw an endless stream of protest photos and links. If you were on Facebook, you saw nearly nothing. All because engineers decide what news you see.

We already know that Facebook has manipulated our timelines in an experiment about emotions. Clearly, they’re also manipulating our timelines to filter news about specific topics. Does anyone actually think this is a good idea?

Back to Twitter

This tweet promoting Wenatchee appeared in the middle of a long string of tweets about burning cars, vandalism, and an injured journalist. The first word I think of when I see this tweet in that context: uncaring.

One of the things I noticed — and I have to admit that it bothered me — was that among all the horrific news and photos coming out of Ferguson there were cheerful tweets — many of them “promoted” (i.e., ads) — pushing products or websites or Twitter accounts. They revealed social media marketing efforts for what they are: a completely detached, automated scheduling of advertisements aimed at whoever follows the Twitter account.

I wasn’t the only person to notice the problem with scheduled tweets.

I wasn’t the only person to notice this. One of my friends retweeted a comment by another observant Twitter user who advised social media workers to check scheduled tweets. Did any of them do so? Who knows.

A U.K. Twitter user doesn’t think too highly of what’s going on here.

I fell asleep a while later, but woke up around 1 AM (as I sometimes do) and decided to check in on the Ferguson situation on Twitter, which seemed to be my best source. I think it was 3 AM back there and things were settling down. Many of the protesters had gone home. The U.K. was awake — I follow several people who live over there — tweeting about U.K. things. The few tweets about what was going on over here were not complementary. The world apparently sees the U.S. as a hotbed of racism.

Jim Henson is probably rolling in his grave.

And maybe it is. This morning, I was horrified to find an update, 10 hours old, with the image here at the top of my Facebook newsfeed. There were 11 likes. Needless to say, I don’t follow the updates of the person who posted it anymore — and am actually ashamed that he’s one of my real-life friends.

Comments on the Seattle Helicopter Crash

Just a few words about how heartless and stupid people can be.

KOMO Helicopter
One of KOMO’s helicopters departs the Seattle hellpad on a spring day two years ago.

I was sitting at my desk, writing a blog post about Sunday’s day trip, when a brief news blurb on NPR mentioned a helicopter had crashed at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle. My friend Greg flies KOMO’s helicopter from a rooftop helipad there. My blood ran cold as I got on Facebook to message him and his wife, hoping he wasn’t the pilot involved.

Pam came back quickly. It wasn’t Greg. I felt relief. But did it really matter? Was the accident any less tragic because my friend hadn’t been hurt? Of course not. Someone else’s loved ones had been killed. It was a tragedy no matter who was involved.

Of course, someone posted the breaking news story link from KOMO’s website to the Helicopter Pilot’s forum on Facebook. And people were commenting. Stupid, thoughtless people.

The accident had happened only minutes before — hell, the fire was probably still burning — and guys who are supposedly helicopter pilots were already speculating about the cause and spreading misinformation.

“Settling with power,” one genius proclaimed.

“According to witnesses, he was attempting to land on a roof and rolled off,” another amateur reporter added.

It was pretty obvious to me that neither of these “experts” had read the 150 words in the original version of the story they were commenting on — heck, why bother read before commenting? — which clearly said the helicopter was taking off when the accident occurred. Settling with power isn’t something that is likely on takeoff from a rooftop helipad. And it was an established helipad, not merely “a roof.”

Later, the first genius added another piece of fictitious insight: “Yea originally they said he was landing. Just heard there was a crane put up, and be hit a wire.”

“Just heard”? From where? None of the news stories — even hours later when the stories are more fully developed — say anything about a crane.

Other comments and speculations that were clearly not tactful or fully informed followed. I think some of them may have been deleted, but the responses to them remain. Most of us are agreed that this is no time for speculations — especially when there’s a shortage of facts to support them.

The situation was worse, of course, on KOMO’s website where the article appeared. Some cold-hearted conservatives rejoiced over the death of two liberals — as if they knew the political leanings of the pilot and his passenger and as if that actually mattered. One moron even commented that it was too bad Obama wasn’t on board.

Seriously? Do people actually think like that?

I spent ten minutes flagging obnoxious and offensive comments before finally giving up and getting on with my day.

But come on people, let’s look at the reality of the situation: There was an accident in Seattle that took the lives of two men. Men with lives and families. Men likely doing the work they loved. Men who lived and breathed and loved and dreamed, just like all of us.

Surely they deserve better than some of the uninformed speculation and heartless comments the reports of their death are attracting.

Rest in peace, guys.

Enough Already with the Boston Marathon Bombers!

Seriously — most of us only care about a few important details.

I need to start out by agreeing that the Boston Marathon bombing last week was a despicable deed rooted in hate and terror. The loss of life and limb — and I mean that quite literally — is a horrible, horrible consequence. I can’t sufficiently express my outrage — outrage that all Americans feel.

That said, does the media have to keep ramming irrelevant details about the bombing, bombers, and capture down our throats?

You all know what I’m talking about: endless speculation all week long about who the bombers were and what their motives were and what color their skin was and what their religion was. Then the FBI releases the pictures and the whole thing starts all over again.

Along the way, an absolutely insensitive and moronic state senator from Arkansas makes a crack on Twitter:

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine? #2A
— Nate Bell (@NateBell4AR) April 19, 2013

That triggers a wave of responses and he subsequently deletes the tweet and offers a lame apology.

And then Friday: hours of live and looped video all day, reporting the death of one bombing suspect and the manhunt for the other. This went on all day long.

Even NPR was caught up in it. After a while, I just had to turn off the radio. I got sick of hearing that the FBI would be making a statement in “just a few minutes” and then having to listen to them try to fill the dead air with inane commentary that just restated the same few facts over and over in different ways.

And since then, coverage has shifted to the backgrounds of the two bombers. Media outlets have dragged out every single person the two men knew. Hell, I even read or saw or heard an interview with a man who lived in the same building but never even met them! All of these people are asked to tell the audience what they know about the men and it’s the same crap over and over and over.

Pardon me, but who the fuck really cares?

Now that the men have been taken off the street, I only care about a few things:

  • Did they act alone?
  • Are more attacks by associates possible?

I don’t care about the Miranda rights issue, either. The guy purposely set off two bombs that killed or maimed fellow Americans. He might have information that would prevent future attacks and save lives. As far as I’m concerned, he gave up his rights when he committed an act of terror against Americans. While I respect the ACLU, I wish they’d just realize that this goes beyond an American citizen’s rights. An act of terrorism is a game-changer.

Why can’t the media just stick to the facts in this case and stop filling the airwaves with bullshit?

Is it because they’re incapable of real journalism? Because they’ve blurred the lines between news coverage and entertainment so badly that they don’t know what’s important anymore? Is it because they think we’re stupid and all we care about is the sensationalist bullshit they keep feeding us?

Why don’t more of us speak up and say something about this?

Murdoch Drags the Wall Street Journal Down to His Level

Such a sad, sad sight to see.

Defending News Corp against criticism of its illegal phone hacking and police bribing activities, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece that included this classic line:

Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

I am deeply offended by this piece on several levels.

  • Murdoch has built a fortune with yellow journalism. By buying up and controlling so many media outlets, he has brought journalism standards down worldwide. Not convinced? Roger Ebert explains the impact Murdoch had on the Chicago Sun-Times during his ownership.
  • Murdoch has insulted the intelligence of half the American public and conned the other half with his so-called “fair and balanced” news network, Fox News. The network not only promotes tasteless and sensationalist news stories, but it clearly promotes Murdoch’s conservative viewpoint, often with misstatements, half truths, and quotes taken out of context.
  • In the opinion piece from which the above quote was taken, Murdoch seems to suggest that his company’s news gathering techniques are protected under the First Amendment. In other words free speech allows journalists to collect news by whatever means are available to them. The legality of their actions simply doesn’t matter. Of course, Murdoch is also free to define “news” any way he sees fit.

In my opinion, there is no single news organization that has done more harm to America than Fox News. It oozes hate and mistrust, it pits Americans against each other and their elected political leaders. It makes news out of scandal — except this one, of course — and ignores or misrepresents the real issues that Americans need to know about.

Murdoch is responsible for this.

Fortunately, those Americans who haven’t been sucked into the half-truths spewed by FOX News have other sources of information: NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal. Well, scratch that last one.

The above-referenced opinion piece is the first example — at least the first I’ve seen — of where the Wall Street Journal is being used as a Murdoch disinformation tool. Not only has the Journal’s business reporting suffered, but it’s now becoming Fox-ified.

In the Journal piece, the unnamed author says this about its competing media outlets:

The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.

Why shouldn’t it be? News Corp has done more damage to the news industry than any other organization. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m enjoying the schadenfreude, too.

Want another point of view on this Journal opinion piece? Read what Felix Salmon says on Reuters.

On Bird Strikes

Not nearly as rare — or as dangerous — as you think.

Yesterday’s dramatic landing of an Airbus plane in the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey has put the topic of bird strikes on everyone’s mind. As usual, the media is spinning stories about it, apparently to generate the fear that sells newspapers, gets listeners, and keeps viewers glued to the television set.

Pilots — the people who know aviation a lot better than the average news reporter — also know a bit about bird strikes.

Bird Strikes are Not That Rare

The truth of the matter is that bird strikes aren’t nearly as rare as many people think. I can think of five bird strike incidents that touched my life:

  • Years ago, on a Southwest Airlines flight taking off from Burbank, our plane flew through a flock of white birds. It was nighttime and I don’t know what the birds were — seagulls? — but I clearly saw them in the glow of the plane’s lights, flying past the wings as we climbed out. When we landed in Phoenix and I left the plane, I glanced through the open cockpit door and saw the blood on the outside of the windscreen. Bird strike.
  • On my first day of work as a pilot at the Grand Canyon, one of the other pilots had a bird strike during a tour. The bird had passed through the lower cockpit bubble and landed in a bloody heap on the pilot’s lap. He flew back with the bird there and a very distraught front seat passenger beside him. The cockpit bubble needed replacement, of course.
  • While waiting at the Grand Canyon for my charter passengers to complete an air tour with one of the helicopter operators there, the helicopter my passengers was on suffered a bird strike. The pilot calmly reported it as she flew in. When she landed, there was bird guts and blood at the top center of the helicopter’s bubble. She’d been lucky. The helicopter, an EC130, has a central intake for the turbine engine and the bird hadn’t been sucked in.
  • On my very first rides gig with my R44 helicopter, I was taking a group of three passengers for an 8-minute tour around a mountain near Aguila, AZ when I heard a loud clang. Instruments okay, controls felt fine, passengers weren’t reacting. I didn’t know what it was until I landed. That’s when one of my ground crew pointed out the dent in my landing gear’s fairing. My first (and hopefully, only) bird strike had been a non-event for me, but likely a lot more serious for the bird. (Of course, I wasn’t very happy to get a dent on an aircraft only 11 hours old.
  • When a friend of mine took me up in her Decathalon airplane for a little aerobatic demonstration, we hit a bird on takeoff. It went right into the engine at the base of the prop and we instantly smelled cooking bird. My friend climbed enough to circle back and land safefly at the airport. She shut down the engine and climbed out. I watched from the passenger seat as she pulled the remains of a relatively small bird out of the cooling fin area of the engine. After discarding the bird bits, she climbed back in, started up, and we took off again.

That’s five examples of bird strikes I had firsthand knowledge of. In three of those instances, I was on board an aircraft that struck one or more birds. So when people seem amazed that an airliner hit a bird or two, I’m not amazed at all.

According to Wikipedia’s Bird Strike entry:

The first reported bird strike was by Orville Wright in 1905, and according to their diaries Orville “…flew 4,751 meters in 4 minutes 45 seconds, four complete circles. Twice passed over fence into Beard’s cornfield. Chased flock of birds for two rounds and killed one which fell on top of the upper surface and after a time fell off when swinging a sharp curve.”

I’d venture to guess that it happens to at least one airliner every single day.

Bird Strikes Rarely Cause Crashes

The media would like you to think that bird strikes cause crashes. They can, of course — yesterday’s Airbus ditching proved that. They can even cause fiery crashes with deaths. The media wants you to be afraid — very afraid.

But as my above-listed examples also prove, bird strikes can be non-events, often without causing any damage at all to the aircraft.

So what’s an air traveler to do? Worry that his next flight might end with a swim in an icy river or a fireball death? Or stop worrying about it?

What do you think?

On a more personal note: I’m glad the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 didn’t attempt a landing at Teterboro. My sister lives in an apartment building on the approach end of one of the runways there. A crash there wouldn’t have had a happy ending.

Another Example of the Media Screwing Up the Facts

A brief rant.

One of my Twiiter friends, @Vatsek, tweeted the following to me last night:

Have you seen this? Helicopter crashes at Texas A&M, killing one — CNN News web page

First of all, I do want to make it clear to folks that I don’t normally go out of my way to track down news stories about helicopter crashes — unless they’re local or there’s a chance I might know the pilot. But since @Vatsek tweeted it to me, I figured I’d better check it out to see why he’d flagged it. I found the article on, “Helicopter crashes at Texas A&M, killing one.”

It was a brief piece with an overhead view of what looked like a helicopter that someone with a very large foot had stepped on. Included in the text were these sentences:

…The copter, which was heavily damaged, was attempting to take off when it crashed. A rudder apparently failed, the university statement said….

“All of the sudden, he dropped straight back down into the ground,” [a witness said]…

I have two problems with these statements:

  • A standard helicopter does not have a “rudder.” It has a tail rotor, which is controlled with anti-torque pedals. Those pedals resemble rudder pedals on an airplane, but they are not rudder pedals because a helicopter does not have a rudder.
  • If a helicopter’s tail rotor (anti-torque system) failed, the helicopter would not come “straight down.” It would be spinning like crazy. That’s because the tail rotor prevents it from spinning like crazy. If it failed, it would spin. And it’s pretty clear from the photo in the article that the helicopter was not spinning like crazy when it hit the ground.

This is yet another example of the media speculating, with absolutely no knowledge, about the cause of an accident, spreading misinformation among the public. What’s even worse about this is that if they asked any helicopter pilot — even a new student pilot — to fact check their story, they could have gotten it corrected with, at the very least, the proper terminology for the tail rotor/anti-torque system.