Fake news from the government?
This week’s Fake News Trophy goes not to any newspaper, internet site or broadcast outlet, but to the U.S. Census Bureau.
On Thursday, the Census agency released its 2016 population estimates. The next day, a story and chart were published showing the Northern Panhandle-East Ohio region had lost residents between 2015 and 2016. The loss — according to the Census Bureau — was 2,776 people in Brooke, Hancock, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler, Belmont, Jefferson, Monroe and Harrison counties.
Or was it a loss of 2,980 people?
Numbers in the Census Bureau press release, also posted on the agency’s website, were not the same ones listed under the “Quick Facts” area of the site. Figures for the 2016 population estimate were the same. Those for 2015 differed.
Perhaps the most striking discrepancy was for Tyler County. The bureau’s press release showed it gained 19 residents between 2015 and 2016. But in the area of the website most people would check, Tyler is shown has having lost three residents.
For the record, the website shows our 10 counties had 316,382 residents last year and 319,362 in 2015, for a net loss of 2,980 during the previous year. The press release shows the same 316,382 for 2016, but it has 319,158 in 2015, for a net loss of 2,776.
Which one is correct? Hopefully, the Census Bureau has the right number and will reconcile its totals.
On occasion, in conversations about truth in journalism, I’ve told people this: Like every other news outlet, we don’t necessarily print the truth. We print what other people tell us is the truth.
For example, when we publish a story about a vote in Congress, giving a total of “yeas” and “nays,” the numbers came from Congress itself. We couldn’t be there ourselves to count heads.
In the great scheme of things, the Census Bureau’s foul-up isn’t that big a deal — and it certainly wasn’t because someone in government meant to lie to us and the public. Someone just made a mistake. It happens.
One way we have to avoid giving you “fake news” is that when a pattern of mistakes — or deception — becomes clear to us, we stop trusting that person or organization. And when we can check to ensure what we’ve been told indeed is the truth, we do so.
Mistakes happen, but it’s rare that we find we’ve been lied to and given “fake news” It’s rarer still when we actually print something that isn’t true — and we certainly don’t do that
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org