Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Exit, Stage Left

In my experience, when people speak of media bias, they are referring to the idea that media outlets select the stories that they are going to present with an eye towards advocacy, rather than simply informing. News outlets tend to push back on this in their public statements, but sometimes it seems that this is because they don't pay much attention to their own coverage of the world.

The story, as presented by National Public Radio's "Code Switch" team, has a fairly straightforward headline: "How Offering Driver Licenses To The Undocumented Makes Roads Safer." And it has a fairly straightforward subject: some new research out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business that says "New research shows a positive safety impact of a California law that gave 800,000 people a license to drive."

Fair enough. But when you read it, the main effect that the researchers noted is a reduction in hit and run accidents. Now, maybe it's just me, but the issue that I have with hit and run accidents, when it comes to traffic safety, specifically, isn't the "and run" part of the formulation, it's the "hit" side of things. After all, unless someone does more damage or injury to the person(s) and/or vehicle(s) struck while fleeing the scene, the simple fact that they don't stick around doesn't make matters worse. You could say that in situations where the at-fault driver is the only party able to call for emergency assistance to a critically-injured person, that their leaving is a problem in and of itself, and I'll concede that point. Still, absent a change in the total number of accidents (and in the number of fatal accidents), the primary effect of California offering driver's licenses to the undocumented is a greater number of people being willing to take responsibility for having caused an accident. Which is a worthwhile outcome, but it seems odd to use that a measurement of safety.

If there is no change in the total number of traffic accidents, and no change in the number of fatal accidents, it seems to me than unless, there is a noticeable shift in the overall number of injury accidents, that driving in California is just as safe (or, I suppose, as dangerous) as it was prior to the passage of AB60.

And in this sense, both the press release from Stanford Business and the NPR article seemed more like advocacy than information. And given that, I can understand how people look at coverage of particular topics; in this case, illegal immigration into the United States; and understand that "the news media" is seeking manipulate people into a predetermined mindset. To be sure, I don't suspect that this is what is going on here. Instead, someone came upon an interesting bit of research, and quickly whipped out a story about it that, rather than skeptically examining it, simply repeated the researcher's claims. But taken with the generally sympathetic coverage of the undocumented that NPR presents, one can see how people feel that there is "an agenda" at work.

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