When Headlines Mislead

I was visiting my mother-in-law in Ludington, Michigan during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I read a letter to the editor in the December 28, 2007 issue of her local paper, “Ludington Daily News.” The letter was written by Phil DeVries, a soldier from our brave troops currently deployed in Afghanistan.

I have long wondered about the media coverage of the war--wondered why we only hear negative stories about what is going on there. It’s disappointing that our media cannot control their biases when providing us the “news” of the situation. This soldier’s letter to the editor really says it all:

When Headlines Don’t Speak the Truth

Greetings from Afghanistan. I hope this e-note finds everyone in good health and better spirits. I wish I could be a little closer to family this time of year, but geography and duty do not permit at this time.

Thank you for your kind support. We are doing well there and doing our best to make you all proud of us by spreading peace and stability in Afghanistan. While I cannot go into details, we’ve been very rough on the Taliban and we are making sure that 2008 will be an even worse year for them.

I have to admit that the biggest disappointments of this deployment have come from the U.S. media. It isn’t that I think they don’t understand what’s happening over here, I believe they are intentionally portraying everything they can in the worst possible light. Headlines are the most attention getting part of the news (and therefore the worst offenders of the truth). Here are two examples:

Example 1 headline—‘NATO: Bomber kills 1 Italian Soldier and 13 Others’. Sounds like a NATO aircraft dropped bombs that killed 14 friendly troops. Another friendly fire story right? Actual story—a Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself, killing one Italian soldier who was helping to rebuild a bridge, three Afghan adults and nine Afghan children. All of the civilians were innocent bystanders. Thus, the total of ‘others’ killed included the bomber himself. Please notice the headline didn’t mention anything about the Taliban killing innocent bystanders or children.

Example 2 headline—‘General Ban on Women’s Freedom in Afghanistan’. Sounds like the democracy our troops are supporting (President Karzai’s Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) cracked down on women freedoms across the country (i.e. General Ban on Women’s Freedom) right? Actual story? U.N. Secretary General Kim Ban Moon gave a speech praising Afghanistan for its progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan. Thus, some editor had to be pretty creative (and misleading) to shorten U.N. Secretary General Kim Ban Moon down to ‘General Ban.’ Then, by deleting anything mentioning that he gave a speech, the subject could then be connected with ‘on women’s freedom in Afghanistan’ to be factually correct and entirely misleading at the same time. You could get the truth only if you read the entire story. If you just read the headline, you got completely the wrong story.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had to explain just how badly off the media is and that while there are threats to our safety over here, the media severely hyperinflates the danger in order to sell itself better.

Isn’t that sad? I find this incredibly disheartening--that our media plays these kinds of games, using their power to negatively influence public perception, instead of simply relaying the truth. What do you think about this soldier’s perspective on the media’s negative/sensationalistic bias when covering the situation in Afghanistan?

New Math

You know something? I actually like math. I’m one of those weirdos who actually likes solving math problems. They’re just so black and white. No hidden meanings, no areas of gray; everything you need to find the answer is right there in front of you.

Always confident in my abilities to help my kids solve any math problems that came their way, I blazed merrily along, until my joy was brought to an abrupt halt. And the cause? New Math!

I’ll tell you, it took a lot for me to dread helping my child with math homework. But it finally happened. They initiated this New Math when my daughter was in fifth grade and my son was in kindergarten. Never mind that the Old Math was working perfectly fine.

The mere question, “Can you help me with this problem, mom?” now brought with it, feelings of anxiety and trepidation. What new torturous method had they devised now to teach simple addition and subtraction?

After several months of this, I was talking with my mother when she’d stopped by for a visit. A retired elementary school teacher, she listened patiently, sipping the cup of tea I’d poured, while I whined and complained about how ridiculous this New Math was. I began to describe a particularly confusing method my daughter was currently learning to solve three-digit long division problems.

“I don’t know, mom, they make some big crossword-puzzle-looking thing, and then get a messed-up maze of numbers; then somehow from that they get the answer. It’s called the lettuce method or something. I can’t figure it out—it’s totally weird!” I said.

“Oh! You mean the lattice method! We used to teach that to our students years ago. You know, that’s the way George Washington learned to multiply.” she added with a significant nod.

Suddenly I had a brainstorm. Just like fashion, math goes in and out of style. It’s the same stuff being constantly regurgitated every few decades with a new name. Like pedal pushers and capris, like bell bottoms and flares, like Old Math and New Math.

So here’s what I propose: instead of we parents struggling to help our children sort through all this ridiculous New Math, why don’t we just have the grandparents do it. It’s the same stuff they learned anyway—so it’s not “new” to them.

Then when our children grow up, and have children of their own, we can help our grandchildren with their math. Our children will be moaning and groaning over the “new” ridiculously confusing ways of doing basic long division problems. Or maybe they won’t understand why their children are learning to simply add columns of numbers straight up and down; then we grandparents will stroll in and save the day. Explaining the New (OLD!) Math techniques with ease.

Less stress for everyone. Yup, that’s the ticket—let’s have the grandparents do it.