Greenberg’s Law of the Media

Greenberg’s Law of the Media states that “if a news item has a number in it, then it is probably misleading.”

The law is best understood by seeing examples of it in practice.

To this end, I am going to start posting examples that I find.  I have also created a category on this blog so that you can easily find the examples.

Follow this link to the first example from the Washington Post web site. The following paragraph from the article is the example:

From shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks to last year, U.S. defense spending rose from 3 to 4 percent of gross domestic product, but it remains far below the 45-year average of 5.5 percent. The Pentagon’s budget for fiscal 2009 is $527 billion, a figure that does not include Iraq and Afghanistan war costs, which have totaled more than $800 billion since 2001.

Are they saying that our defense spending is less than the 45-year average when you don’t count the amount that would put it above that average? I think that is what’s known as a tautology.

This kind of accounting has become standard practice in business.  “Company XYZ made a profit when you exclude certain items.”  Those items being the ones that show the company did not make a profit.

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