Sep 10

Do I detect a little sensationalism?

Journalism isn’t the usual topic here. But I’m stunned enough by what I saw over the weekend that I wanted to share it.

This is the photo and caption that ran on the front page of MSNBC.com on Sunday morning:

Good lord. By now most of us are familiar with the story of Foxconn, Chinese builder of iPhones, which reported 11 suicides in the first five months of the year. Most of us are also aware of one important fact: the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually lower than China’s overall suicide rate.

Then there’s this other little tidbit: the suicide rate at Foxconn is even lower than the rate in each of our own fifty states.

So of course MSNBC led with the idea that Terry Gou would be making history — if only his people weren’t killing themselves.

That’s too bad, because the article itself paints an interesting and thorough view of Terry Gou’s accomplishments. It only starts with the suicide story. But throughout many pages of detail, not once does it mention that Foxconn’s suicide rate is statistically irrelevant. It’s an astounding omission, considering that this fact was widely circulated when the news broke many months ago.

By no means do I diminish the importance of the Foxconn suicides. Every death is a tragedy, and if working conditions contributed, that needs to be corrected. However, when the facts provide important perspective, it’s the journalists’ professional duty to report them. Using sensationalistic lead-ins to suck readers in is more Enquirer style than MSNBC. At least it used to be.

This misleading image/caption disappeared from the MSNBC home page later in the day, and now does not appear in the main story either. So clearly somebody came to their senses. But for allowing it to happen on a front-page story in the first place, MSNBC — with its partners at Bloomberg Businessweek — get a well-deserved whack on their typing fingers. Watch it, fellas.

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  • Liebman

    Parsing your post’s headline and story for sensationalism…so far so good.

    Seriously, thanks for pointing this out. I didn’t know that the suicide rate is lower than China as well as the U.S.