The Media Can’t Count


Its been official knowledge for some time that Michelle Obama hates America, but now she is taking matters into her own hands and is singlehandedly killing Americans… pedestrians that is.

The big news today flying around cantservative “news” sites and blogs is that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign – a campaign aimed at fighting childhood obesity through encouraging healthier eating habits and a more active lifestyle – has been linked to an uptick in pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2010.  How has this not been called by its proper name yet… an act of terrorism?

The original story appeared in the Washington Examiner this morning in their local section and comes from a recently published report by the Governors Highway Safety Association on PRELIMINARY safety statistics for 2010.  The GHSA representative originally quoted in the Examiner story linking the uptick with Let’s Move has already denied saying any such thing.

The fact that this is getting so much traction is mostly because of the absurdity of the claim and the fact that it makes for a great rabble-rousing headline.  This doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that a “respected” media outlet doesn’t know how to handle statistics and accurately represent them to the public.  As someone who spends most of his workday compiling large amounts of information into databases for the purpose of statistical analysis and mapping the idiocy of the statistical reporting boggled my mind.

The Examiner’s first offence is that data covering six months does not constitute a trend.  Four years of data, yes… two years of data, maybe… six months, absolutely not.  Additionally, this is a preliminary report which means the numbers are likely to change and they don’t even have a margin of error published yet.

Their second offence was cherry-picking the statistics they reported.  The story only talks about the increases in pedestrian deaths and misses a lot of the other information the GHSA report published.  Yes deaths were up significantly in the DC area, but on a national level the increase was only seven fatalities, or .4%, a statistically insignificant number when dealing with close to 2000 total fatalities in that six month period.  They also failed to mention that 28 states saw pedestrian fatalities decrease while only 18 states saw an increase.

Thirdly, the reporter at the examiner apparently can’t read either, given the fact that the GHSA report’s first sentence states, “The number of pedestrian traffic fatalities in the United States for the first six months of 2010 were essentially unchanged.”

And finally, they missed a bigger story embedded in the report.  Just four states make up 41% of all pedestrian deaths – California, Florida, New York, and Texas.  Those four states also happen to be the four states with the highest vehicle miles traveled per year, a total coincidence I’m sure.

These are the kinds of quality stories that are produced when the media, politicians, and the public play at gotcha journalism.  The Examiner doesn’t care that there is not one bit of useful information in the story, or that there are three or four pieces of misleading information, the only thing they obviously care about is driving traffic to their site and stealing five seconds from our precious attention starved web surfing brains.

Now… back to something useful found on the internet… slip nips over at Huffington Post.


  1. Craig Moore

    In addition to what Director Barbara Harsha may or may not have said there is this:

    Governors Highway Safety Administration spokesman Jonathan Adkins told 630 WMAL that Michelle Obama is “trying to get us to walk to work and exercise a little bit more. While that’s good, it also increases our exposure to risk.”

    After four straight years of steady declines, pedestrian deaths were up during the first six months of 2010, the latest figures available to be studied.

    Other factors include distracted drivers, distracted pedestrians and what Adkins calls “aggressive pedestrians.”

    “People who are not crossing where they are supposed to. They’re running in front of cars. We’ve even had examples of pedestrians getting out on the interstate,” said Adkins.

    Perhaps that is the better story here rather than the victim card for Michelle Obama or claiming misattribution to the director.

    –distracted drivers AND pedestrians–

    It’s not that people are walking, it’s that they are walking dangerously. See it every day just as GHSA spokesman Adkins describes..

  2. Pogue Mahone

    Heart attack or hit by truck! Take your pick! But what the story FAILED to mention is that insurance companies are mad at Michelle too! You see, with all the tubbies on the streets now days, it causes even MORE damage to vehicles when they HIT these porky pedestrains! True story. I’m suprised that Craig didn’t point this out. Fatter people mean more damage, which in turn means higher insurance rates for us all! I’m down with Craig More on this one. Fat people should just say no! Right, Craigie?

  3. petetalbot

    Interesting post, Carfree. Always fascinating to see how statistics can be manipulated to suit one’s needs. Not sure I’d call the Washington Examiner a ‘real’ newspaper, though. It’s basically the mouthpiece for conservative Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz, although I suppose some people in the metropolitan DC area consider it a real paper — just as they do the Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times.

  4. oferkrissakes…….

    has the far right found the bottom of the gullibility index yet?

    apparently not.

    • Craig Moore

      That’s right Pbear. It’s all a right wing conspiracy as noted by GHSA spokesman Adkins as I quoted in my first comment. See above.

      • what do you think about my theory craig? see below. sure seems like i am seeing a lot more pretty sad looking people out walking this winter. and they don’t look like they are out there for exercise either.

        i ignore most of the partisan inspired criticisms by both parties because it has become a cottage industry these days employing thousands of spin doctors to see what angle they can get on the other. this one just seems pretty laughable.

        • Craig Moore

          Not much. As GHSA spokesman Adkins said and I have observed:

          Other factors include distracted drivers, distracted pedestrians and what Adkins calls “aggressive pedestrians.”

          “People who are not crossing where they are supposed to. They’re running in front of cars. We’ve even had examples of pedestrians getting out on the interstate,” said Adkins…

          The link goes on to say:

          Pedestrians are also increasingly distracted by iPods and smart phones. It is not uncommon to see people crossing streets while fiddling with an electronic device and not watching where they are walking. Hospital emergency rooms have reported an upsurge of people injured in a fall because they were distracted by electronics.

          • you put a lot of stock in that link, craig.

            i will grant you that people are dumber than they once were when it comes to following safe guidelines. i see that in drivers more than pedestrians though, and i have had a perfect record for over 24 years of commercial driving. i drive this town all year long and i know i am seeing lots more people on foot than i saw a couple of years ago.

            so you don’t think greater numbers of pedestrians can contribute to this somewhat?

  5. my guess is the amount of people forced to walk and ride bikes because they can’t afford to drive cars anymore is one of the more likely causes of this.

  6. The Polish Wolf

    It is possible I suppose that more people walking = more pedestrian fatalities. But what is notable is that 4,000 crashes involve a pedestrian and a car, resulting in the pedestrian dying. But ten times that many die in car accidents. When you take into account how many more miles are driven than walked, I imagine driving is still safer FOR THE DRIVER, but if walking is dangerous its because there’s cars on the street. I imagine that before cars became widespread, walking was much safer (though I don’t have any statistics handy about horse-drawn cart related fatalities. They may have been significant). Thus, if the new pedestrians are people who would have otherwise been walking, an increase in foot traffic could make for safer transportation in general even if total pedestrian deaths increased.

    • huh?????????????

      i think cfs’s point – it is ludicrous to blame this statistic on michelle obama- is absolutely correct.

      i merely brought up one plausible causation for this statistic to make the point that no one knows for sure and obviously it is way too early to start drawing any conclusions.

      i have no idea what the hell you are talking about in the above pw.

      • The Polish Wolf

        My point is –

        Walking is more dangerous than driving, but the danger still originates with the car. So, if more people walk, the streets will be safer overall, especially if there’s a shift from driving to walking so that there are fewer cars.

        • ok. perhaps $5 gas during a recession will do it?

          mountain line noticed a large uptick in bus passengers the last time gas skyrocketed to $4 bucks during bush’s last days.

          we’re moving in that direction already. how much you wanna bet the oil cartels and fuel corps are planning on raising gas prices until nov 2012?

        • carfreestupidity

          Driving is more dangerous than walking. You can’t directly compare the two via fatalities/mile traveled, which would be the best option, but you can do a comparison based on population.

          There are 11.01 vehicle fatalities/100,000 people
          1.54 pedestrian fatalities/100,000 people.

          These come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration @

  7. carfreestupidity

    @Polish Wolf… you are correct that there is a factor a safety in numbers at work. There might be more fatalities on the whole in some cases, but on a per capita basis the numbers actually go down when you get more people out walking or biking… also known as Smeed’s law.

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