February 15, 2008

AP Maximizes Negativity in Covering Realtors’ Housing Report

Granted, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a trade organization which will, as trade organizations do, try to put the best face on a bad situation. And granted, part of the press’s job is to filter through hype and false sunniness to report the truth of what’s really going on.

But that is most emphatically not what the Associated Press did with yesterday’s NAR report on the state of the national housing market. Instead, AP failed to report overall statistics in favor of reporting individual metro areas; ignored most of the legitimately good news; ignored an important piece of historical context; and, most importantly, and as has been the case for well over a year in the national business press, emphasized reductions in unit sales while de-emphasizing much smaller reductions in sale prices.

Here are five of the key paragraphs AP’s unbylined report (“New data reveal breadth of housing slump”):

Sales of existing homes fell in 45 states during the October-December quarter, with metropolitan areas showing growing weakness, a real estate trade group said Thursday.

The fourth-quarter data from the National Association of Realtors underscore the breadth of the housing market’s slump.

South Dakota was the lone state to show a sales increase. Existing home sales there rose 8.9 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Sales were unchanged in North Dakota. No sales figures were available for Idaho, Indiana and New Hampshire. Sales also fell in Washington, D.C.

Median home prices fell in more than half of the 150 metropolitan areas surveyed. Out of the 77 that experienced declines, 16 showed double-digit percentage drops, the trade group said. The largest price declines were found in Lansing, Mich., Sacramento, Calif., Jackson, Miss. and Riverside, Calif., which posted price declines of 17 to 19 percent.

….. The states suffering the biggest drop in sales in the fourth quarter were Nevada, down 44 percent and Wyoming, down 42 percent. Other states with big declines were New Mexico, down 39 percent, Oregon, down 38 percent and Arizona, down 37.6 percent.

It seems that if it wasn’t a double-digit negative number, AP tried mightily not to report it.

Here is some of what AP chose to ignore, straight from the NAR release:

  • Regional median sales price drops vs. a year ago — Midwest, -3.2%; Northeast, -4.8%; South, -5.4%; West, -8.7%; US overall, -5.8%. These numbers are by no means pretty, but they’re not nearly as bad as the “scary” unit sales declines.
  • The overemphasis on unit sales declines at the expense of information on prices is a significant oversight. It’s as if someone tried to tell you that the stock market had a bad day if the indices stayed unchanged but volume dropped by half. Your response would be, “So?” The fact of the matter is that a lot of people are holding onto their homes or, if they are trying to sell but are in no hurry, sticking to their guns on selling price and riding the storm out. Though I don’t want to overlook the difficulties of not being able to move when you’d like to (which I don’t deny can be a significant hardship in some cases), how is all of this cause for comprehensive alarm?
  • Eleven of the 150 metro areas tracked had double-digit home-price gains (yeah, you read that right), including Metro San Jose, CA (+11.2%). 12 more metro areas had price gains of 6% or more. Other unreported increases in reasonably large metro areas include Buffalo-Niagara Falls (+9.1%), Des Moines (+5.6%), NYC-White Plains (+3.6%), Oklahoma City (+8.2%), San Antonio (+7.9%), and (imagine that) San Francisco-Oakland (+5.5%).
  • AP totally ignored an important larger-context point made by the NAR, namely that “the typical seller who purchased their home six years ago still saw a very healthy gain. The median increase in value for sellers who purchased that home in the fourth quarter of 2001 is 31.2 percent, and the median home equity accumulation is $49,000.” Six years happens to be how long a typical homeowner stays in their home before selling.

At some point, you have to consider the possibility that the reporting on the housing situation is as it is because the business press is determined to convey the impression that the mortgage lending and housing “crises” are nationwide phenomena that require comprehensive, national solutions, when the data show that this clearly isn’t the case.

I’m at that point.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Story About Supplier of Mentally Ill Bombers in Iraq Largely Ignored (See Update)

This one has an interesting twist relating to Google News that I will get to later. (See Update below for correction and clarification.)

It should be no surprise that the so-called “newspapers of record” did very little with the news earlier this week that the actiing director of an Iraqi psychiatric hospital had been arrested for allegedly supplying mentally ill patients for use as, for lack of a better description, unwillingly co-opted “suicide bombers.”

Here’s the essence of the story, in case you missed it, from the Times of London:

Iraq Hospital Chief Allegedly Supplied Patients for Bombings

The acting director of a Baghdad psychiatric hospital has been arrested on suspicion of supplying Al Qaeda in Iraq with the mentally impaired women it used to blow up two crowded animal markets in the city on Feb. 1, killing about 100 people.

Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers arrested the man at al-Rashad hospital in east Baghdad on Sunday. They then spent three hours searching his office and removing records. Sources told The Times that the two female bombers had been treated at the hospital in the past.

“They [the security forces] arrested the acting director, accusing him of working with Al Qaeda and recruiting mentally ill women and using them in suicide bombing operations,” a hospital official said.

Ibrahim Muhammad Agel, director of the hospital, was killed in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Dec. 11 by gunmen on motorbikes. Colleagues suspect he was shot for refusing to cooperate with Al Qaeda.

Even before Sunday’s arrest, U.S. officials believed that Al Qaeda was scouring Iraq’s hospitals for mentally impaired patients whom it could dupe into acting as homicide bombers. They said that Al Qaeda had used the mentally impaired as unwitting bombers before.

Fox News’s web site carried a British paper’s story about the arrest for a good reason: US newspapers barely noticed it.

A New York Times search on Iraq hospital (not in quotes) turned up nothing relating to the above story.

At the Washington Post, the same search shows a link that goes to an Associated Press story (“Iraqi Hospital Chief Linked to al-Qaida”) by Kim Gamel, that you will eventually see was carried by very few of AP’s subscribing newspapers.

The Los Angeles Times is the only paper of “The Big Three” newspapers of record that provided its own story (“Hospital chief questioned in Baghdad blasts”).

Note how much less informative the AP and LAT headlines are compared to the one used by the Times of London (though the LAT’s subheadline, “He may have aided insurgents in finding mentally disabled bombers, U.S. says,” is appropriately descriptive).

Here’s where it gets interesting.

A Google News search on “Iraq mentally ill hospital arrest” (not in quotes) done at 9:45 ET this morning returned the following results (picture shows all relevant results; red boxes are mine):

GoogNewsIraqHspOvw021508

Wow. It looks like there are 231 articles about this.

Uh no, there aren’t. Clicking on the “all 231 new articles” link yielded this result (picture only shows first two results):

GoogNewsIraqHospDtl021508

So there are really only 19 or 20 “articles” (the original search returned “about 25″ not-described items). Anyone not clicking on the “all 231 news articles” link would have the incorrect impression that this story received much more coverage than really occurred.

Is that a Google News bug, or a feature?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: Justin at Right on the Right has corrected me on my Google News contention. I am extremely grateful for receiving this information.

It seems that if you click on “all articles” links at Google News, you get taken to pages that eliminate “duplicates,” which would represent the same article published at different outlets. Then, if you click on “Sort by Date with Duplicates Included,” you will get the expected number of results, or something very close to it.

So I stand corrected on the nature of and possible incorrectness of Google’s estimate of the number of articles available. I am sorry that I didn’t understand what Justin pointed out to me sooner, and regret the error.

Having said that, I would suggest that a saturation story, which the subject of this post should have been, would normally get many more than 230-240 mentions. For example, the first Google News listing on the murders at Northern Illinois University currently has a link to “All 4,303 articles.” I believe that the story of a hospital director in Iraq allowing Al Qaeda to use mentally ill people to kill about 15 times more people than died at NIU should be getting a lot more than 5.6% (240 divided by 4,303) of the coverage the NIU story has received, and contend that my characterization of the story as “largely ignored” remains “largely accurate.”

Couldn’t Help But Notice (021508)

Filed under: Business Moves,Privacy/ID Theft,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:50 am

From the end of this Campaign Spot post, — It looks like Hillary is virtually conceding Wisconsin:

Among Democrats, (Strategic Vision’s poll says) it’s Obama 45 percent, Hillary 41 percent, and 14 percent undecided. Yet Hillary’s not going to the state until Saturday!

Real Clear Politics shows that Rasmussen has the same 4-point margin. I predict that the candidate known around here as BOOHOO (Barack O-bomba Overseas Hussein “Obambi” Obama) will win by at least 10; a 15-20 point crush would not surprise me one bit.

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Obamaball turns out to be hardball, which I’ll explain after the excerpt:

Obama’s political action committee has doled out more than $694,000 to superdelegates since 2005, the study found, and of the 81 who had announced their support for Obama, 34 had received donations totaling $228,000.

Clinton’s political action committee has distributed about $195,000 to superdelegates, and only 13 of the 109 who had announced for her have received money, totaling about $95,000.

Now THIS is entertainment.

Most of the “superdels” gladly took Obama bucks thinking that the guy had no chance, and perhaps expected as much or more moolah from Hillary.

Oops. That clearly isn’t how it’s working out. Now, having received more money from Obama, and with Obama being the clear front-runner and pledged delegate leaders, what’s a superdel to do? Turn him down, look like the ultimate ingrate, and risk being on the outside looking in during an Obama administration? I don’t think so.

Obama, in playing the “green card,” was smart enough, obviously very early in the game, not to “bank” on superdel ethics, instead relying on a language universally understood. Despite trailing in superdels by about 80 with almost exactly half of them counted, I expect that he’ll win them going away, and that many, like John Lewis yesterday (see Update 4A at link), will switch.

Of course the whole process is corrupt, but that’s perhaps another topic for another time.

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From the “It’s Always Something” Department: Wireless multifunction printers as security risks (HT Instapundit). Seriously.

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Somebody needs to help me with this, because I don’t understand why the Wall Street Journal is on such a high horse over how John McCain’s campaign survived through the summer and fall:

Banks have made loans against some dubious collateral lately, but John McCain’s fund-raising list? That was the security the candidate put down when he took out a $3 million loan in November to get his then-struggling campaign through the primaries

Earth to Journal: McCain’s net worth, according to Senate disclosure records, is between $15 and $20 million. If the bank believed that the collateral pledged wasn’t sufficient, it clearly could have demanded more backing. McCain was clearly willing to do whatever it took to get through the trough. This suggests strong self-confidence and the willingness to fight instead of folding in the face of adversity, i.e., normally considered good things.

The paper’s point about the need to get rid of the campaign contribution limits is valid, but complaining about how McCain got through times seems the ultimate in sour grapes.

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I suppose the nabobs of McCain negativity at the Journal will figure out a way to spin this, but it’s hard not to be impressed with this remark he made to a group of bloggers a couple of days ago:

Listen, I’ll never forget you. You were the only guys who would listen to me for a couple of months. Do you think I’d ever forget you?

I remember getting an invitation or two to McCain’s blogger conference calls last year, and not going to them, thinking “What’s the point?”

More of this, and the talk-radio stereotype that John McCain is in a perpetual seethe might evaporate.

Just to be clear: I am NOT a big McCain fan, based on a number of his policy positions. As far as I’m concerned, he still needs to make the sale.

Positivity: Rescue at Union — ‘It’s a miracle we’re alive,’ student says

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:59 am

From Jackson, Tennessee:

Article published Feb 10, 2008

Danny Song couldn’t find his hat.

It’s tattered from years of wear and announces above the brim that “Life is Good.”

He took it off to better see what was around him while trapped in the Watters Commons at Union University. The building, along with much of the rest of Union’s campus, was torn to pieces Tuesday night by a tornado.

Earlier that day, Song, a 20-year-old junior, had only the typical college student worries – homework, tests and grades.

Those worries became trivial when he found himself on his knees, wedged in by a couch and a piece of the building that had collapsed around him.

“I was scared,” he said later. “I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to use my legs because they felt like they weren’t getting circulation.”

Jackson firefighter Wemond Graham was near Song, inside a hole with bricks around him. Graham was on his knees, too, and his side and his stomach at various times as he helped rescue Union’s students.

Graham, a 10-year veteran assigned to Engine No. 13, and others worked five tense hours to free 13 students trapped in the remnants of their dorms.

The storm hit about 7 p.m., which was when the first emergency call came from Jelks Hall, according to central dispatch records. By 7:10 p.m., the first Jackson police officers arrived on campus.

By the end of the night, 51 students would go to the hospital. Five remained in the hospital Saturday, according to officials. Two students were listed in serious condition, and three students were listed in fair condition.

First on the scene

It was between 7:09 and 7:12 p.m. when Jackson Fire Department Engine No. 53 was dispatched to Union’s campus. The five-man crew arrived in four minutes, the first engine company to make it to the campus, which is just west of the U.S. 45 Bypass in North Jackson.

Before the alarm, engine driver Matt Gay had taken shelter in the firehouse bathroom.

“We had gotten a call that a building had possibly collapsed on Union’s campus,” Gay said. “What I don’t think we realized was that it wasn’t just a building, it was a lot of buildings.”

The drive from the Vann Drive firehouse to Union was difficult without streetlights. The tornado had knocked out power in much of North Jackson. The fire truck navigated streets littered with overturned cars, shingles and power lines. It was the first of many challenges the firefighters would face.

Gay and the crew were overwhelmed as they walked the campus and tried to decide where to begin. Every campus building looked damaged, and frantic student after frantic student ran to them.

“It seemed like every footstep there would be someone coming up to you asking for help,” Gay said. “But we had to prioritize what we were doing.” …..

Go here for the rest of the story.