Worst in Media 2022: Vice’s ongoing struggle to report facts

December 26, 2022

By Tim Worstall

As 2022 comes to a close, Accuracy in Media is wrapping up the very worst media blunders from the year. Come back tomorrow to see the next on our list.

Vice spent much of the year having trouble with facts. This is not a good start to a journalistic enterprise.

As examples, how about this one? The headline claims that 13 states had total abortion bans. The claim is total bans. Three sentences later, we are told, “all of these laws have some exceptions”. Again, it’s nothing to do with any views on the subject under discussion. There’s a simple failure to state the facts there.

Or this claim that a Texas school district banned people from talking about trans people. Apart from anything else, that’s an absurd violation of First Amendment rights so it’s not actually going to happen. More, we’d expect that some conversation would be had about trans at some point in a schooling process – it is meant to be about education after all. Just as everything else gets discussed at some point. What had actually been done is to insist that such conversations should be age-appropriate – something we’d all support even if we differ over age and appropriate. Here the decision is that age appropriate – for gender identity and sexual orientation – is after fifth grade, so around the age of 10 or 11. Maybe right, maybe wrong, but it’s very different from a ban.

We have to say that we enjoyed this particular point on the grounds that surely even they grasped how silly it is. The claim that critical race theory isn’t taught in schools is followed, in the same piece, by how using CRT is changing teaching in schools. Guys, really now.

Vice also claimed that Florida (DeSantis is something of a bugbear for them) is at war with trans people by limiting access to transgender care. No, not at all – the limitation is upon who will pay for it, here the insistence being not Medicaid. That’s not a limitation on care, that’s a limitation on money. Facts matter, right?

Journalists are always the people who took the words route through class, not the numbers one. But even then if you’re going to talk about numbers at least try. Which Vice doesn’t here talking about auto deaths. Sure, Americans are more likely to die in an auto crash than Canadians, or Japanese. This apparently means that US roads are more dangerous. Except, well no. Americans drive longer distances than Canadians or Japanese. By almost exactly the amount that they’re likely to get killed. More miles on roads of the same danger means more deaths, even as it’s the same number of deaths per mile traveled.

More numbers. Vice is only out by a billion times here. It’s that numbers and journalists thing. They get it wrong between mW (one-thousandth of a watt) and MW (one million watts). A billion times out. They go further wrong as well, by thinking that electricity consumption equals energy consumption (we’ve all heard of gas, gasoline, heating oil and so on, right?) but compared to that first factual error that’s a mere bagatelle.

Sadly, the mistakes aren’t confined to numbers. Sure, many California prisoners fight fires, so why don’t more of them become firefighters on release? Vice thinks discrimination and all the usual. Without understanding that a couple of convictions mean that you can’t gain the California licenses necessary to be a firefighter.

The inability to concentrate on reality does lead to some odd pieces. So, folks who don’t pay back loans have bad credit, do they?

But back to numbers. 150,000 transgender youth in Texas and Arkansas will be denied health care. Followed a few paragraphs later by the claim that there are 150k transgender youth in the US as a whole. We suppose it could be possible that all transgender youth try to get their health care in Texas and Arkansas but we think it more likely that Vice needs to try a little more fact-checking to make that connection with reality.

Climate change is another one of those subjects. Apparently, by 2100, only one city in the world will be able to host the Winter Olympics. No. The paper they quote says that only one of those “that has already hosted a winter olympics” will be able to do so by 2100. Maybe that’s terrible too but it is different.

Finally, for this collection at least, we did enjoy Vice telling us all about the subsidies Amazon receives. In the course of this, they managed to prove that Amazon receives no such subsidies. To complain about the receipt of what you then prove isn’t being received strikes us as very much missing those facts, that reality.

Vice ranks No. 79 in the listings of U.S. news and media publishers. This is purely the online performance. The magazine also has a 900,000 distribution and the TV channel reaches 60 million households on cable. We think that with such prominence comes a duty to do better.

Vice has – sadly – an uncomfortable relationship with facts, with the basic reality that surrounds us. The problem is that if you’re not using facts, not describing reality, then whatever it is that you’re doing it’s not journalism. Propaganda possibly, but not journalism.


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