Let’s look at two April 2024 examples of misleading journalism.

On April 12, 2024 the Daily Caller ran a piece entitled “Electricity Prices Have Risen Seven Times Faster Under Biden Than Trump.” It began with this:

Electricity prices have experienced a significant rise since the beginning of the Biden administration, rising more than seven times faster than under the entire Trump administration.

The average price of electricity has increased by 29.4% since January 2021 as of March, far greater than the preceding four years under the Trump administration, when electricity prices increased by only 4.0%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The jump in electricity prices accompanies a number of policies from the Biden administration that have curbed energy production, such as a regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency that requires that existing coal-fired power plants cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040.

By way of further explanation the author added this:

Instead of supporting traditional forms of energy production, the Biden administration has pushed for green energy sources like wind and solar, with provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act offering tax incentives to companies developing alternative power generation methods.

President Joe Biden has also created huge incentives for electric vehicles that draw energy from the grid rather than utilize gasoline or diesel as part of the administration’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The price of gasoline has risen by 42.0% since January 2021, according to FRED.

As most energy policy experts know, all of the policies mentioned in these excerpts have not yet had much of a chance to exert their full effects on energy markets; indeed, most are not yet even in effect, and could not have influenced electricity prices over the last three years.

The referenced power plant rule is a proposed rule that has not yet been finalized. The Inflation Reduction Act tax incentives are for projects most of which are only now being built, let alone providing energy to anyone. And when they do, the IRA tax credits will lower the price of energy from those facilities by making those projects cheaper. And of course, subsidies for EVs do not increase the price of gasoline.

Far more important to the price of energy over the last three years was the war in Ukraine, which disrupted supplies of natural gas and raw materials used in energy production. The pandemic also  disrupted labor markets and supply chains, feeding energy price increases. Whatever effects the listed Biden policies will have on energy prices, positive or negative, they haven’t happened yet.

The writer could have found this out. The more troubling possibility is that he knew it and chose to omit it. That would not be all that unusual in the internet era.

The day after the Daily Caller article, MSNBC.com published an article entitled “Pew report pokes a hole in the narrative about Trump-loving Black voters.” That article opens this way:

A new report from the Pew Research Center pokes a hole in the oft-repeated claim that a historic racial realignment is occurring within American politics, with nonwhite voters learning to love the GOP and Donald Trump.

In recent years — days, even — there’s been a seemingly endless deluge of news stories hyping up this purported realignment as fact. Trump and his allies have been touting similar claims as well (which seems like all the more reason to question them).

But you needn’t just take my word for it. Pew’s analysis of registered voters — based on hundreds of thousands of interviews conducted from 1994 through last summer — showed that while Democrats may have lost some support among nonwhite voters, any seismic shift in party identification is largely a figment of the media’s imagination.

I follow electoral politics, but had missed the “endless deluge” of stories arguing for a partisan realignment among black voters. Among all the hyperlinks highlighted in the story excerpt above, only one links to an article that makes the claim the author is refuting. It is an opinion piece from a Republican pollster on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, claiming that Donald Trump is “within striking distance of … 20% of the black vote.”

The Pew Research poll that the author cites addresses Black vote support for the two major parties (as opposed to candidates), and puts support for the GOP at 12 percent, where it has been for a while.

Some other polls have reported gains for Trump with Black voters. A Wall Street Journal poll showed 30% support among Black men.  A February N.Y. Times/Siena poll showed 23% support for Trump among Black voters overall, but many other polls agree with the writer that Trump’s support remains at around 12%. Interestingly, a recent study by two political scientists indicated that Black poll respondents over-report support for Democrats when the pollster asking the question is Black.

These polling data suggest interesting questions. Are these differences due to question wording or other fine points of polling? Why is there variation among subsets of Black voters?  The MSNBC writer chose to ignore those deeper questions and instead to knock down a straw man.

If the goal is generate clicks rather than educate readers, these two writers did their jobs. Their headlines will capture attention, and the way they frame the issue will provide dopamine hits for their ideologically filtered readership.

Not all advocacy journalism is sloppy in these ways. But too much of it is. When it is, its readers will walk away with misunderstanding important aspects of complex reality. – David Spence