Friday, June 18, 2010

Yes, Virginia, WSJ editors read USA Today

USAT is famous for its trend stories, so it was noteworthy this morning when The Wall Street Journal chose an unusual forum -- its editorial page -- to pick apart one such USAT account about the Gulf Oil spill.

The June 8 story: "Oil spills escalated in this decade." The paper found the number of spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines in U.S. waters "more than quadrupled this decade, a trend that could have served as a warning for the massive leak in the Gulf of Mexico."

Here's the graph the WSJ didn't like: "From the early 1970s through the '90s, offshore rigs and pipelines averaged about four spills per year of at least 50 barrels, according to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). One barrel is equal to 42 gallons. The average annual total surged to more than 17 from 2000 through 2009. From 2005 through 2009, spills averaged 22 a year."

"That sounds ominous," the Journal opines, "so we decided to check Minerals Management Service spill data and see for ourselves. Here's the rest of the story: While the averages reported by USA Today are correct, the paper failed to mention that the numbers were distorted by some outlier years, in particular 2004 (22 spills), 2005 (49 spills) and 2008 (33 spills). It's no coincidence that those were the years of Hurricanes Ivan (2004), Katrina and Rita (2005) and Gustav and Ike (2008)."

Now, depending on your perspective, the WSJ is providing important context that deflates USAT's trend discovery. Or, the Journal's famously conservative editorial page is once more kissing corporate butt.

[Image: this morning's front page, Newseum]

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