Believe it or not, news consumers, journalists really do not like to make mistakes. Reporters and editors are also trained to be skeptical, to say the least, when it comes to accepting statistics provided by activist groups.
In practice, this leads to two syndromes: (1) Using language that fudges the numbers, making sure readers know that they are estimates and (2) trusting statistics from trusted organizations that fit the newsroom's editorial template, while distrusting statistics from organizations that the newsroom, well, doesn't trust.
Case in point: In a story on abortion, which organization to you think the editorial team at The New York Times will trust when it comes time to offer statistics on, let's say, abortions (or perhaps mammograms) -- Planned Parenthood or the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?
However, there may be another explanation from time to time for some of the strange factual statements that one encounters in news copy. Call it "bizarre caution." This can happen when journalists do quick, hurried work in unfamiliar territory. For example, consider the overture on a new Times report that ran with this headline: "Heirs to 2 Evangelical Empires Take Different Paths Into Political Fray."
OK, the goal is to spot the two #LOL references -- think cautious, fudged language -- in this copy about the Rev. Billy Graham.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One, the president of the Christian university his father founded, raised eyebrows and provoked an outcry among some evangelicals when he endorsed Donald J. Trump before the Iowa caucuses.