Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 27, 2007

Annals of Press Absurdities

Which of these reports was actually printed in a 'serious' national newspaper?

1. Flu Treatments Outbalance Cancer Cases

The number of cancer death in the United States has topped 550,000 for the first time, the National Center for Health Statistics said yesterday. But in a reversal from 2000, more Americans over all are now successfully treated for flu infections than die of cancer.

2. College Dwellers Outnumber the Imprisoned

The number of inmates in adult correctional facilities in the United States has topped two million for the first time, the Census Bureau said yesterday. But in a reversal from 2000, more Americans over all now live in college dormitories than in prisons.

3. Millonaires Outnumber Tax Evaders

The number of tax evaders in the United States has topped 7.5 million for the first time, the Internal Revenue Service said yesterday. But in a reversal from 2000, more Americans over all are now millionaires than prosecuted for tax fraud.

Reread, note your guess and see the answer below the fold.
(Please leave a comment of your guess too)

If you guessed 2, you were right.

The NYT reports: College Dwellers Outnumber the Imprisoned

The number of inmates in adult correctional facilities in the United States has topped two million for the first time, the Census Bureau said yesterday. But in a reversal from 2000, more Americans over all now live in college dormitories than in prisons.

In a detailed look at people living in what the bureau calls group quarters, the census counted 2.3 million Americans in college and university dormitories, 2.1 million in adult correctional institutions and 1.8 million in nursing homes.

The comparison is obviously absurd. What is the supposed linkage between the number of college attendances and the number of incarcerated? Is there one? Why? The article won't tell.

But mixing these unrelated numbers together obviously helps to diminish the bad news and any need for a relevant explanation of the increased number of imprisioned people.

Additionally the piece has a racial slant:

A number of studies, including one by the Justice Policy Institute, which advocates alternatives to incarceration, have pointed out that over all, more black men are in prison than are enrolled in colleges and universities.

But among 18- to 24-year-olds, while black male prisoners outnumber black men living in college dorms, more young black men are enrolled in college (and live either on campus or elsewhere) than are incarcerated.

What is the word "but" supposed to express here if not a vague excuse for over-proportional incrimination of black people?

Another absurdity:

In contrast to the prison population, residents of nursing homes were disproportionately women (nearly 70 percent, down slightly from 2000) and white (84 percent).

People in prison are in average younger than people in nursing homes. They are over-proportionally black and male. White females live longer than black men. Such is obvious.

So what is the information value of comparing the share of old white females in nursing homes with the number of young blacks in prison using the phrase "in contrast"?

Posted by b on September 27, 2007 at 10:36 UTC | Permalink


When deciphering a logical statement in the English language, the word “but” always means “and”. Logically it is an additive operation, not a comparison. No other relationship is stated by the word “but”. The word ‘but” is sometimes used by a writer/speaker to hope that a further relationship will be assumed by the reader/listener.

As to my guess as to which of your statements have been in a serious paper, I would have guessed all three could have been! As someone else once said here lately– “You could have fooled me.” And then came the excellent retort, “Yeah, well now ask me to do something difficult.”

Posted by: Rick | Sep 27 2007 12:18 utc | 1

You can tell a lot about society by looking at their prison population. America has the worst. The only way out of this is either, decriminalization, harm reduction or legalization. Apparently criminalization DOES NOT work. If you vote to solve the problem there are only 3 candidates that would solve this mess and none of them seem to have a chance of getting elected. Dr. Ron Paul, Sen. Mike Gravel or Sen. Dennis Kuchinik

Posted by: alx | Sep 27 2007 13:26 utc | 2

a better use of that money would have been for a detailed census on groupthink

Posted by: b real | Sep 27 2007 14:35 utc | 3

I guessed one or three. Two seemed too, well, inhuman.

Perhaps this is about "productivity" and how it is reinforced by institutionalization, rather than being directly about race. If in the writer's view, human worth is determined by what the individual's economic value is, real or potential, then the comparisons make sense. On one end of the spectrum we incarcerate those who aren't economically "productive", mainly poor blacks. On the other end we warehouse those who are no longer "productive", mainly elderly white women. The college statistics are to inform us that while we are removing millions of the non-productive (thereby using them to create an economic good in the form of prison and elder-care contracts), we are also creating just as many "productive" and "valued" workers for the future.

I don't know. That's the best I could make from those contrasts. It's a deeply disturbing article on many levels.

Posted by: moonshadow | Sep 27 2007 14:55 utc | 4

People in prison are in average younger than people in nursing homes. They are over-proportionally black and male. White females live longer than black men. Such is obvious.

women live longer than men. black people don't send their old folks off to die, the live with them. old folks homes are expensive. when white men die, their wives can afford to be taken care of at homes, their young don't want to live w/them.

Posted by: annie | Sep 27 2007 15:14 utc | 5

the prison, college and nursing home industries are very very profitable, especially the prison one cause you can humiliate and abuse the inmates for fun (also available at some colleges)

Posted by: Sam | Sep 27 2007 15:29 utc | 6

Nuts! There has always been hype in the US about the weak and elderly dying of flu, and the numbers of dead in the press have been off by many magnitudes. So the comparison itself is based on false information. Reminiscent of Popeye and his iron intake, a place value error that subsists down the ages...

As for college and prison, this comes from stats that show, or purported to show, that young black men (age group x), in certain states have a higher chance of going to prison than going to college, thru rather iffy calculations.. Numbers for many years do show that ‘black men in prison’ exceed ‘black men in college’ and while that is quite alarming, it is not a proper comparison. The epitome of BS is reached by some articles, though caveats and explanations follow after the reader has left:

More blacks, Latinos in jail than college dorms:>msnbc

so articles like the one quoted aim to debunk.

Some might be amazed at this measured glimpse of the past, 79-92:> ed stats from IES

Journalists are ignorant lackeys, they are paid to be careless and uninformed. The whole point is to obfuscate, create uncertainty and argument. Nobody knows what is going on, and pols can cherry pick their own favorite garbage statistics. Then people cheer, clap, join, roost for a candidate ...and ethnic identity politics, that great distractor, gets an even stronger grip. (See also Iraq.)

Posted by: Tangerine | Sep 27 2007 16:15 utc | 7

Flue? Is that an incorrect spelling of flu, or is that how flu is written in the US? "Flue" in Britain is something the smoke goes up. "Flu" is an affliction. So comparing flue deaths to cancer deaths would seem to refer to little boys sent up chimneys to clean them.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 27 2007 16:29 utc | 8

No it should be flu.

Posted by: Bea | Sep 27 2007 16:47 utc | 9

@Mike - "flu" - sorry English is not my daily first language - corrected.

@Tangerine - Journalists are ignorant lackeys, they are paid to be careless and uninformed.

Journalist are paid to create a sellable product. That product is NOT a paper, but "eyeballs". These "eyeballs" are then sold to advertisers.

There is hardly any paper that would make a profit by subscription and street sales. The revenue from that usually just covers the basic printing&sales costs.

The real revenue is with advertisers.

Journalists can produce more sellable eyeballs by being confrontational and obfuscating. "If it bleeds it leads" "war sells" etc.

The more the papers live of advertising the worse it gets. That is the big problem with moving to the web. There is zero subscription revenue and pandering to advertisers becomes more important than ever.

Posted by: b | Sep 27 2007 17:47 utc | 10


many of us still live under the illusion that news is the "product" and we readers are the "customers".

The content of any commercial newspaper or broadcast is just window dressing to attract people to read, hear or view the advertising: the product they are selling is the advertising space and their customers are the advertisers.

And the content grows even more skewed when the news is printed or broadcast by a large corporation with vested interests in other commercial enterprises: the line between news, advertising and ideology grows entirely blurred.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Sep 27 2007 18:10 utc | 11

The prison population in the U.S. is more a reflection of an appetite for punishment than an economic discentive. At 60 -70 thousand per prisoner per year, how could it be otherwise. Even in my liberal state we have a three strikes you're out law, passed by popular initiative vote. Which once again takes us back to the wellspring of exceptionalism, applied to the domestic audience. In other words its totally within character to boast, in the same breath, that we have higher numbers of prisoners and college students, because we are exceptional - and enforce it with good old Calvinistic punishment.

Posted by: anna missed | Sep 27 2007 18:34 utc | 12

Z Magazine has a>very good article

"Two and a half decades of massive American prison construction has combined with the rural fallout of corporate-neoliberal globalization to turn mass incarceration into an often desperately sought “growth industry” for non-metropolitan jurisdictions. As Tracy Huling has ominously noted, “the acquisition of prisons as a conscious economic development strategy for depressed rural communities and small towns in the United States has become widespread.” Along with “gambling casinos and huge animal confinement units for raising or processing hogs and poultry,” Huling observes, “prisons have become one of the three leading rural economic enterprises as states and localities seek industries that provide large-scale and quick opportunities”

and another:

If prisons filled by disproportionately black “urban felons” have become a critical source of “economic development” in disproportionately white rural America, then they are also and at the same time a form of what might be called “reverse racial reparations.” According to the distinguished criminologist Todd Clear, the “economic relocation of resources” from black to white communities that results from racial disparities and related spatial patterns in mass incarceration are considerable. “Each prisoner represents an economic asset that has been removed from that community and placed elsewhere [emphasis added]….The removal may represent a loss of economic value to the home community, but it is a boon to the prison community.” By Clear’s estimation in the late 1990s, “each prisoner represents as much as $25,000 in income for the community in which the prison is located, not to mention the value of constructing the prison facility in the first place. This can be a massive transfer of value: A young male worth a few thousand dollars of support to children and local purchases is transformed into a $25, 000 financial asset to a rural prison community. The economy of the rural community is artificially amplified, the local city economy artificially deflated” (15).

Generally quite poor, prisoners deflate the income profiles of downstate communities, making prison towns eligible for extra poverty-directed public dollars. The prisoners do not benefit, however, from the rural roads, schools, and bridges built with public funds tied to prison development. At the same time, prisoners put relatively minimal strain on local infrastructure beyond occasional trips to court and the use of prison shower and toilet facilities.

They do not benefit from the enhanced political power that prisons bring to rural jurisdictions. Politically disenfranchised prisoners (inmates can vote in only two U.S. states, both in predominantly white New England) count towards the representation of the electoral districts in which they are incarcerated, not the districts from which they came, and to which most of them return (16).

Altogether, it makes for a disturbing picture, full of unsettling parallels and living links to chattel slavery. Under the modern mass imprisonment regime in the “land of the free,” millions of young black men are involuntarily removed from their home urban environments to serve as voiceless economic, budgetary, and political assets in distant rural destinations where they are kept under lock and key by white-majority overseers. It is difficult to imagine a more pathetic denouement to America’s long, interwoven narratives of class and racial privilege. The chilling implications are not lost on black inmates, some of whom (one instructional staff member within the Illinois Department of Corrections reports) cynically refer to themselves as “economic development” (17).

Posted by: moonshadow | Sep 27 2007 19:27 utc | 13

Oops!My first paragraph was lost in transition somehow. It was supposed to say that Paul Street has an excellent article on how prison populations are becoming vital to rural economies. The article can be found at:

Posted by: moonshadow | Sep 27 2007 19:33 utc | 14

#2 seemed most likely before seeing comments, and after. Prison labor is very important, and a bargain to the deciders. So is college induction into debt and dumbness. At all times, in all climes, for all crimes, "Cui bono?"

Posted by: plushtown | Sep 28 2007 10:23 utc | 15

b. at 10. That is so, money is made thru adverts, and journos are paid to polarise attention to something, but that doesn’t change that journalists, today, are lackeys, from the upper classes mostly, often co-opted nephews, and they do their job with devastating cynicism, even spoofing their own mandatory idiocy (some of them read books! - and they get a kick out of being outrageously dumb but nobody notices...), playing their obligatory role of idiot who burbles and garbles, while finding compensation on the week-ends with coke, a free life style, or a slightly better home etc. than their neighbors, and chat about the famous ppl they met. That their children are not beaten up because of their connections consoles. As does familiarity with media figures. As do the sex opportunities. Etc.

Posted by: Tangerine | Sep 29 2007 16:35 utc | 16

The comments to this entry are closed.