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Last week I posted about this story in the Los Angeles Times about an (apparently) worrying new trend in street car racing on Southern California’s streets. The story included two mentions of recent racing-related deaths in San Diego.

Well, Slate.com media columnist Jack Shafer took aim at the story in this column Friday. Calling the Times story the “Bogus Trend Story of The Week,” Shafer unloaded on everything from the story’s lede, to its facts, to the anecdotal evidence.

Here’s what Shafer wrote about various interviews the Times conducted with cops:

Cops can be terrific sources — as long as you don’t care whether they know what they’re talking about. This lesson seems to be lost on the Los Angeles Times. If the observation that types of racing are increasing is good enough to bear repeating, surely some sort of documentation exists to support it. Right?

The Times’ story did allude to those sorts of numbers, here’s what Shafer had to say about that:

When Times reporters finally deliver the hard, useful numbers the story cries out for, they write:

“From 2000 through 2006, drivers pleaded guilty to illegal speed contests in about 50,000 cases, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Last year, about 6,100 drivers pleaded guilty to drag racing, according to the DMV.”

By applying arithmetic to these numbers we learn that, on average, about 7,142 street racing guilty pleas were entered yearly over seven years. But only 6,100 guilty pleas were entered last year. One could argue by this crude measure that statewide racing is down or holding steady!

Why, then, does the paper tilt the story in the other direction? If I, too, can be allowed to present anecdote as proof, it may be that the intense coverage of Los Angeles street racing provided by local TV news raises the perceptions that racing is growing when it really isn’t. Gentlemen and ladies of the Los Angeles Times, please restart your engines.

WILL CARLESS

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