Putting Spit in a Headline is Fun
The meme against public sector workers and their supposed outsize effect on unbalanced budgets has spread from local dailies to The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times. But a Times columnist had to admit that the most recent outrage--bus drivers who took paid sick leave after riders spit on them--had been blown out of proportion:
City bus drivers were taking off three months to recover from being spit upon, all the city newspapers reported on Tuesday. The information was released by transit officials, who said that 51 drivers assaulted by spitters in 2009 had taken, on average, 64 days off with pay.
After a day of research, union officials said that, in fact, most drivers took either no time off or very little after such attacks.
Of 69 spitting cases in 2009, 34 drivers came back to work for their next shift, and 9 took less than 10 days off, said John Paul Patafio, a bus driver and organizer with Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents the bus drivers. Mr. Patafio said his statistics were based on official reports supplied by the transit agency.
Didn't anyone tell the Times editors that averages can often be misleading? Just like taking the average income of a bus driver and Jamie Dimon would make it appear that the bus driver was raking in millions.
Journalists often joke that they're not good at math. Hey, they practice the art of writing, not numbers. But one would think that a leading news organization could do more than take numbers from NYC transit, put them in the headline, and then interview a bus driver for balance. At least Jim Dwyer clarified the next day that the MTA budget crisis has more complex roots than bus drivers taking a day off to recover from someone spitting in their face.