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November 8, 2007
Call Kurtis: The Sequel

Trevor_Jen_kramer_pic.jpg minnnng.jpg

Today in The Huffington Post, the popular online news site, blogger Trevor Butterworth (who heads an organzation, STATS.org, which examines how the media covers science and statistics) takes recent reports on "toxic mattresses" to task. Among those reports was "Call Kurtis"; Channel 13's Kurtis Ming (pictured, right) aired his story Friday.

Step-by-step, Butterworth (pictured, left) dismantles the legitimacy of the TV reports - which originated at Channel 13's sister station in Chicago - and scolds reporters for failing to mention that the man making the claims has a huge conflict of interest.

Here's an excerpt:

The real evidence that reporters are asleep on the job does not come from the jumble of junk science about chemical poisoning, but the fact that People for Clean Beds is run by a rival mattress manufacturer with a hefty economic stake in scaring people about buying mattresses that meet the new regulations.

Mark Strobel founded "People for Clean Beds" specifically to oppose the new fire-safety requirements. He manufactures beds, which are exempt from the regulations and, as a consequence, can only be purchased with a doctor's prescription. He has no apparent scientific background beyond a BS degree. It's also not clear that anybody but Mark Strobel is involved in running "People for Clean Beds."

What is clear is that if you scare people into thinking that the new regulations will cause them harm, you raise the odds of more people getting a prescription for a Strobel Bed.

Conflict of interest anyone?

Strobel, by the way, is quoted extensively in the "Call Kurtis" segment.

On a positive note, Ming did give credit to "our sister station in Chicago" for the interviews, which he didn't do when airing a report from San Francisco station KPIX on online ripoffs the other day.

Butterworth, whose journalism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Salon.com and other publications, goes into more depth in debunking the mattress story in an article posted in STATS.org's Web site.

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