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A RealityChek post last month suggested that America’s news media are experiencing a genuine editing crisis, and just yesterday appeared an example that left even me – someone who for decades has been tracking these lapses (or biases?) and the misinformation they’ve often spread – speechless.

Well, OK, not exactly speechless. But here’s what I mean.

The Bloomberg.com article in question, titled, “China’s Response to U.S. Trade Talks Shows Gap Between Two” was almost entirely unobjectionable. Indeed, for the most part, it focused quite competently on recent statements made by top U.S. and Chinese officials showing how far the two economies remain from resolving the trade and broader commercial issues they’ve clashed over for many years.

But then came this chart:

Surging Surplus

From the title, you’d expect it to show both that the immense U.S. trade deficit with China currently stood at an all-time high, and that the increase was being driven largely by still soaring American imports from the People’s Republic.

Except if you eyeball the chart with even a little care, you see that if America’s imports from China (the solid white line) are now in record territory, it’s not by much compared with the previous peak in mid-2018. Moreover, since they’ve barely budged since then, and the U.S. economy has grown by some ten percent during this period, the China shortfall has clearly become smaller as a share of gross domestic product – a crucial piece of context.

Moreover, it’s absolutely clear that the Chinese trade surplus with the United States hasn’t been surging at all lately. Indeed, according to the vertical orange-ish bars it’s represented by, it’s slightly below last year’s peak and has fallen slightly  since early 2018. Yes, there’s been a surge. But it took place during the decades before.

And kind of mysteriously left out: Mid-2018 is when former President Donald Trump began imposing tariffs on imports from China.

But that’s not the main point here. I’ve seen and written about headlines that misrepresent the body of the article they accompany. (That last post on editing provided one example.) But I don’t ever recall seeing a chart’s title contradicted by the chart itself. Like Amazon.com co-founder Jeff Bezos, who now owns the Washington Post, Bloomberg.com co-founder and majority owner Michael Bloomberg has more than enough bucks to at least try preventing such embarrassing goofs. Time to start opening up that wallet.  

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