Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Our Valiant Press

We know you've already seen this little filler item in your local newspaper. Everybody's carrying the Associated Press dispatch from Kuala Lumpur about the man who received a bill from Telekom Malaysia for $218 trillion:
A Malaysian man was speechless when he received a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday.

Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill, the New Straits Times reported.

But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a bill for 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported.
The fascinating thing about this near-News-of-the-Weird is not that the telephone company screwed up big-time. That's just funny.

The thing is, every reprint of this AP story (including the one in today's PNJ) repeats this oh-so-cautious journalistic admonition:
It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after his death.
What the hell? Is there any way to run up a $218 trillion dollar telephone bill, legally or otherwise? Ever? Much less in four months?

We can't imagine how even the world's largest communciations giant could stick itself with that size of a phone bill, let alone a dead guy.

Trust the valiant press to find a way to "balance" every issue with "the other side", even when there isn't one. That's usually called "false equivalency." In this instance, we could call it "phone-y balance."

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