July 12, 2017

Why doesn't The Washington Post fix this ludicrously ignorant headline?

"Texas teen was electrocuted by her cellphone while taking a bath, her family says."

The girl wasn't electrocuted by her cellphone, but by her cellphone charger, which was plugged in and found submerged in the bathtub where she died.

The story has been getting clicks around the web since at least yesterday, and this WaPo piece went up this morning. Reading the article, it's clear how the death occurred, so the headline is lame click-bait. (Don't click on it!)

A cheap defense of the headline is that it doesn't purport to be factual about the actual cause of death but about what the "family says." And, indeed, why write a whole story on the details here? The poor girl did something very foolish and should have known better, and her family, suddenly called upon to enact their suffering on the world stage, continue to display their low level of understanding of electricity:
Madison’s stepmother, Felisha Owens, told KRQE News 13 that the girl was only doing what she had done many times before — sitting in the bathtub, phone plugged in, “playing our games.”

“I did it, she did it,” Owens said through tears.

But the tragedy has made her realize the dangers.

“The bathroom is a place for showers and personal time and your phones don’t belong in the bathroom,” she told KRQE News 13. Electricity and water do not mix. All it takes is a drop.”
She may "realize the dangers" but she still doesn't understand the science, and her loss has not made her an authority on what we ought to be doing. There's nothing bad about having the phone in the bathroom, and it's possible that having the phone with you in the bathroom could save your life. People have medical emergencies in the bathroom all the time.

52 comments:

Rob McLean said...

The headline should read, "Texas teen was electrocuted by Trump while taking a bath, her family says."

Also, referring to the paper as the "Washington POS" is perfect.

Clayton Hennesey said...

You can get free 2-day shipping by subscribing to the Washington Pos.

Dave from Minnesota said...

Darwin?

BarrySanders20 said...

I get it. It's a crazy ways to die theme today. Death by flood, death by undiagnosed taunting of the reaper, death by cellphone, and death of The Trump presidency by email.

St. George said...

And why does the WAPO ask people to pay to read it? That can't be going well.

John Evans said...

If only Elvis had had a phone in the bathroom...

Ralph L said...

I don't get this long bath fetish. After 5 minutes, you have to lean forward and add hot water every few minutes. How can that be relaxing? And then there's the 20 candles stinking up the room. They should be under the tub to keep you warm.

Humperdink said...

PENNSYLVANIA TODDLER ELECTROCUTED BY TOAST

A Pa toddler apparently stuck a fork in the toaster to retrieve toast, missed the toast and found the heating element instead.

Ann Althouse said...

"Also, referring to the paper as the "Washington POS" is perfect."

LOL. I just noticed that. And it's my headline just as I'm criticizing a headline...

brylun said...

The Washington Post is so obsessed with Trump Derangement that it's focus is lost on anything else...

brylun said...

Anyone see the David Brooks NYT op-ed piece yesterday on the lack of upward mobility?

Henry said...

I'm not going to click through to the article, but I'm curious about how a USB adapter can pass enough current into a bath to electrocute someone. Googled these articles:

How can a faulty USB charger kill you?

What would happen if you put the live end of a mobile phone charger in your mouth?

The answer appears to be that a USB charger attached to an outlet should be harmless, but a cheap USB charger may have one pin directly connected to main current, or have it's wiring inadequately separated. This allows full house current to find a route through the cable into the ground represented by the bath.

Jerid Levitsky: To everyone here claiming "It's only 5V and harmless"
This is a partial truth. You are right in that there is 5V between the pins at the end of the charger. You can lick this and nothing will happen.
But there is potentially a MUCH HIGHER voltage present between the end of the cord, and say the metal bed post, computer case, fridge door, or anything in the house that may be 'grounded'.
These chargers 'should' be built so that electricity cannot flow between the charger and anything else. It should be 'isolated'. That said, it's much more cost effective to build it so that one of the pins in the charger is directly connected to one of the mains pins. This is NOT isolated, and can be lethal. These products are never manufactured by known or reputable companies and are often marketed as name brand chargers to earn the shady manufacturer a few quick $$$ before they get shut down.

etbass said...

Wonder if she reached up to the charger unit to push it back into the wall socket and somehow got a finger in contact with one of the 110V pins? Haven't read the article as so few articles nowadays contain enough facts to gain any true understanding.

Michael K said...

Hair dryers have culled the gene pool many times.

D. said...

What no GFCI in the bathroom? Not up to code.

Ralph L said...

D, she had her hair dryer and curling iron in the bathroom outlet, so she got an extension cord from her bedroom.

madAsHell said...

There is so much missing from the article.

I see that they made sure to note that this happened in fly-over territory.

JRoberts said...

Here's a headline you'll NEVER see in the Washington Post:

"Amazon killing U.S. retailers - Growing calls for additional regulation of e-commerce"

JLScott said...

Reports of the girl’s death have sparked family, friends and strangers to share a social media post warning other parents and children about the dangers of mixing electronics and water.

A good writer would have found a better word. A good editor would have too. Nice work, WP.

Big Mike said...

@Henry, thanks for the research. @D, yes. Are Texas building codes so lax that there's no GFCI required in bathrooms? Or did the dead girl's family do some do-it-yourself rewiring somewhere along the line? Or am I mistaken in my expectation that GFCI is supposed to prevent this sort of accident?

Gahrie said...

"Ford killing buggy whip makers - Growing calls for additional regulation of automobiles"

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Darwin's survival of the fittest in action.

Or...she died in the shallow end of the gene pool.

Ralph L said...

Someone should have taken her to an Italian sandwich shop instead of Taco Bell.

JLScott said...

@Big Mike, or is it an older house built before the mid-70s?

William said...

i wonder if Goldstone, the British publicist who set the meeting up, considers this bad publicity. He does look like the kind of person who pursues publicity and says says quotable things, but he doesn't look like the kind of guy with deep state connections to the Crown Proseutor's Office. Those damned czarists are even more subtle than the Trotsky subverters in their nefarious schemes. I just don't see them recruiting Goldstone, but maybe that's his cover.......Also I'm surprised that no one has checked to see if this Russian "lawyer" hadn't stayed at a Trump hotel during her stay in America. That right there is conspiracy to commit emoluments, one of the most vile crimes on the stature books. Also did Seth Rich meet with her at any time during her stay?

William said...

Perhaps I posted the above in the wrong thread. That's what the Czarists would like you to think anyway,

toxdoc said...

WaPo had another report earlier this month (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/04/01/a-man-fell-asleep-with-his-iphone-charging-in-bed-it-nearly-electrocuted-him-to-death/?utm_term=.674d5cbd3130) Same bad writing. Similar to this case, it was not the USB, nor the charger itself; it was the 110v extension cord the charger was plugged in to. In the earlier case a necklace shorted across the exposed prongs.

Peter said...

"I'm curious about how a USB adapter can pass enough current into a bath to electrocute someone."

Because, any device that is line-powered has potentially lethal voltage in it (regardless of what its output voltage is).

GFCIs provide some protection against hazards like this, and are now required by code in bathrooms (although as always existing construction is grandfathered).

Although since GFCI's offer less than perfect, absolute protection perhaps future electrical code will require that bathtubs and sinks (and the plumbing fixtures attached to these) be made of non-conductive materials? Nonetheless, because human stupidity is limitless, fools will always defeat the best foolproofing.

And, wiring your entire house to run on 5VDC wouldn't work so well.

Etienne said...

Big Mike said...Are Texas building codes so lax that there's no GFCI required in bathrooms?

County codes are generally more relaxed than city codes. People move to the county to get away from city government, and the lifestyles are different.

GFI breakers are late 20th century. Many homes built before 1980 do not have them anywhere.

The GFI breaker came out in the early 60's, but it took 20 years for codes to catch up and require them.

Many people fought the change, as they thought it was government intrusion.

Fernandinande said...

"Texas teen was electrocuted by her cellphone while taking a bath, her family says."

If her family said that, then the headline is accurate and correct.

Known Unknown said...

"Many people fought the change, as they thought it was government intrusion."

Well, technically it is. If I want to put my life at risk using appliances during bathtime maybe I should be able to.

It's called natural selection.

Yancey Ward said...

Why blame the cell phone? Who has the deeper pocket- the phone maker or the charge adaptor maker?

Khesanh 0802 said...

My personal answer to your headline question is that the WaPo is a garbage newspaper. If it weren't that it is the company newspaper in a company town it would have long ago disappeared.

Etienne said...

Henry said...I'm curious about how a USB adapter can pass enough current into a bath to electrocute someone.

It works the same way as the flux capacitor. But it is way too complex to explain in a blog.

I suspect the whole thing started as she was making a video of her labia.

JLScott said...

"Many people fought the change, as they thought it was government intrusion."

Reference? It's not like there wasn't an electrical code before GFI.

Humperdink said...

You have to wonder with Bezos (Amazon) at the top of his game, how he could allow this formerly flagship news rag go into the tank on all fronts. Even if Bezos hates Trump, which apparently he does, he could have the Wash POS use a sharper scalpel.

John said...

I don't see how line voltage could get across the USB transformer to give full voltage at the lowvoltage side. No transformer works that way, when it does happen, the transformer goes up in a puff of smoke from the short circuit.

If you had line voltage at the charger connection somehow, it would also fry any phone it was attached to.

I suspect that what she got electrocuted by was the extension cord, not the charger or phone. Even that I find suspect unless she was sitting in the water and trying to plug the charger into the phone. That would explain the burn on her hand.

Re "The Code", or really "The National Electrical Code" lots of people think this is govt regulation. It is not.

It was developed and promulgated by a private trade association, formed by insurance companies in 1896. The National Fire Protection Association also certifies fire sprinkler and other related systems.

Governments just require buildings to follow it. And where the govt doesn't, the insurance company and bank will.

If none of those require it, common sense should, anyway.

John Henry

Etienne said...

JLScott said...It's not like there wasn't an electrical code before GFI.

I saw my first GFI outlet when I bought a new house in 1998. My previous homes built in the 70's and 80's, had no GFI anywhere.

GFI took-off when the patents expired.

John said...

Peter,

Would you want to make sure that bathtubs and sinks etc were conductive and grounded, not non conductive? That way if the extension cord falls into the water, it would simply short with no harm to the tubee.

Of course, if they grab the hot side of the extension cord, it guarantees a good jolt.

Maybe just make them partially grounded. That way, no matter what happens the person gets electrocuted, raising the population's IQ.

"Electricity: The Deadly Shipmate"


John Henry

John said...

3V DC would not work but there are lots of people who run entire houses and live aboard boats off of 12 or 24 volt DC.

Navy ships used to be, back in the 40's and before, wired with DC. Perhaps 240 volts? It saved a lot on wiring. You only had to run one wire to a motor and the other motor lead was bolted to the hull.

Of course, since the entire ship would complete the circuit, it really sucked to come in contact with it.

John Henry

John said...

Etienne,

Are you familiar with Rockwell Automation's retro-encabulators? They will charge your phone in about 2 seconds.

Not permitted in residences, unfortunately.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXJKdh1KZ0w

John Henry

tcrosse said...

For a given amount of power, the lower the voltage, the higher the current. Line losses vary as the square of the current. So at a tenth the voltage you need ten times the current and get one hundred times the losses, because no line is a perfect conductor. Thus endeth the lesson.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Local code here in Si Valley now calls for AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupters). This is newer tech that also detects arcing at breaks in any conductor, or from a conductor to anywhere else. Sigh. I just got done putting GFCI in the important spots in my 60 year old house.

Wilbur said...

This fellow قمة الدقة للخدمات seems to have something to contribute in every thread today.

n.n said...

Plausible deniability. The NYT does the same with close associations.

Etienne said...

John said...Are you familiar with Rockwell Automation's retro-encabulators?

No, but I used to own a tie just like that.

I think my daughter threw-up on it when she was five, and I went back to thin ties.

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tcrosse said...

I can video my penis for hours and not need an extension cord. I guess labia's use more current...

Portrait or landscape ?

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

After a nasty shock when I was a kid ( a sump pump shorted out on a pool rail while I was ankle deep in water and leaning on the rail -- 30 feet away, fortunately), I'm a bit electrophobic. Power cords in the bathroom make me very anxious.

Char Char Binks said...

FAKE NEWS! It's good to know the real cause. I was prepared to let my cell phone go for good if it ever got submerged in water.

Ima anon said...

It does not take much electricity in the right spot to wreck havoc consider the man who filed the thick blade of a polarized plug off to either make it fit in a non polarized outlet or because he was tired of rotating the plug 180 degrees. Most people don't know that a polarized plug provides protection against the case of an appliance being electrically charged if there is a short. This guy moved the refrigerator which was still plugged in through a metal framed doorway pressing the metal case of the refrigerator which had a short against his chest and the metal frame of the doorway against his back. And his heart was stopped. I don't think it restarted

Ima anon said...

We had terrible trouble with arc fault interruptor switches in a new sub box in an addition and they had to be removed