Charts can say anything you want them to

I just read an article on Business Insider that charted the downfall of MSNBC. It was a fascinating read, but I couldn’t help but get distracted by the charts they used, especially given that the article title was:

The Stunning Downfall Of MSNBC In Five Charts

Powerful stuff. The problem is that the charts are deceptive. For example, the first one:

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 12.37.14 AMOof. MSNBC has lost over half it’s audience. Except, wait, it hasn’t. The chart starts at 48,000, and only scales another 18,000. Here’s what that chart should look like:

Every chart on the page is the same (though to a lesser extent) - the only exception was the chart showing Fox News’ huge lead in audience, which correctly starts at zero:

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 12.42.08 AMI’m not trying to attribute malice here- as I was putting that example chart together, I was surprised to see that Google Docs does this automatically, so it could well be a simple mistake. But consider this a reminder: always check your axes, otherwise you might end up misleading your readers.