Chanting Points Memo: “Minnesota Poll” Has Your Delivery Of Sandbags Right Here

Yesterday, the Star Tribune “Minnesota Poll” also delivered its mid-cycle tally of support for the Voter ID Amendment.

And coming barely a week after the generally-accurate Survey USA poll showing Voter ID passing by a 2:1 margin, the Strib would have you believe…:

Slightly more than half of likely voters polled — 52 percent — want the changes built around a photo ID requirement, while 44 percent oppose them and 4 percent are undecided.

That is a far cry from the 80 percent support for photo ID in a May 2011 Minnesota Poll, when the issue was debated as a change in state law. Support among Democrats has cratered during a year marked by court battles, all-night legislative debates and charges that the GOP is attempting to suppress Democratic votes.

Republicans and independents continue to strongly back the proposal, which passed the Legislature this year without a single DFL vote.

Wow.  Sounds close!

Sort of; if you accept the validity of the numbers (and unless the DFL is headed for a blowout win, you must never accept the validity of the “Minnesota Poll’s” numbers), and every single undecided voter today voted “no”, the measure would pass in a squeaker.

But are the numbers valid?    And by “valid”, I don’t mean “did they do the math right”, I mean “did they poll a representative sample of Minnesotans?”

To find that out, you have to do something that almost nobody in the Strib’s reading audience does; look at the partisan breakdown of the survey’s respondents.  Which is in a link buried in the middle of a sidebar, between the main article and the cloud of ads and clutter to the right of the page, far-removed from the headline and the lede graf.  Which takes you to a page that notes (with emphasis added):

• The self-identified party affiliation of the random sample is: 41 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican and 31 percent independent or other.

That’s right – as with the Marriage Amendment numbers we looked at this morning (it’s the same survey), the Strib wants you to believe…

…well, no.  I’m not sure they “want” anyone to believe anything.  I’m sure they want people to read the headling and the “almost tied!” lede, and not dig too far into the numbers.

It’s part of the Democrat’s “Low-Information Voters” campaign; focus on voters who don’t dig for facts, who accept what the media tells them, who vote based on the last chanting point they heard.

Fearless prediction:  On November 4, the Strib will release a “Minnesota Poll” that shows the Voter ID Amendment slightly behind, using a partisan breakdown with an absurdly high number of DFLers.   It’ll be done as a sort of positive bandwagon effect – to make DFLers feel there’s a point to come out and vote against the Voter ID Amendment (and for Obama, Klobuchar, and the rest of the DFL slate, natch).

And it will be a complete lie.  Voter ID will pass by 20 points, and this cycle of polling will disappear down the media memory hole like all the rest of them.

Question:  Given that its entire purpose seems to be to build DFL bandwagons and discourage conservative voters, when do we start calling the “Minnesota Poll” what it seems to be – a form of vote suppression?

Nope, No Bias Here

The grandfather – great-grandfather? – of the “Fact-Check” industry, “60 Minutes whitewashes for Obama:

Tonight, CBS aired a 60 Minutes interview with President Obama. But curiously enough, the news magazine show did not air a clip of Obama admitting to interviewer Steve Kroft that some of his campaign ads contain mistakes and that some even “go overboard.”

Anyone remember when “60 Minutes” was the “gold standard of journalism?”

I know – that never really meant anything.

But anyone who doubts that “60 Minutes” is anything but a geriatric propaganda mill for the left has been asleep for half a generation.

Facts In The Dark, Part IV: Clarity

Call me a cynic, but for me, the prototype of all of the “fact-checking” columns in today’s mainstream media was in this piece here:

With the world breathing a collective sigh of relief following the violence-free passage into the year 2000, an international coalition of terrorists issued a reminder Monday that the new millennium does not actually begin until Jan. 1, 2001. “Technically speaking, we are now in the last year of the 20th century,” said Mahmoud al-Habib, a spokesperson for the terrorist organization Hamas. “Since there was no year zero, next New Year’s Eve is the real time to detonate bombs in Times Square and blow commercial airliners out of the sky.” Speaking from a secret bunker in the Kashmir hills, Osama bin Laden agreed. “We were all set to blow up the Eiffel Tower,” bin Laden said, “when one of my suicide bombers pointed out that it should actually be done next Jan. 1, not this one. I suppose we’ll just have to wait.”

Why, of course it’s the Onion.   But it spells out the model for so many “fact-checkers” in the industry; a relentless focus on the finding “gotchas”.

The piece spells out a key pitfall in the whole idea of “Fact-Checking” the news; it’s entirely possible to be right about “facts” and still miss, or even detract from, the truth.  In the example above?  It was, perhaps, a fact that the millennium didn’t begin until 2001, but that missed the point for the fictional terrorists (check the date-stamp on that piece), for whose purposes “crowds on the street” were more the issue than “having the right date”.

And that’s even when the “fact-checker” isn’t being cynical and exploiting the “fact-check” system to serve as a political editorial.

Takeaway:  It’s possible for facts to be true and still divert the audience from a larger, more important truth.

Takeaway Question: If a fact (“The Millennium begins in 2001!”) diverts the user from a larger truth (2000 is when all those crowds were out on the street, tempting the terrorists of the day), does it advance or divert from the story?

The answer, of course, is a question; “Is your story about Calendar Trivia, or Terrorism?”


Last week, Jon Cassidy at Human Events wrote as clear an indictment of the “Fact-Checking” system, or at least of as I’ve seen.

And that indictment ran down not only the top-line biases built into “Politifact”, the national über-fact-check organization…

In 2007 [when Politifact was still affiliated with Congressional Quarterly], PolitiFact was checking numbers thrown around in debates, such as whether 300,000 babies annually are born deformed (False: it’s 40,000), or whether Social Security “is solid through about 2040 without any changes whatsoever” (True, in PolitiFact’s view: the system’s not going broke until 2041).

By 2010, PolitiFact was giving False ratings to statements that were true, such as U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky saying that federal workers make an average of $120,000, compared to a private sector average of $60,000. Paul used total compensation figures, which PolitiFact found misleading. The arbiters arbitrarily decided that salary alone is the valid figure, which would be news to the Internal Revenue Service.

By 2012, it was “fact-checking” extremely general statements of personal experience like this one by Paul’s father, Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and GOP presidential candidate: “I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early ’60s before we had any government” involvement in health care. “It worked rather well, and there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care. But Medicare and Medicaid came in and it just expanded.”

Fact-checker Louis Jacobson tried to disprove Ron Paul’s statement, but eventually admitted his limits. It’s the only example we’ve seen of PolitiFact admitting that the truth was too complex or beyond the scope of the Truth-O-Meter treatment.

…as well as the absurdities of its performance once you get into the weeds with specific stories:

If a conservative advocacy group runs an ad saying Obamacare could cost “up to $2 trillion,” an honest fact-checker would look up the government’s own estimate and see that, indeed, the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.76 trillion for just the first few years…

…The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare “represents a gross cost to the federal government of $1,762 billion,” or $1.76 trillion, over the next decade, and that the costs will grow over time. Yet PolitiFact still managed to dismiss that bedrock number as something to be dismissed. In critiquing an advertisement that attacked the program’s costs, PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that “the $1.76 trillion number itself is extreme cherry-picking. It doesn’t account for the law’s tax increases, spending cuts or other cost-saving measures.” On paper, the Obama administration projects that new taxes and Medicare cuts will offset the new program’s costs for a while. But that doesn’t change the cost of “up to $2 trillion.” That would make the statement True, of course. Incidentally, the CBO’s 10-year cost figures will be closer to $3 trillion in a few years, if current forecasts prove accurate.

Read the whole article.  And remember it next time someone waves “Politifact” in your face.

Takeaway:  Journalists – really, journalism itself – depend on having some sort of trust from their consumers.  It starts with the little things – did they get the who, what, when, where, why and how correct – and in the bigger things, like “not slanting their coverage to suit some other agenda”.   See Dan Rather.

Meanwhile, Here At Home

I’ve always had a fair amount of regard for MPR News, which is perhaps counterintuitive for a Minnesota Conservative.  While a very close, and admittedly very partisan, listen reveals the odd bit of bias among the reporters and their editorial process, I think it’s fair to say that MPR News makes a game effort at playing the news straight (that is, of course, as distinct from MPR’s and “American Public Media’s” non-news programming, which is designed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the upper-middle-class liberal).

But I have had some questions about MPR News’ “Poligraph” feature this past week (and, let’s be honest, for years).  While I think Catherine Richert does a broadly acceptable job of balancing her “fact-checking”, I’ve taken a closer look at some of her pieces this week.  And I wrote her to ask some quesitons, which led to an interesting interchange between her and her boss, Mike Mulcahy and I.

Richert (as she herself noted in the comment section yesterday) responded, pointing out “Polograph’s” “about” section (which I also posted yesterday), and adding:

As you’ve probably noticed, we check one Democrat and one Republican every week, and occasionally a member of the IP. Once in a while, we switch the schedule up and check two members of the same party in one week. When that happens, we check two members of the other party the following week.

That was good to learn, actually.

 Both the Hernandez and Klobuchar claims from last week meet several of our criteria. Both were “checkable” statements, both were made in debates, which are significant news events, and both are central to major campaign issues.

And that was even better to learn.

And next, we get to the beef:

 Hernandez is adamantly opposed to the bank bailout, which highlights the GOP’s broader campaign theme that government has become too intrusive.

That’s correct.  We talked about this on Tuesday.  I called the fact-check “Obtuse” because while Tony wasn’t literally to-a-point accurate (the bailout didn’t cause unemployment all by itself), he spoke to a larger point that even Richert’s sources agreed with – that government intervention is fouling up the economy.

Question:  As in the “Millennium” example: does analyzing Hernandez’ ad-lib as an absolutely literal statement (“did the bailout literally cause our unemployment rate?”) rather than a general statement of economic principle (“did bailouts harm or help the economy”) or political princple (“are bailouts the right thing to do?”) bring us closer to, or farther from, the larger truth?  That the results of Obama’s (and Bush’s) interventions in the economy are, even if you’re completely non-partisan, mixed at best?

And Klobuchar has made bipartisanship a cornerstone of her political persona; her claim about how many bills she has sponsored with Republicans underscores that part of her campaign message.

And as I pointed out on Wednesday, that’s true in and of itself; it showed Klobuchar’s “bipartisanship” – according to one measure, at least.  It proved that the numbers gave to support her own assertion were in fact correct.  So if your question was “does Amy Klobuchar give out correct numbers to prove her assertions”, she passed with flying colors!

But if your question was “Is Klobuchar really bipartisan?”, there was much more to it; her voting record is 94% Democrat (as Richert noted), and in the leftmost third of the Democrat caucus; put another way, she’s the 17th most-liberal Senator out of 100.

Question:  Which is the more important question, if the goal of ones’ fact-checking is to inform people about the upcoming election: “Does Amy give out valid numbers?”, or “Is Amy’s contention that she’s bi-partisan accurate?”

I’d maintain that while the latter question’s answers are dependent to some extent on one’s political perspective, that that question is the real story.

As I noted yesterday, my most important question – after learning and noting their “ping-pong” format of hitting a statement by both major parties every week, more or less – is “how does a statement get picked for analysis?”  I noted a couple of Betty McCollum statements – one on her views of the Ryan budget, one on the funding for the Stillwater bridge project.  Let’s stick to the former for right now.  It’d seem this fits Richert’s description of Poligraph’s criteria;  it’s “checkable” (I checked it!), it took place at a significant news event (the same debate that Hernandez’ statements came from), and it’s a central part of her campaign (raise taxes, oppose the Ryan budget).

So I asked – why did MPR pick, as the “Democrat” question in the weeks’ ping-pong of statements from both parties, Klobuchar’s self-serving but accurate statement about her bipartisanship, as opposed to McCollum’s completely fact-free statement about the Ryan Budget?

Because that speaks to my second question, way up above – about how a “fact-checker” whose integrity isn’t trusted is just barking in the wind.

Now, it’s entirely possible that MPR News’ management doesn’t see the incongruity; I’ll cop to the fact that my perspective is one that it finely tuned to find bias, and that fine-tuning sometimes warps the perspective.  All that’s a given.

But I thought it was a legitimate question:  for the single, sole, weekly “fact-check” of a Democrat, by what rationale was a self-serving innocuity like Klobuchar’s statement selected (and a very tightly-focused validation given)) over an out-and-out untruth like McCollum’s?

Because given…:

  • the growing, documented tendency of “journalistic” “fact-checking” organizations like Politifact, Factcheck and Snopes to operate from a standpoint of political bias, and…
  • the fact that we are in an election where peoples’ votes are going to be swayed by the impressions they get from the news, and the “Journalism 101”-level fact that things like ledes and “MISLEADING” graphics tend to be remembered more than the deep-down details about a story, and that…
  • looking at both of the stories from this week’s selection of “Facts” checked at that level would lead one to think “Tony Hernandez lied about the bailout, Amy Klobuchar told the truth about being bipartisan, and there’s apparently no news about Betty McCollum”…
  • …while allowing that I’m looking at one week’s worth of Poligraph stories in a near vacuum, focusing on a couple of debates and statements of particular importance to me.   I’ll stipulate that that could very well skew my own perception.  I’m more than willing to be set straight on this.  I say that as a matter of intellectual honesty, not because I necessarily believe I’m wrong.
…I’d suspect it’d be a question a serious news organization would ask itself.

Question:  Did Poligraph’s stories about Hernandez or Klobuchar bring the news consumer closer to the real story – the candidates’ views on the economy and their “bipartisanship”?  Or did they answer the questions by asking the wrong questions, thus missing the forest for the trees? Or did they, like the “Terrorists” “fact-checking” at the top of the post, obscure rather than clarify the issue for someone seeking the truth?

Folllow-up question:  Does MPR’s choice of “facts’ to “check” make you trust their judgment and perspective on covering political news more, or less?

Lying About Lying

What Obama Said:

“Sometimes they just make things up. But they’ve got a bunch of folks who can write $10 million checks, and they’ll just keep on running them,” he said. “I mean, somebody was challenging one of their ads — they made it up — about work and welfare. And every outlet said this is just not true. And they were asked about it and they said — one of their campaign people said, ‘We won’t have the fact-checkers dictate our campaign. We will not let the truth get in the way.’”

What really happened:

Mr. Obama was referring, as many other critics of the Romney campaign have, to a comment that its pollster, Neil Newhouse, made to reporters at the Republican convention on Tuesday, dismissive of those faulting the campaign’s television ads. What Mr. Newhouse actually said was, “These fact-checkers come to those ads with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs. We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Mr. Newhouse did not say, “We will not let the truth get in the way.”

No, but you can bet your life that hundreds of leftybloggers and leftytweeps will say he did up until the election, and all the way through the 2016 campaign.

Further evidence that the Obama campaign is pinning its hopes on the “low-information” voter – those who vote according to slogans, prejudice, and the last thing they heard.

Facts In The Dark, Part III: “Poligraph” And Selection Bias

For years, now, I’ve had questions about how politicians’ statements get selected for MPR’s “Poligraph”.

If you Google the feature, one might be forgiven for thinking the feature should be named “MPR’s Michele Bachmann Bureau”.  That’d be unfair; Poligraph reporter Catherine Richert does spread some of the fact-checking love around among parties.

But I do seriously wonder what a pol has to do to get a statement picked up by Poligraph.

Huge Gaping Factual Hole, Ready For Occupancy

For example, I’ve wondered for years why Richert’s crew have never once checked up on Heather Martens, who has yet to speak her first significant truthful thing about the gun control issue.   This blog has spent years shredding everything Martens has ever said on the public stage.

It’s a big issue to me, naturally.  If I were a real cynic, I’d say it’s because MPR has invested some of its own credibility in Martens, airing an op-ed of hers in which every single one of her fifteen factual assertions – every one – was untrue.

But Martens isn’t an elected official?  Okie-Dokey – Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom is an elected official, and every single word he wrote about last years’ “Stand Your Ground” bill over the past four years was a lie.  Every single word.   And he’s elected, ya?   And both of them had Governor Dayton’s ear last session, when he vetoed the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which had passed with a bipartisan majority in the legislature.

Is it because MPR’s target demo doesn’t care about the issue?  I could almost understand it if that were the rationale.  But I don’t suspect a news organization would get behind that as an official alibi, do you?

Checking The Facts

So I wrote Richert over the weekend.  She emailed me back bright and early Tuesday morning.  Since I didn’t specify anything would be on the record (it was late), I’ll paraphrase; she referred me to the “About Poligraph” page, and noted the feature’s ground rules involve picking one statement from each party, each week (or, at times, two from one party one week, and two from the other the next).

The “About” page also notes:

PoliGraph puts the findings into short, clear explanations accompanied with a rating — accurate, misleading, false or inconclusive.

– Accurate: These claims are entirely or mostly true. They include important details and are supported by the facts.

-Misleading: These statements that leave out key information, are exaggerated, or have been taken out of context.

– False: These claims are not true or misleading to the point of being false.

– Inconclusive: This rating typically applies to projections or estimates. While such claims could be true under certain circumstances, more information is needed.

Well, that explains a few things, anyway.

One might hope that this next bit, however…:

If this reminds you of, the Pultizer Prize-winning from the St. Petersburg Times, you’d be right. We know good ideas when we see them.

…does not.  The political bias of Politifact (and those of the Pulitzer committee, as well) are a matter worth discussion; if those are “good ideas”, MPR News may see it; I do not.

More about the “Fact-checking” industry tomorrow.

Anyway – that brings us to my question from last Tuesday.

Selection Bias?

Yesterday, we looked briefly at “Poligraph”‘s take on an Amy Klobuchar claim to bipartisanship during her debate with Kurt Bills.    While Klobuchar’s statement was accurate as far as it went – the numbers literally supported the exact letter by letter intent of the Senator’s statement – Richert’s “fact check” focused to exclusion on the numbers, while ignoring the larger context Klobuchar’s statement seems to have been meant to hide.  This earned “Poligraph” a rating of “Cherry-PIcked”

That was their weekly “Democrat” fact-check.

But today’s installment will go back to this past Tuesday’s installment, in which Poligraph hit its self-imposed weekly “GOP” quota.  There, we looked at the “Poligraph” “fact-check” of a Tony Hernandez statement linking the bank bailouts to the unemployment rate.  While Tony oversimplified the issue, there is considerable debate about the question, and Richert herself focused excessively on refuting Hernandez’ words and ignored the broader context of the remark.   Calling Hernandez’ statement “Misleading” rather than “Oversimplified” earned “Poligraph” a rating of “Obtuse”.

But I wondered:  if “Poligraph’s” quota is one article per party per week, why pick the fairly innocuous Klobuchar quote about her record of co-sponsored bills?  The claim was almost as innocuous as the Senator herself (although it covered, I maintain, a much more important context).

But let’s go back to another moment from the State Fair debate.

Check out this segment from the Hernandez-McCollum debate:

(Video courtesy MN CD4 Conservatives blog)

Here’s the money quote from Rep. McCollum:

“The Ryan Budget does nothing to move this country forward.  It only protected tax cuts for the wealthy…[when presented with a putative Democrat budget proposal]…the Republicans said “No, if we can’t have tax cuts for the upper 1%”, which by the way is borrowed money from China, that we couldn’t have the middle-class tax cuts!”

This is an unvarnished lie.  The GOP and Ryan’s plan have been all about tax cuts across the board all along, combined with broadening the tax base so that a broader share of the people are actually paying something.  The Democrats want to use “tax cuts” as a class-warfare-baiting wedge, and seek to jack up taxes on the “wealthy”.

This McCollum statement was devoid of fact.  It contains an absolute absence of truth.  There is no validity to it in any way shape or form.

And yet it passed, while Richert spent a solid day or two vetting Hernandez’ off the cuff oversimplification about the bailout, and giving Amy Klobuchar’s blandishment about her “bipartisanship” a pass.

Why was that?

So I’ll give Poligraph a “Huh?”.

Here’s another one:  :

She says there’s lots of “Federal Highway Money” involved in the new St. Croix bridge project.  But there’s actually fairly little direct federal funding involved; it’s a lot more complex than that.

Now – the standard set with Tony’s oversimplification we looked at Tuesday was that, according to “Poligraph”, “too complex to put exactly that way” is “Misleading”.

So what is this?

We give Poligraph a rating of “Double Standard” for this one.

The question is, why does “Poligraph” pick the statements they pick?

More tomorrow.

Facts In The Dark, Part II: “Poligraph” And The Path Not Taken

Yesterday, I suggested that it might be a good idea for Minnesota Public Radio’s “Poligraph” feature (for whom Cathy Richert is listed as the “lead reporter”) might do well to add an “Oversimplified” rating to its rather cut-and-dried set of verdicts.

I suggested it because at first blush, it might be used to cover Richert’s own “fact-checking” – for example, the sole “fact-check” she did of Amy Klobuchar during the debate with Kurt Bills.

During the MPR debate at the Minnesota State Fair last week, A-Klo claimed that 2/3 of the bills she authored were ‘bipartisan”.  Richert dutifully confirmed that Klobuchar did, in fact, have Republican co-sponsors for 2/3 or so of the bills she wrote (while factually noting that Klobuchar votes with Harry Reid’s line in the caucus a very liberal 94% of the time).

On hearing this odd little juxtaposition – a “bipartisan” record of sponsoring bills versus a very partisan voting record – the curious reader and listener might have a question or two.

So What Did Klobuchar Sponsor?

Richert assures us that once fripperies like Senate Resolutions – which are usually non-controversial – are stripped from the data set, two-thirds of Klobuchar’s bills are, indeed, co-sponsored by Republicans.

And what assortment of bills are these?  I include them all below the jump.  And they are indeed some bipartisan profiles in courage; suspension of duties on plastic children’s wallets, bamboo kitchen utensils and inflatable swimming pools and the like.  Read the list at your leisure; you’ll need it.  There are 75 of ’em.  And right around 50 have a Republican co-sponsor.  And they are, pretty much to a T, innocuous.

The only two bills that Klobuchar has actually had signed by the President?  Neither the “Appeal Time Clarification Act“, co-sponsored by Jeff Sessions, and the St. Croix Bridge legislation, cosponsored by Franken and Wisconsin’s Senators Kohl (D) and Johnson (R), are especially controversial.

But there’s nothing wrong with having an innocuous record, really – is there?

Of course not.  Not everyone is a leader and a trail blazer, a la Paul Ryan.  It’s perfectly fine to claim innocuity as a virtue.

But what if there’s more to it?

Why Pick Such An Odd Figure To Wave Around In A Debate?

Klobuchar has, in fact, been running on the fact that she’s a pleasant enough person who is not averse to “bipartisanship”, but not in a way that risks anything.

But GovTrack shows her well to the left among Senators, with a voting record to the left of Harry Reid and San Francisco überliberal Dianne Feinstein, with only 16 Senators with more left-leaning rap sheets.  And it remained to Richert to point out to the reader and listener – days after the actual debate – that Klobuchar’s voting record is actually 94% in line with the Senate’s Democrat majority.  That is hardly a “bipartisan” record.

So it’d seem that:

  • Klobuchar cherry-picked a statistic – a record of milquetoast bill sponsorships – to camouflage her extremely liberal voting record.
  • Richert delved into the literal facts of the Senator’s claim and declared it “accurate”, while giving the shortest possible honest shrift one could give to the larger context – noting the top line of Klobuchar’s voting record without giving the faintest hint as to where that put Klobuchar within the Democrat caucus – that could still vaguely qualify as “journalistic balance”.

So there are a couple of questions here.

  1. Richert called Tony Hernandez’ claim in the August 28 MPR debate (that the bailouts caused the unemployment problem) “Misleading”, when it could much more accurately be called an “Oversimplification” of a very complex question.  So – given that Richert has oversimplified Klobuchar’s statement, is she “oversimplifying” – my term – or, as she put it, “misleading?”
  2. Given that , as I’ve shown, Klobuchar’s actual claim – that’s she’s oh-so-bipartisan – is supported by her co-sponsorship numbers but mocked by her voting record, doesn’t MPR, in the interest of accuracy, need to add a new, snappy “verdict” graphic?  Perhaps “Accurate on its face but intended to mislead the reader given a deeper context?”  It doesn’t fit on a snappy graphic like MPR seems to like, but it is in fact, more accurate, assuming “accuracy” is what “fact-checkers” shoot for.   I’ll run with “Cherry-Picked”.

And there’s another question.   Given all that was said in those two hour-long debates, why did MPR’s Richert pick this assertion of Klobuchar’s to “fact-check” (and oversimply), as well as Hernandez’ statement that we talked about yesterday?

What, indeed, are MPR’s criteria for submitting a politician’s statement to “Poligraph’s” eagle eye?

More on this tomorrow.
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Facts In The Dark, Part I: “Poligraph” And The Wheeled Goalposts

Over the past week, we’ve seen ample, fairly conclusive evidence that the mainstream media’s “Fact Checking” industry is, to a great extent, part of the Obama Administration’s propaganda mill, part of the mainstream media’s major ongoing role as Praetorian Guard for the liberal establishment.

But what about Minnesota Public Radio?

I’ve acknowledged many times in this space that MPR – at least its news department – has made an effort to at least appear, if not be, relatively non-partisan.   Its programming department – think Keri Miller and Garrison Keillor – are quite another matter, of course, but that’s to be more or less expected of an organization that depends for the bulk of its funding on the Volvo-driving free-range Alpaca-wearing St. Olaf alum set and the insecurity it seem to feel over its own intellectual and political supremacy.

I’ve also acknowledged that American Public Media is making an effort, in its own way, to recognize that conservatives exist and are people too.  That’s all to the good.

But if you’ve followed the news department’s “Poligraph” feature – MPR News’ entrée into the “Fact-Checking” business – you might ask a question or two about their sense of focus or proportion.  To say nothing of its story selection.

Case in point: last Tuesday’s debate between CD4 Representative Betty McCollum and GOP endorsed candidate Tony Hernandez.  Richert jumped on a statement of Tony’s:

“The reason why unemployment is so high right now is because we bailed out the banks,” Hernandez said during the debate. “The reason why the debt shot up $6 trillion since then is because we bailed out the banks.”

Let’s make sure we have the context straight, here; Tony Hernandez, a private-sector guy in the biggest debate of his life (so far), ad-libbed a remark on the deleterious effect of the bailouts, as (I think it’s fairly accurate to say) the rhetorical tip of an iceberg of data showing that government intervention in the economy under all guises has been a disaster during this past four (indeed, twelve) years.

By the way, I realize that if you ad-lib something that’s wrong, it’s still wrong.  Still, I bring it up because what Tony was doing – speaking ad-lib in front of a partly-friendly, partly-hostile crowd – is  harder than it looks.  Want proof?  Just listen whenever MPR people try to do it.  It’s rarely pretty, and they know it; if you watch these MPR debates, or any live MPR event, and you’re used to  the unscripted scrum of commercial talk or sportstalk radio, it’s amazing to see that they do their intros and outros from scripts.  

Anyway, MPR’s Richert has a history of holding off-the-cuff ad-libs – by Republicans, anyway – to a oddly tight, if factually-justified, standard of accuracy, as in this 2010 episode, where Tom Emmer said half of MInnesota’s cities didn’t get Local Government Aid.  In fact, it’s half of Minnesota’s people who live in cities that don’t get LGA; Richert called that statement “FALSE“, where it would be more accurately called “a mis-statement caused by transposing a fact from one category to another.

OK, their game, their rules.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

Richert’s Conclusion

Anyway, Richert gave Hernandez’ statement a flat “Misleading” rating, under the headline “Economists disagree with GOP candidate’s TARP claim”.

She promptly qualifies it, of course:

Indeed, there’s a reasonable argument to be made about whether the bailout was effective. Hernandez pointed to three news articles that underscore how the bank bailout and the auto industry bailout were costly and essentially prolonged a process that could have ended quickly if the government had stayed out of the picture.

For instance, in 2011, Bloomberg News reported that the Federal Reserve loaned the banks an additional $7.7 trillion – that was on top of the money banks received from the bailout.

But here’s the rub:  Tony said – in his off-handed remark – that the bailout caused the unemployment.  Richert provides a set of economists that, sure enough, deny that the bank bailout was the sole proximate cause of our national malaise, even as none of them deny that it’s an important contributor. In fact, that’s nearly an exact quote:

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation agrees with Calabria, and says that while the bailout may have indirectly been one of the reasons for some unemployment, it’s not the reason.

Indeed, every economist Richert mentioned – and both of the economists I’ve personally spoken with about this episode – all agree that the bailout was not the cause of unemployment, but most said, and none denied, that it was an important contributing factor to the larger national economic malaise.   Richert herself notes in rendering her “verdict” that “it’s far more complicated than that”.    Economiist Bruce Bartlett notes that the bailout, and some of the instruments of that bailout, like the payment of interest on reserves, have been contributing to the freeze on lending. Alfred Blinder in the WSJ amplifies this.

To sum it up:

  • Tony may have been guilty of oversimplifying an incredibly complicated issue in a brief ad-lib while getting to a larger point
  • He may not have gone into the level of detail on the statement it’d take to qualify it to the extent Richert did – with hours (over a day, in fact) to research her response.

In short: while everyone seems to acknowledge that the bailouts were reason our unemployment rate is high today, Richert labels the statement “Misleading” because it’s not the whole reason.

Perhaps in the interest of accuracy and honesty MPR needs to add a category to its rankings – “Oversimplified”.

And for that reason – the selection of sources that pared away all possible context to Hernandez’ quote, in order to give it a more detrimental “grade” than warranted – we give Poligraph a rating of “Obtuse”.

We’ll come back to this tomorrow, when we go over the reasoning behind one of Richert’s other fact-checks.  Wednesday we’ll look at one she for whatever reason, opted not to “fact-check”.  Thursday?  We’ll see.

Further Evidence…

…that the Light Worker’s campaign is aimed at the one group he’s got a shot with: the not very well informed:

This is an ad, as Ed points out, that even left-leaning Politifact has rated “pants on fire”.

As this blog has been noting for quite some time now, the Democrat strategy seems to be to just toss crap in front of the electorate and hope just enough of it sticks to the dim, uninformed, adolescent, solipsistic and over-emotional to eke out a win.

It worked for Mark Dayton.

All The Narrative That’s Fit To Buff

Jim Treacher notes what many conservative observers have long known; that thing the leftymedia and lefty “alt” media refer to as “fact-checking” is really no more than Democrat narrative-buffing.

“Politifact”, it seems, is less interested in “facts” than in “upholding the Democrat side of the story“.

Matthew Hoy writes:


In 2009, Judicial Watch made a big splash when they revealed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been using military aircraft to travel to and from her home district in California to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The spendthrift nature of the Democrat-controlled Congress was a key election issue in 2010 and Speaker Pelosi’s extravagance was Exhibit A. In response, Rep. John Boehner promised that if the GOP took control of the House and he was elected speaker, he would fly commercial to and from his district. After Republicans won, he reiterated his pledge.

Which brings us to March 23, 2012 and this update at self-appointed watchdog Politifact. Reporter Molly Moorhead referenced documents from the House and the Congressional Research Service and came up with absolutely no evidence that Boehner has been asking for or receiving military transport to and/or from his district.

Going by the old theory that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, Moorhead and her bosses at Politifact, decided that this merited an “In The Works” label…

“In The Works.” You’d think it would be either “True” or “False,” but that’s just because you don’t know any better.

Treacher’s conclusion:

I like PolitiFact’s style: “We can’t prove you’re lying, Speaker Boehner. In fact, there’s absolutely no proof of our suspicion whatsoever. Nice try!”

Moral of the story:  Any time a Media or Democrat (ptr) figure calls themselves a “fact checker”, assume they’re a narrative-buffer until proven otherwise.

An Editorial Without A Word Of Truth

The Strib finally did it.

The Strib’s editorial board, in serving in its unstated capacity as stenographers for the DFL and its agenda, have written some howlers over the years; countering them has provided a constant source of material for Minnesota’s large, thriving center-right alternative media for a solid decade now.

But over the weekend, they pulled off the unthinkable – the triple three-peat, the three-minute mile, winning 164 games in a regular season of editorial writing.

They wrote an editorial that was absolutely devoid of truth, or of objective fact.  Literally, not one assertion in the entire column about Representative Cornish’s “Stand Your Ground” bill is true, or not presented in a context that isn’t 180 degrees misleading.

An editorial that is, to a moral and ethical “T”, perfectly untrue beyond simple things like “the legislature passed…” or “Jim Backstrom is…”, obviously).

The thought of cataloging all the individual lies in this editorial is almost too daunting.  But if not me, who?

Now that the Legislature has passed a bill that would allow gun owners to use deadly force anywhere they feel threatened, only Gov. Mark Dayton can prevent it from becoming law.

This statement starts out with a bang (as it were), proving the stenographer writer’s absolute ignorance on the subject.  Minnesota law currently says you can use lethal force when you feel threatened.  The bill doesn’t change the justifications for lethal force.  Not at all.   It has nothing to do with how the law-abiding shooter “Feels”.

It has to do with the burden of proof in judging their motives, and only under certain circumstnces.

More later.

Known as an expanded version of the “castle doctrine,” the bill would allow Minnesotans to shoot to kill even if they aren’t at home. The state’s current castle law already allows citizens to use deadly force in their homes to protect themselves.

This statement is proof that the writer is just re-writing a press release from Heather Martens.

Minnesotans – and residents of any state, for that matter – can already use lethal force to defend themselves, in or out of their homes.   Self-defense has been an accepted part of the law since before there was a United States.

The problem in MInnesota is that self defense is called an “affirmative defense”; you plead guilty to shooting someone, with an explanation.  You are then guilty until you prove yourself innocent, and show to the court’s and jury’s satisfaction that you were…:

  • An unwilling participant
  • in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm
  • that lethal force was justified
  • that you made a reasonable effort to disengage.

The “Stand  Your Ground” law would make one change; if you shoot someone on your property – your house, your yard, your garage, in your car or a business you own – the burden of proof switches to the county attorney.   The law-abiding shooter on their own property will be innocent until proven guilty.

And that is all.

But the proposed law, more appropriately called the “shoot first” bill by opponents,

And there’s more proof that the editorial is just a rewrite of a Heather Martens press release.

“Shoot First” bill?

Has anyone on the Strib editorial board’s band of logicians ever pondered what happens if you shoot second?

would let gun owners fire at people they perceive as threats — without the expectation that they should first attempt to avoid trouble if possible.

Another lie, another direct crib from Heather Martens’ chanting points.  Self-defense shooting is always shooting at “perceived threats”.  The bill merely means that, while you’re on your property, the county attorney has the burden of proving that your perception was wrong.

In particular, ‘Shooting people without first trying to avoid trouble” is legal suicide now, and it would be if the law passes.

Minnesota doesn’t need this change. The state already has a conceal-and-carry law, and citizens who choose to arm themselves can already use firearms for protection anywhere within reasonable limits.

Which is true – and irrelevant to the subject of the editorial.

The bill is not about the right to keep and bear arms; that’s in the Constitution.  It’s about the right to use them in legitimate self-defense without an undue legal burden.

And as we saw in last month’s story from Iowa, the burden – being considered guilty until proven innocent – can truly be an undue one.

For years, shoot-first expansion has been among the top legislative priorities for the National Rifle Association. The organization believes that gun owners should have unfettered rights to defend themselves whenever and wherever they feel threatened.

That paragraph is more Heather Martens, from the callow, demonizing reference to the NRA, to the weasel-word that barely camouflages a lie (nobody, neither Cornish nor the NRA, supports an “unfettered” right to kill in self-defense; merely reasonable legal protections for everyone, including the shooter) and the face-palming illogic (again – self-defense is always about whether one “feels threatened”; the devil is in the details; they help determine whether that “feeling” reasonable?)

That’s part of the problem: Defining a threat can be very personal — and mistakes can be deadly. Some gun owners may feel nervous because of the way a group of youths is dressed. Others might find members of a different race or culture to pose a threat.

Heather Martens has been my rhetorical kick-toy for most of the past decade – but to the best of my knowledge, she’s never tried to play the race card.  I suspect this is the Strib’s editorial board taking some editorial license with Martens’ press release.

You can shoot someone today because you don’t like their clothes, or their race, or their “culture”.  You merely have to prove to a jury that you feared being killed or maimed, that lethal force was justified, that you made a reasonable effort to escape the threat of imminent death or mutilation, and that you didn’t seek out the fight.

And the only thing that’ll change – the only thing – under the proposal is that if you are on your property, the county attorney will have to prove that it was wrong.

And the editorial board apparently has no confidence whatsoever in Minnesota’s police or prosecutors’ ability to tell if a shooting is illegitimate – that a shooting was because of fear of the victim’s “race” or “clothes” or “culture” rather than legitimate fear of death.

Whichever is the case, the conclusion – the editorial board is lying – is the same.

And what about those occasions when a person hears a noise and worries that it could be someone who would do them harm? Then there’s the issue of defending one’s life vs. protecting property.

Absolutely none of which changes from current law.  If the police and county attorney investigate and believe that there was no legitimate threat to the property owner, the property owner still has a problem.  The editorial board – like Heather Martens – is lying about this.

The proposed law allows deadly force to be used against anyone who enters a garage, for example, “by stealth or force.” That means a homeowner could injure someone or take a life over the theft of a car, bicycle or lawn mower.

Let’s take this statement at face value – more than it deserves – and compare and contrast.

An unarmed black Somali youth sneaks into a garage to steal a bike.  Homeowner runs to garage and shoots him.  The homeowner claims self-defense – that he “felt threatened”.

Current Law: Since the youth was unarmed and there was no evidence that he was a lethal threat to the homeowner, the homeowner’s affirmative defense fails and he’s convicted of murder or manslaughter.

Proposed Law: Since the police investigation shows the youth was unarmed and there was no evidence that he was a lethal threat to the homeowner, the county charges him with murder or manslaughter, and easily proves him guilty.

That’s it.

As Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom pointed out in a Feb. 15 commentary on these pages (“A bill for the trigger-happy? Bull’s-eye”), the modified law would allow people to shoot first and ask questions later whenever they believed they were threatened, regardless of how a reasonable person would have responded under the same circumstances.

And as I showed, then and above, Backstrom was lying and misrepresenting the law.

It speaks volumes that Backstrom and most other state and national prosecutors, as well as law enforcement groups, oppose the proposal.

Yes; it shows, yet again, that they are in the bag for the DFL.  Which is a fact – urban “law enforcement groups” like the MN Police Chiefs’ association are primarily political organizations; the chiefs, especially those in the bigger cities, are mainly political offices, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the (always DFL) governments.

More importantly?  These same groups all come out against all Second Amendment expansions.  All of them.  They all predict dire consequences.

And they are always wrong.

They’re on the front lines and understand that deadly force should be the last resort.

And the bill will not change that one iota.  It’ll merely mean prosecutors will have the same burden of proof they have against real criminals.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, has supported expanded castle legislation for years, arguing that the change would codify that law-abiding people “have the brains” [love those scare quotes, huh?  – Ed] to understand the seriousness of deadly force.

And the record, nationwide, has shown Cornish’s argument to be resoundingly correct.

Cornish, a former police chief, believes the bill is a logical extension of current law and that the change is needed because citizens need to know that they won’t be prosecuted for defending themselves.

But Cornish can’t point to a single case in Minnesota in which someone acting in self-defense was convicted of anything or sent to jail.

It’s deceptive rhetoric – and it’s untrue.  I sure can.

Thomas McCuiston – a 125-pound black man – fatally shot a 6’1, drunk, racist attacker with a 50-pound weight advantage who was breaking into his home; he was defending his five year old son.  At trial the judge refused to include the part of the statute that referred to “defending ones’ dwelling” into his instructions; they sentenced McCuiston to 15 years.  The appellate judge found that the jury instruction was a reversible error; McCuiston was granted a new trial, where the jury got the right instruction and acquitted McCuiston.

There’s one.  Want another?

Martin Treptow, who shot at a man who’d been road-raging at him and had him blocked in at a stoplight on Highway 10.  The man pointed a gun at Treptow’s pregnant wife as she sat in the passenger seat; Treptow shot the man, who turned out to be an “undercover cop” and member of the now-disgraced Gang Strike Force.  Although Treptow was released without even having his carry permit revoked by the Anoka cops, the Anoka County Attorney leaned on Treptow, promising endless prosecution unless he accepted a deal.  An unemployed security guard, he didn’t have the resources to fight the case; he pled guilty to lesser charges.  It was as complete a miscarriage of justice as I’ve ever seen – and as clear a justification of the Cornish Bill as exists.

Those two cases (and I’ll bank on there being more) distract from the real point, which isn’t necessarily that anyone “goes to jail” because they had to prove their innocence (unlike virtually any real criminal); it’s that they had to spend an average of $50,000 in legal bills against the  unlimited resources of the county attorney to  defeat a presumption of guilt until proven innocent – a financial hit the county attorney’s office can absorb without a second thought, but which breaks many poorer defendants…

…who plead guilty to lesser charges, and thus don’t count as people “sitting in jail because they were wrongly convicted”, because, hey, they confessed to the lesser crime – and the lesser included charge of being too poor to fight the County Attorney!  Indeed, those are the victims of the current system of law; smug upper-middle-class liberals can afford lawyers to fight their way through the system and prove themselves innocent; working class and poor people, like Treptow and McCuiston and Ray Lewis, people who live in lousyh neighborhoods (gutted by DFL policy) who need to defend themselves (against criminals against which the DFL-run city is powerless), but don’t have the resources to fight the county attorney.

So while the editorial is utterly devoid of fact, it is racist, in the way that Strib editorials always are; the racism of “good intentions”, of trying to do the little peoples’ thinking for them.  Even if it means you have to doctor the facts to do it.

So why is the Strib editorial board lying?  Why is it doing a glossy rewrite of an (I’ll guess, with authority) Heather Martens press release and calling it the institutional voice of the newspaper?

The Strib is lying to the people. Where is the accountability?

Other than the slow dripping of market forces pushing it into irrelevance?  There is none.

EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION:  How long until Catherine Richert at MPR’s “Poligraph” “fact-checks” this editorial?

No Obvious Rant, No Overt Slant

To: Catharine Richert, “Poligraph” writer at MPR
From: Mitch Berg, mere peasant
Re: Here’s a dandy story idea!

Ms. Richert,

You’ve been doing “Poligraph” at Mnnesota Public Radio for quite some time now.   The ongoing feature purports to fact-check Minnesota politicians’ statements.

Now, a quick glance through the Poligraph page seems to show that most of your “fact-checking” involves going over statements…by Republicans.  The statements, and the facts in question, can frequently be more than a little bit picayune, but the point isn’t so much that you fact-check a lot of things that are, to most people, pretty ephemeral stuff as it is that your efforts seem so very, very one-sided.

Now, on the one hand I’m one of those rare conservatives who credits MPR’s News operation for at least trying for some sort of balance.  Tom Scheck did an excellent piece on Alliance For A Better Minnesota, for example.  Two years after I did it, naturally, and long-lagging my own extensive coverage of ABM’s efforts, but then he’s gotta cover a lot of stuff, and it’s fine.  Better late than never (although I do wonder why MPR’s coverage of things that don’t carefully buff the DFL’s sheen always happen in the dead of winter, long before anyone actually cares about politics, but again, just a quibble).  As a rule, I appreciate the job MPR News does, while believing it could do better.

On the other hand, I do realize you work for MPR, you’re a graduate of the impeccably-“progressive” Humprey Institude, and beyond all that that you have to serve your Volvo-driving, Carlton-degree-holding, Wellstone-worshiping, Crocus-Hill-dwelling, latte-drinking master.  And that DFL-voting master just loooooves to have her ego stroked, whether during the pledge drives (I noticed a lot more of the “we MPR listeners are a smart, discerning bunch!” promos during your pledge drive) and in between.  Which means tackling those nasty, talk-radio-listening Republicans.

So it’d be interesting to see if you ever manage to get around to “Poligraphing” the most egriegious, pants-soaked-in-napalm lies in Minnesota politics today – those being told by the likes of Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom and the various metro police chiefs about the “Stand Your Ground” bill.  Quite simply, nothing they say – nothing, nada, bupkes – has even the faintest grain of truth to it.

(I’ll bring you up to speed:  Stand Your Ground would treat people who shoot in self-defense on their property a presumption of innocence.  Currently, to claim self-defense, you have to essentially say “I’m guilty, but here’s my explanation…”, and hope the explanation suits the prosecutor, judge and jury.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it really really doesn’t.

Now, Backstrom, Darth Lillehaug, and some of the Metro police chiefs (and headline writers) claim that the bill would “legalize murder”, which is a slander both to the law-abiding owner and the cops and prosecutors who investigate the shootings – as if they can’t tell the difference between a legitimate self-defense shooting and a criminal act.

But more importantly for your beat, Ms. Richert, it’s right in your wheelhouse.  You have Minnesota politicans – and, even worse, officers of the court – lying about the law.  To Minnesotans..

That’s your beat, right?

Now, I realize that the Volvo-driving, free-range-alpaca-wearing, Saint-Olaf-diploma-sporting, latte-drinking, Merriam-Park-dwelling crowd that is your audience base might find guns and Second Amendment supporters unfashionable.  I get that.

But, again – politicians lying to the people.  In the news.

While this might take time away from poring over Michele Bachmann’s grocery list, I”m just saying.  You smelling what I’m cooking?

That is all.

Crimes And Misdemeanors Against Fact

Yesterday, I tackled a Strib op-ed by Jim Backstrom.  Backstrom, the Dakota County Attorney, wrote the latest in a long string of fact-challenged diatribes against the rights of the rigorously-law-abiding gun owner.

Now, Backstrom – who is not just an elected public official, but one in charge of enforcing the law by prosecuting accused criminals in Dakota County – has been misrepresenting facts  when it comes to the law-abiding gun owner for years.

Of course, we do have a First Amendment.  Freedom of Speech means freedom to lie like a sack of crap.  And as a general rule, I support the idea that the best way to respond to bad, stupid, misleading, lying speech is by responding with the truth, and more of it.  And I’m not changing that.

But I do have two questions:

Professionalism:  If a doctor were to go in the Star/Tribune and not just declare that, research notwithstanding, smoking cigarettes is in fact good for you, what would happen?  Would she be castigated?  Shunned by her fellow physicians?  Accused of professional malfeasance?  Have her records gone over by dogs trained to sniff out whackdoodelry?

Have her professionalism questioned for giving advice to the public that is directly counter to fact?

So why is it that Jim Backstrom – the chief prosecutor of one of Minnesota’s larger counties – is allowed, as a matter of professional integrity, to misrepresent Minnesota criminal law?  Because as I pointed out yesterday, that’s exactly what he did in yesterday’s op-ed, and in many before it.

Is there no requirement, legal or professional, that lawyers, especially lawyers who are public officials and officers of the court, refrain from actively and blatantly misrepresenting the laws they are charged with enforcing?

(Of course there is no legal requirement; I’d suspect that the same court decisions that allow cops to lie to suspects to trick them into giving information applies to county attorneys lying in the newspaper to the sheeple they’re responsible for herding).

Shouldn’t there be?

I mean, other than the next Dakota County attorney’s election?  Although as a point of principle, DakCo residents should take umbrage at a county attorney who lies about the law.  Even you liberals; if he misrepresents laws about self-defense, who’s to say the next one won’t be, I dunno, Voter ID?

The Same Old Song To The Same Old Beat: And yet again, the Strib prints without question or serious comment the opinion of someone who is simply empirically wrong about the subject.  On subject after subject, it’s been the Strib’s op-ed stock in trade for decades – and on none more than on the law-abiding citizens’ right to defend themselves.

The Strib continues to print the fact-less ravings of Heather Martens, Wes Skoglund, David Lillehaug, and of course Backstrom, without fact-check, without “gatekeeping”, without question, apparently for no other reason than (save Martens) they are big important (liberal) public officials.

Now, does anyone think the Strib would continue to publish, without question, op-eds from the doctor that claimed smoking was good for you?  Or would the circular-file his submissions after a while?

If that doctor were a powerful DFLer, apparently not.

Chanting Points Memo: “Emmer Lied About LGA!”

Some background:  Local Government Aid was started in the late sixties/early seventies to help poorer cities in outstate Minnesota afford some of the newer infrastructure – schools, roads, police, water treatment, etc – that they couldn’t have on their own tax bases.

The local leftyblogbuildup has been carping about this piece in Polinaut, which “fact-checked” one of Tom Emmer’s off-handed statements in a recent debate:

“I don’t know how many of your viewers understand that only about half the cities in this state get any local government aid and frankly only a handful get the lion’s share,” he said during a debate Sept. 17, 2010.

Now, Emmer is a hip-shooter; on many bedrock conservative issues, the infinitesimal details are less important than the high level vision.

But the left – and Minnesota Public Radio’s “Poligraph” – took umbrage; some 85% of Minnesota cities get some form of LGA, and, MPR’s Catherine Richert pointed out, many smaller cities get more money per capita than the “Big Three”, Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth.  Richert concluded:

Emmer’s claim is fraught with inaccuracies. He’s wrong that only half of Minnesota communities are getting aid. It’s far more than that. And while Minneapolis and St. Paul come out on top in terms of dollars of aid, it’s the smallest cities in the state that are getting the most aid per person – precisely the aim of the local government aid program.

This claim is false.

Well, no.  It’s not.

I mean, yes – some smaller cities get very, very high per-capita Local Aid numbers.  The highest per-capita numbers in the state are, in fact, from some of our smallest towns (and Hibbing).

But who really gets LGA in Minnesota?  Using the exact same figures MPR used in their story, let’s go through MPR’s “fact-check”.

Emmer’s campaign said it could not back-up his claim that only half the cities in the state get aid. In fact, most do. This year, 85 percent of communities – or 727 out of 854 communities — will get local government aid after unallotment cuts, according to data supplied by the Minnesota State Legislature House Research Department, which tracks these payments annually.

But if you count the populations of cities and towns that get zero LGA (about 1.7 million) and the people who don’t live in incorporated cities, it adds up to about half the people in Minnesota.

Should Emmer have distinguished between people and cities?

Enh.  Maybe, maybe not.  We’ll come back to that.

Emmer’s second point, that a handful of commun ities get the most money, is more complicated. This year, the state will give out $426,535,440 in local government aid. Nearly half of that – about $200 million – goes to 14 cities, including Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, St. Paul, and Winona.

That much is true, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story.

The top 14 cities in terms of Local Government Aid – Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Saint Cloud, Winona, Hibbing, Austin, Moorhead, Mankato, Rochester, Faribault, Albert Lea, New Ulm and Virginia – do indeed soak up over half of the state’s entire LGA budget.

More interestingly, the top thirty cities  in population – from Minneapolis (population 390131) down through Brooklyn Center (30330) get a grand total of about 172 million dollars from LGA.

But twenty of the top thirty cities – Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Burnsville, Maple Grove, Woodbury, Blaine, Lakeville, Minnetonka, Apple Valley, Edina, Saint Louis Park, Maplewood, Roseville, Cottage Grove, Shakopee, Inver Grove Heights and Andover – receive absolutely no local government aid.

Every one of them is a metro-area suburb.  Most, if not all, of them are successful cities with more-or-less thriving business communities.   Each of them has between 30,000 and 85,000 people; 1.05 million people altogether, a fifth of the entire population of Minnesota.

We’ll come back to that too.

However, Emmer’s statement glosses over some important context. Local Government Aid was created to help towns with limited tax bases provide services to its residents. Funding is doled out based on a city’s fiscal needs and its ability to pay for them, as well as other factors, including population.

This brings us to the part of the story that doesn’t get contained in a spreadsheet – much.  LGA isn’t just a bit of help to parts of the state that can’t afford the better things in governmental life on their own.  It’s not even merely a program forcing the parts of this state that don’t work to subsidize spending on the parts of the state that either can’t afford them, or spend more than they want to account for to their own voters.  It’s a political football.

But let’s go back to the numbers.

So on one hand, it makes sense that large cities, like St. Paul or Minneapolis, would be getting a lot of money.

But dollar amounts don’t reveal much. To really understand how the state is spending the cash, it makes more sense to look at aid per capita. By this measure, some of the state’s smallest towns are getting the most money per person. For instance, Leonidas, population 57, got $35,240 this year, which breaks down to about $618 per person. By comparison, Minneapolis, population 390,000, got $63,986,731 in local government aid – or about $164 per person.

So far, so good.  Minneapolis gets $164 a person; Saint Paul, closer to $175.  Duluth, a whopping $322 per person.

If you take the Big Three cities together, the average Local Government Aid comes to almost $186 per person.

If you take those “Top Fourteen” cities with a fifth of Minnesota’s population that the MPR report talked about up above the fourteen cities that soak up half the LGA, the average is about the same; $187 per person, ranging from a low of $49 in Rochester to an incredible $495 and change for each of Hibbing’s 16,000-odd residents.

Indeed, some of Minnesota’s smallest cities do get the most money per capita; tiny Leonidas, population 57, got a grand total of $35,000; that’ll buy you two-third of one of RT Rybak’s drinking fountains in Minneapolis.

So let’s compare and contrast the average populations of cities outside the “Top Fourteen” – Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth and the eleven other cities listed above that soak up half the budget – that actually get above the average of the Top Fourteen in LGA receipts (I took every city that got over $188 per capita) with those that don’t.  They account for a total of 397 cities – a little less than half of Minnesota’s cities – with a combined population of almost exactly 540,000 people.  They soak up $157,319,854 – a total of $290.79 per capita.  And their average population is 1363.

We are talking small towns, here.

Compare that to the 383 cities that get less than $186 per capita – the average for the Big Fourteen recipients and the Big Three population centers.  They total 2,621,451 people – about half the population of the state – and get $55,550,284, or a little over a ninth of the total LGA budget.  They have an average population of 6844 – almost five times the size of the cities that get above-average aid.

So the pattern so far is this:

  • The big fourteen LGA recipients, and the three largest cities in population, all get $186 per capita in LGA.
  • The smaller towns and cities that get more than that average are quite small indeed.
  • The larger towns and cities that get below that average are considerably larger.

But what about the large number of cities that get no aid?  The MPR report points out that some cities get no money whatsoever from LGA.

Those 127 cities total 1,770,912 people – about a third of the state’s population – and have an average population just shy of 14,000.

So here’s how LGA breaks out:

  • the 14 biggest recipients, and 300-odd cities averaging just over a thousand people eat up almost $370 million in LGA ($141 million to the Twin Cities and Duluth); that is 87 percent of all LGA.
  • The remaining just-shy-of-half of Minnesota towns and cities – those in the middle of the pack, averaging around 6,000 people – get what’s left.
  • 15% of Minnesota towns and cities holding about a third of the people get no LGA.  Zip.  Nada.  Zilch.

Had enough yet?

Tough.  There’s more.

I split out the cities that make up the Twin Cities metro area – 101 total cities and towns (I may have missed a few, but they’re useful for comparison purposes).

Of the 101 total cities in the Metro, from huge Minneapolis to tiny Coates (population 177), averaging 28,500-odd people receiving a total of $158664,026 of LGA, averaging $57.20 per capita.

But only 28 cities in the Metro area actually get Local Government Aid.  So if you leave out Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with their 678,186 total people and roughly $170/person allotment, you get a total of 99 cities with 2,010,299 people, averaging a minuscule $8.31 per capita.


Local Government Aid gives immensely disproportionate aid to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth, as well as the smaller towns that the program was originally intended to aid.  It takes money from the parts of the state that are prospering – the Metro suburbs.

There is, in between the lavishly funded Twin Cities and Duluth and the smaller communities where a small contribution translates into a huge per-capita expenditure, a large donut hole of Minnesota communities, largely prosperous, heavily outer-tier Metro or from the southern part of the state, between 5,000 and the mid-five figures that get nothing – but most definitely pay in.

And Minnesota Public Radio stopped looking for conclusions when they found something they could use to bag on Tom Emmer.