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.

7 thoughts on “Facts In The Dark, Part I: “Poligraph” And The Wheeled Goalposts

  1. The Catholic Church of the 17th Century thinks you’re going a little too far in denying reality.

  2. Listened to MPR this weekend for two segments. The misinformation and faulty analyses were startling. But, they misinformed the public in a nice, level, civil tone so I guess all is well with the Birkenstock breeders.

  3. Okuns Law says we would need to grow the real GDP by about 4.6% for the next three years to get unemployment back to 5.2%.
    GDP is slated to grow by about 1.7% this year. The Fed is predicting GDP growth of 2.2-2.8% in 2013, and 3.0-3.5 in 2014. Keep in mind that the prediction further out is the least accurate. The highest GDP growth experienced during the Obama administration was in the last two quarters of 2009, 3.8% and 3.5%.
    Using these GDP projections, the Fed is predicting that unemployment will be well above 7% through 2014 — and only if its rosy prediction of 3.5% GDP growth is good.
    The two links above explain why Obama’s talk of “growing the economy from the bottom up” are empty chatter. If he is re-elected, he will never achieve the low unemployment that is a result of a high-growth economy. He and his allies hate economic growth. Economic growth is accompanied by greater exploitation of the environment (fossil fuel use increases) and higher income inequality (higher gini measure of income inequality).

  4. When you hear Bill Clinton singing the praises of Obama’s plan to “build the economy from the bottom up”, recall that the 1990’s were a time of dramatically increasing inequality in the U.S.
    This makes sense since the 90’s boom was driven by increased private sector investment. In that kind of boom, the only kind the Democrats have experience with, rising wages are linked to increases in GDP and privately held wealth.

  5. Pingback: Facts In The Dark, Part III: “Poligraph” And Selection Bias | Shot in the Dark

  6. Pingback: Facts In The Dark, Part IV: Clarity | Shot in the Dark

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.