If nothing else this news clip will make you feel less bad about your substandard math skills.
On Thursday evening, March 5, 2020, MSNBC newsman Brian Williams and New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay referred to a tweet they read on Twitter. It claimed that former Democrat candidate for president Michael Bloomberg could have made everyone in America a millionaire with the money he wasted on 2020 political ads.
“Somebody tweeted recently that actually with the money he spent, he could have given every American a million dollars,” declares Gay, flashing a big grin.
“I’ve got it! Let’s put it up on the screen,” says Williams. “When I read it tonight on social media it all became clear.”
The tweet was posted by someone named Mekita Rivas who describes herself as a journalist with degrees in journalism and English, and bylines in Glamour magazine and The Washington Post. Williams then reads the tweet with a bit of commentary added.
“Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. population is 327 million… (don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math)… He could have given each American $1 million and [had have lunch] [sic] money left over.” The Rivas tweet went on to remark, “I feel like a $1 million check would be life-changing for most people. Yet he wasted it all on ads and STILL LOST.”
Williams concludes, “It’s an incredible way of putting it!”
Gay agrees. “It’s an incredible way of putting it. It’s true. It’s disturbing. It does suggest what we’re talking about here which is there is too much money in politics…”
The problem is they were off by a factor of about one million. If Bloomberg spent $500 million, it would be enough to make 500 Americans millionaires. Not 327 million Americans. Just a difference of six zeroes.
All concerned were widely lampooned after the faux pas, and they apologized.
“Buying a calculator,” tweeted Gay.
“Please buy two…” replied Williams.
The big problem is, these are journalists who ask the public to believe, on a daily basis, that they can be trusted to present accurate information in the news. Information that has been checked and, we are told, can be believed.
All things considered, when reporters claim to have the market cornered on the truth of a scientific issue or factual controversy, it is reasonable to ask if they checked any of it out… or simply took somebody’s word for it on social media because it fulfilled a narrative they wished to believe.