WATCH: Bad math, bad journalism–or both?

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.

New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay

“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.

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3 thoughts on “WATCH: Bad math, bad journalism–or both?”

  1. Excelllent summary of a terrible discussion regarding campaign money. This has absolutely nothing to do with math and has everything to do with poor journalism. It casts a dark spot on the network and everyone who touched this subject. They were so hell-bent on beating down Bloomberg and his nasty habit of spending money on politics that they ignored facts, reality and common sense.

  2. Actually, this is non-journalism. I am a Data Scientist. As Joe Biden very publicly stated recently, “We choose truth over facts” (??) Simple math can also demonstrate that Hillary Cliton did NOT win the popular vote. But the Brian Williams / Mara Gay is but a large pool of evidence that many (most?) in the main stream media simply do NOT know what they are talking about. It is sad for the fine profession of journalism, but no skin off my nose. Data is your friend. And these days, your only friend.

    This is why I regularly check-in with Sharyl Attkisson. She is very much a true scientist; check your facts. And then check them again.

    Go Sharyl.

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