Lies, damned lies, and statistics
Wouldn’t you know it. I was rousted from my fall blogging slumber by the lie machine that is Fox News.
“Hold on, just a minute there, young man,” you say, astutely judging both my gender and general age range. “Just because you’re a liberal-commie-pinko-MSNBC-watchin’-athiest doesn’t mean you have to constantly degrade the fine people who are fighting the good fight over there at Fox News.”
To that, I say it’s time for a little lesson on how exactly Fox News spins their web of biased deceit.
Just this past week, Fox News used this chart in their newscast. I would imagine it raised the ire of many a Fox News viewer.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” you declare. “Look at it. That’s exactly what’s wrong with this damned country, right there in one chart! Why, it makes me want to go out and buy more gold from that nice Glenn Beck fella! Our Founding Fathers didn’t storm Normandy Beach in order to sign the Constitution just so a bunch of lazy, shifty welfare blood-suckers could take all the hard-earned money from those of us with our noses to the grindstone!”
But here’s the problem. When you deal primarily in rage and hate, you soon lose the ability to reason and to look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Lie #1 — Scale
At first glance, it looks like there is a huge difference between those two bars. But look at how short the 101.7 million bar is. Now look at what a big difference an extra 7 million makes on the other bar. Yeah, out here in the real world, those numbers really aren’t very far apart at all.
Lie #2 — Source
Admittedly, to judge the source, you have to know something about how the census bureau collects data. As Media Matters points out, that 108.6 million figure is from participation in means-tested programs. That means it includes everyone in a household in which one or more people receive government benefits. Thus, if there are 5 people in your household and 1 gets benefits, all five of you would go into that 108.6 million figure, even if four of you have full-time jobs. Conversely (and conveniently for Fox’s bias), the “people with a full-time job” figure only includes individuals with a job. Thus, if a household of five people is supported by one person with a job, only the one person is counted in the 101.7 figure.
Plus, many of those counted in the welfare number are children (as much as half), the disabled, or the elderly — people whom we wouldn’t expect to be holding down a full-time job. But Fox News sure expects that. Moochers.
Lie #3 — Non-exclusiveness
These are not mutually exclusive groups, as the graph would suggest. There are plenty of people– more and more these days — who work full-time, minimum-wage jobs at McDonald’s or WalMart or Taco Bell who also depend on assistance such as food stamps, rent assistance, or other forms of aid.
The people at Fox News are many things, but stupid is not among them. They know all these things. But they really don’t care if a graph can help them to stigmatize poor people and gin up support for gutting the safety net.
And while they are welcome to their political bent and opinions, the big problem here is that this kind of thing is passed off as hard news, fact, truth, fair and balanced. When it’s not. It’s not even close.
Of course, this type of post is probably just a waste of time. For most of you, I’m just preaching to the choir and saying things you already know. For others of you, I’m just taking pot shots at people who are doing God’s work. This was just one instance. Why get worked up about it?
Only Fox can survey 120% of the American public. No wonder they thought Romney won the election.
Here’s one telling you how much Obama has raised the price of gas.
“Damn that Obama!” Of course, they are hoping you don’t notice that the time period between Last Year and Last Week is equal to the time between Last Week and Current. But what is not so easy to see is what happened in between those points. Here is the same data as plotted on the green line by AAA, the source.
That’s totally the same thing, right?
People used to depend on the news to tell the truth and put things into a proper context. Now, we really just want the news to tell us what we want to hear and to blame those we want to blame.
Thus, I say, our country’s dysfunction and polarization is not entirely Congress’ fault. In fact, here’s the result of my study…
Numbers iz hard.