How we liberals get made dumb and dumber: Do you believe what Rachel Maddow told you Monday night? (For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/12.)
According to Maddow, she had worked quite hard that day trying to solve a conundrum. On Sunday morning, she had a dispute on Meet the Press about the “wage gap” between men and women—more specifically, about the reasons for this gap.
According to Maddow, she had “spent a long time” trying to fathom why her claims were challenged on Sunday.
On Monday night’s Maddow Show, Maddow spoke with Dr. Heidi Hartmann, founder of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Here’s an early part of their discussion, with Maddow’s account of her intellectual labors in bold:
HARTMANN (4/30/12): I think what the issue is for the Republicans is that they believe that that’s not—no matter how big the wage gap is, almost none of it is due to discrimination. And, of course, these numbers from BLS and Census Bureau are not really talking about discrimination. But the GAO study that I just mentioned did. They said that even when you put everything you can possibly think of in the regression equations, the statistical analyses to try to make that gap go away, you can’t explain at least 20 percent of it.Can Maddow possibly be this dumb? Putting our question a second way:
Now, most other studies place the part you can’t explain as a quarter to a half. So a large part of the gap probably is due to discrimination. But that seems to be what the debate is.
MADDOW: In terms of just making it very clear, what you were talking about there about doing a statistical regression analysis on these things, controlling for other factors— I spent a long time going through the Republican side of this argument today just trying to understand how you could look at these very blunt numbers and come up with the opposite truth.
Do you believe what Maddow said? Was Maddow being truthful?
According to Maddow, she had “spent a long time” trying to understand “the Republican side of this argument.” Presumably, so had her staff, including her blogger and caddy, Steve Benen.
(For Benen’s instant defense of his sovereign, click here. According to Benen’s first link, the gap seemed to be smaller in 2011: By the measure he cited, women were paid 82.2 percent as much as men that year.)
Rachel Maddow wracked her brain, trying to understand the other side’s puzzling position. But how odd! To judge from her performance that night, she was still perplexed by the pushback on Meet the Press, when Alex Castellanos objected to a very familiar claim. This was the start of the dispute which broke out Sunday morning:
MADDOW (4/29/12): All of our best debates are always about policy. And it should be about policy that affects women specifically.“Not exactly,” Castellanos said. He then said there were “lots of reasons” why women make less than men. (“Don't tell me what the reasons are,” Rachel comically said.)
The Romney campaign wants to talk about women and the economy. Women in this country still make 77 cents on the dollar for what men make. So if—
CASTELLANOS: Not exactly.
MADDOW: Women don’t make less than men?
CASTELLANOS: Actually, if you start looking at the numbers, Rachel, there are lots of reasons for that.
In each remark, Castellanos was right. But 36 hours later, after great effort, Maddow was still unable to grasp “the Republican side of this argument.” This brings us back to our original question: Do you believe what she said?
For ourselves, we’re puzzled by what Maddow said Monday night. This is why:
As we noted on Tuesday, we had always wondered about the very familiar statistic Maddow cited on Meet the Press. Do women really make 77 percent as much as men for doing the same work? That familiar claim had always struck us as highly unlikely, for blindingly obvious reasons we won’t detail at this point.
That claim always struck us as unlikely, but we’d never researched it. Maybe we're better at "research" than Maddow. But on Tuesday, it took us about ten minutes to reach the basic facts of this case:
Guess what, people? No one claims that women are paid 77 percent as much as men for doing the same work! Indeed, if you can see through the gorilla dust, you can see Hartmann rejecting that claim in the exchange we have quoted. “Of course, these numbers from the Census Bureau are not really talking about discrimination,” Hartmann said, thereby throwing Rachel's claim under a slow-moving bus.
Go ahead—just read what she said! According to Hartmann, that GAO study attributed 80 percent of the “pay gap” to factors other than discrimination. This means that the familiar figure Maddow cited was either wrong or grossly misleading.
But how strange! On Monday night, after oddles of effort, Maddow was still perplexed by “the Republican side of this argument.” That’s if you believe the things Maddow says, something we have learned not to do from watching her down through the years.
No, Virginia! The experts—even progressive experts—do not claim that women are underpaid by 23 cents on the dollar due to discrimination. The experts don’t claim anything like that, though Maddow still didn’t seem to grasp this fact after her long day of labor.
Let’s be clear: This doesn’t mean that women face no discrimination in terms of pay. It means that no one says it approaches the level Maddow described—no one but pseudo-liberal Hannity types.
To what extent are women underpaid “for doing the same work?” It’s very hard to answer that question. Consider Andrew Sherrill’s testimony about what he called “the gender pay gap in the federal work force.”
In April 2009, Dr. Sherrill testified before a congressional committee about a GAO report concerning the federal work force. He said the pay gap had shrunk considerably within that part of the workforce. But to understand the concepts involved here, consider what he said about the amount of the gap which may be due to discrimination:
SHERRILL (4/29/09): My statement today focuses on the following question: To what extent has the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce changed over the past 20 years? And what factors account for the gap?From Sherrill’s remarks, we can draw two basic conceptual points:
Using our cross-sectional analysis, we found that the pay gap, the difference between men and women's average pay before taking into account any explanatory factors, declined over the 20-year period. As you can see from our multi-colored chart here, the overall size of each of the three bars, the pay gap declined for 28 cents on the dollar in 1988 to 19 cents in 1998 and further to 11 cents in 2007.
In each of the three years we examined, our model cannot account for about seven cents of the pay gap. We cannot be sure what accounts for this portion, but it could be due to other factors which may be difficult to measure. It's important to note this analysis neither confirms nor refutes the presence of discriminatory practices.
As a general matter, only part of the “pay gap” between men and women will track to discrimination. And even when you’ve controlled for other factors, you still can’t be sure that the remaining gap is caused by discrimination. In the case of this report, the GAO couldn’t account for seven cents of the gap in pay between men and women in the federal workforce.
That seven cents could come from discrimination, Sherrill said—but you can’t be perfectly sure.
Are these concepts hard to grasp? Unless you’re someone like Maddow, they aren’t very hard at all. Applied to the wider question of the full work force, two facts should have been blindingly clear if Maddow made the slightest attempt to probe them on Monday:
Fact: According to the Census Bureau, women earned 77 percent as much as men in 2010. (This includes all full-time workers, defined as people who work at least 35 hours per week.)By how much are women underpaid? It’s very hard to answer that question; there’s no easy way to tell. But whether we liberals like it or not, Republicans are largely in the right when they challenge the familiar claim that women are underpaid by 23 cents on the dollar.
Fact: This is not a measure of discrimination. When researchers control for relevant factors, a great deal of that gap disappears. (According to Hartmann, the GAO says that 20 percent of the pay gap persists. This would mean that women are being underpaid by as much as 4.6 cents on the dollar, not by 23 cents.)
Discriminated against by 23 cents? No one actually claims that is true—no one except brilliant children like Maddow, who says she studied this matter on Monday but still couldn’t see how it works.
Was Maddow trying to tell you the truth Monday night? How about her crackerjack staff? Let’s consider the way they stripped down that day's CNN fact-check.
Earlier Monday, Lisa Sylvester had fact-checked this matter for Wolf Blitzer. Her report was filled with gorilla dust, just as Hartmann’s segment with Maddow would be.
But as Sylvester finished, Blitzer did what an actual journalist should. He insisted that Sylvester address the central question: How much are women underpaid? Here’s what Sylvester said:
BLITZER (4/30/12): And so, the bottom line, though: When men and women have the exact same job, do women still only earn 77 cents on the dollar, if they're doing, working the same amount of hours, have the exact same job, in the exact same field?Sylvester kept spreading gorilla dust, as she did throughout her report. But when confronted, she finally said it: When you control for relevant factors, the wage gap narrows to about five cents on the dollar.
SYLVESTER: They have— There is definitely a gap. It is, if you’re looking at. But there are all kinds of other control factors, you know, what college somebody went to, what region of the country. If you're talking salaried workers versus part-time workers, the average for full-time workers, the difference is pay is 77 cents on the dollar.
Now, as you go along, as you control for other factors, even if you control for everything you could possibly imagine, all those things, the college, the hours worked— Men still make more than women, that gap narrows, it's about 5 cents of a difference. But it still is there, it's still real, and the truth is, men make more than women.
Is that judgment right? We have no idea—but that’s what Sylvester said. Unless you watched that evening’s Maddow Show, in which that part of Sylvester’s report went straight down the memory hole.
Maddow played tape from Sylvester’s report; she just didn’t play the tape where Sylvester was forced to state this judgment. What did Maddow show you instead?
Below, you see the part of Monday night’s Maddow Show where Maddow used Sylvester’s report to mislead us rube liberals further. Question: Can Maddow really be this dumb? Or is she being dishonest?
MADDOW (4/30/12): Women make less money than men do. On average women, get paid 77 cents for every dollar that a man gets paid. That’s for everybody in the work force. If you look at the most popular jobs among men, it is the same thing. If you look at the most popular jobs among women, it is the same thing. There are a few outliers. You can cherry-pick, like you can with any statistical truth. But this is a really, really clear statistical truth.Maddow played tape of Sylvester citing the 77 percent statistic. She didn’t play tape of Sylvester’s conclusion, where Sylvester said that women are only underpaid—discriminated against—by a factor of five percent.
(Beginning of videotape)
BLITZER: Here is a question: Do women in the United States make less money than men for doing the exact same work? On NBC`s Meet the Press yesterday, the Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos answered no. And that sparked a very passionate debate with Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.
We asked Lisa Sylvester to do a fact check for us. Lisa is here. Lisa, who’s right?
SYLVESTER: Well, this is a fascinating subject, Wolf, and we have been looking into this. We reached out, by the way, to Alex Castellanos but he was not available for comment.
The question: Is there an earnings gap between men and women? And the answer, according to the Census Bureau, is yes.
Data directly from the Census Bureau shows there is a pay gap and it’s real. Quote, “In 2010, the earnings of women who worked full-time year-round were 77 percent of that for men working full-time.”
(End of videotape)
MADDOW: Women get paid less than men do, 77 cents on the dollar on average. That’s true. Democrats know that’s true. It is the accepted truth by anybody who is looking at the facts of the matter. Republicans do not know that’s true.
This seems important. I finally see this now. And it’s important both in terms of the facts but also in terms of the politics. I think this is why this debate has been so talking past each other? So incoherent and dissatisfying?
Was Sylvester right in that judgment? We don’t know. But Maddow made it easy for liberal viewers. She simply didn’t let them know about the judgment Sylvester reached.
Maddow does this a lot. On Monday night, she kept citing that 77 percent statistic, telling her misled liberal viewers that it represents “the accepted truth by anybody who is looking at the facts of the matter.” She didn’t tell viewers that there are two different statistics they should consider:
The “pay gap” was 23 percent in 2010. But the part of the gap which represents discrimination was a great deal less.
For our money, Castellanos was more right than Maddow on Meet the Press, though his comments and explanations were a bit hazy. Beyond that, he did interrupt a fair amount—though for our money, we’re more concerned with scripted misstatements of fact than with etiquette concerns about the way such manifest bullshit gets challenged.
Beyond that, consider the way the two combatants reacted to Sunday’s battle:
Castellanos posted this piece at The Daily Caller. He apologized for interrupting Maddow; he said he truly does admire the passion she brings to her work. (“Maddow was offended when I complimented her on her passion. She found it condescending. I meant it as high praise and still do.”)
He continued to argue the facts of the case. He seemed to get some things right, seemed to misstate and overstate others.
How did Maddow react? She went on the air on Monday night, saying she still had no idea why someone would challenge her 77 percent statistic. Can Maddow really be that dumb? Do you believe what she said?
We have no ideas what makes Maddow tick—but this was an insulting performance. Maddow is sold as a former Rhodes Scholar. She said she had tried very hard to understand “the Republican position.”
We find that rather hard to believe. But this is a constant problem on the Maddow Show.
Maddow covers a lot of worthwhile topics—but you have to fact-check every word she says. When you do, the results are often bad.
With that in mind, here’s a question for liberals and emerging ditto-heads:
Do you believe the various things this self-adoring multimillionaire says?
What Hymowitz says: At the Daily Caller, Castellanos cited Kay Hymowitz, a leading conservative expert on these topics.
Castellanos seemed to overstate her position, in part because of a headline Hymowitz probably didn’t write. This is what Hymowitz told Sylvester this week. To watch their exchange, just click here:
HYMOWITZ: The studies that I’ve seen, when they control for everything that they can think of, and there may be other things they’re not thinking of, but when the control for all the kinds of things you mentioning, there still is something like a 5-7 percent wage gap. And what’s causing that? Could be discrimination, there could be other factors that we simply don’t know how to account for. But yeah, it’s a good guess that there’s some discrimination there.It’s a good guess that there’s some discrimination there. It just isn’t 23 cents on the dollar—unless you want someone like Clueless Maddow to make you feel liberally good.
Hymowitz says the actual discrimination factor may come to 5-7 cents on the dollar. That’s quite close to what Hartmann said Monday night—if you cut through the gorilla dust which suffused her exchange with Maddow.
On Monday, Maddow worked quite hard. That night, though, dust filled the air.