One last trip to the well: Chris Mooney has written a tragic piece about the way voters get misled. (See our previous post.)
Mooney’s piece deals with conservative voters. But it’s important to stay clear on one point—we liberals can get misled too!
To illustrate the way this can work, let’s make one last trip to the well of the male-female wage gap. Last Thursday, Kevin Drum did a brief post about our remarks-to-date on the subject. Were his remarks perhaps made in haste? This was his opening framework:
DRUM (5/3/12): Are women paid less than men? You betcha. Are they paid 77 cents for every dollar that men make? That's more contested, and Bob Somerby is pretty scathing about Rachel Maddow's insistence on sticking with that number even when her own guests tell her it's not quite right.In fact, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar men make, according to the Census Bureau. The only question is why.
But good grief! Did Maddow’s guests tell her that the 77 percent figure is “not quite right?” Maddow had only one guest—and that guest said that figure was grossly wrong, though she seemed to try to correct her exalted host without letting you know she had done it.
Maddow had persistently suggested that women are paid 23 percent less “for the same work.” The expert guest said the figure was more like four or five percent, based on a GAO study. Maddow had been grossly wrong in her presentation.
Errors do happen; folks do get things wrong. But in our view, Maddow seemed to work hard last Monday night to avoid letting viewers know that she had been mistaken. (This is typical conduct from Maddow, no matter how many times she says different.) And sure enough! This was the very first comment to Drum’s post:
COMMENTER (5/3/12): Somerby just has a problem with Rachel, and his argument is dishonest. She did not say that the pay gap was entirely due to discrimination. She did say that what the data shows, that if you control for occupation and status in that occupation, women make on average 77 cents on the dollar what men make. Her expert guest said Maddow had the best part of that argument, then got into the weeds on how much of the difference can be statistically ascribed to discrimination, based on that one GAO study.We’re not quite sure what this person is saying; in the highlighted remarks, he seems to self-contradict. But in fact, Maddow did say, on Meet the Press, that women get paid 77 cents on the dollar “for equal work” or “for the same work.” The following night, she staged a long monologue on the topic without ever noting that this claim had been grossly mistaken.
(To our ear, she kept reinforcing the 77 cents on the dollar claim. But she certainly made no attempt to correct it.)
On Monday night, Maddow’s expert guest did say that Maddow had “the better part of the argument.” As we noted, this was a strange thing to say, since this guest went on to say that women are actually underpaid by perhaps 4.6 cents on the dollar, not by the 23 cents Maddow mistakenly claimed.
That was a very large error. But this expert guest corrected Maddow in a muddled, weed-laden way. We’ll guess that very few viewers understood what she said—that Maddow’s original claim had been massively overstated.
At any rate, here is the commenter’s account after all the gorilla dust has settled: According to the commenter, Maddow said “what the data show, that if you control for occupation and status in that occupation, women make on average 77 cents on the dollar what men make.” But that is not what the data show. The data show that women make 77 cents on the dollar before you “control for occupation and status in that occupation” (and for other variables). After you control for such factors, women make 95-96 cents on the dollar, according to the expert guest’s admittedly muddled account.
This is the shape of true belief. The commenter is sure that his tribal leader simply has to be right. Indeed, it was “dishonest” to say different. And he still seemed to believe what his leader had said. He still seemed to believe the very thing which was inaccurate.
We’re not quite sure what the commenter thinks, but we can assure you of this: After watching Maddow on Meet the Press and on her own program, many liberals emerged with the idea that women are underpaid “for the same work” by 23 cents on the dollar.
No expert makes any such claim—but many liberals believe it today. They believe it because the heard it from their exalted leader.
As we’ve said, people make mistakes. Initially, we were drawn to this incident because of the liberal reaction (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/1/12). Digby, Walsh and Benen leaped into action, failing to tell you that Maddow had been grossly mistaken. In this way, they assisted in the process of selling us liberals “bad science."
Conservatives have been misled in similar ways for decades now. In his report about North Carolina, Mooney describes the latest such episode. But alas! After years of sleeping in the woods, we “liberals” are aping the other tribe now.
As we review Mooney’s piece this week, it’s important to recall a key fact: We liberals can get misled too! It’s happening more all the time.