Along with her inhuman editors: An astonishing headline adorns the front page of this morning’s Washington Post.
The claim it makes is clownishly wrong. But so what? On this morning’s front page, it stretches across four columns.
What kind of creatures are we humans? Plainly, we aren’t the “rational animal” Aristotle described long ago.
Aristotle was clownishly wrong. In this morning’s hard-copy Washington Post, the headline in question says this:
“Most public school students now living in poverty”
The claim in that headline is clownishly wrong. But the headline stretches across four columns on the front page of today’s Post.
People, can it really be true. Are most students in public schools currently living “in poverty?”
Actually no, that isn’t true, if we’re using anything like the standard measure of poverty. By standard measures, the number of students living in poverty doesn’t even come close to reaching fifty percent.
But so what? Layton never explains this fact in a 1333-word, front-page report which stretches through 29 paragraphs.
Layton, who is utterly hapless, never explains squat or squadoodle in her hapless report. That said, please note the slippery, incompetent way she takes us to the term “poverty rate” in these, her opening paragraphs (hard-copy headline included):
LAYTON (1/17/15): Most public school students now living in povertyWe’ll assume that Layton is working in good faith. We’ll assume we’re looking at gross incompetence rather than deception.
For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation's public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention from educators, public officials and researchers.
"We've all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it's here sooner rather than later," said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved...
That said, Layton performs world-class sleight of hand in those opening paragraphs. This is what occurs:
In paragraph 1, she makes a reasonably accurate but unexplained statement. She says “a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families”—but in the process, she fails to explain what the term “low-income” means.
In paragraph 2, she explains that she is talking about the percentage of students who qualify for the federal lunch program. She then makes an extremely shaky statement; she calls eligibility for this program “a rough proxy for poverty.”
Good God! Eligibility for the federal lunch program constitutes an extremely rough proxy for poverty! Almost surely, many kids in the federal lunch program come from families whose incomes are double the federal poverty line.
As you can see in these federal guidelines, children from a family of four qualify for the federal lunch program if their family’s income is $44,123 or less—and there are probably plenty of kids whose family incomes get fudged a bit in the application process.
Such families of four aren’t getting rich—but they are also aren’t living “in poverty” in any conventional sense of the term. In fact, they aren’t anywhere close to the poverty line, based on standard measures.
Is eligibility for the federal lunch program “a rough proxy for poverty?” Only to the feckless, incompetent creatures who work for the Washington Post!
To them, it's all pretty much the same! But just like that, Layton transitions from an unexplained term (“low-income families”) to a more potent term—“in poverty.” And sure enough:
In paragraph 3, she is talking about “the poverty rate;” she seems to say that “a majority” of students satisfy the terms of that measure. This leads directly to that headline, whose claim is clownishly wrong.
No, Virginia, and Maryland, and the other states of the union! Unless we’re inventing new standards (which will go unexplained), it isn’t true that “most public school students” are now “living in poverty.”
The claim isn’t even close to true. But the claim drives a headline which adorns the front page of today’s Post.
For the record, Layton isn’t one of the inexperienced, scrub-faced kids the Washington Post keeps hiring in an attempt to dumb its work product down. She’s been at the Post since 1998. She’s been an education reporter for the past four years.
Her editor, if any such person exists, is presumably experienced too. The absurd incompetence on display infests this newspaper’s adults.
Can a modern democracy actually function with people like this at the head of its discourse? In comments to this ridiculous piece, the standard ridiculous arguments start.
“Conservatives” say that this report just shows how bad things have gotten under Obama. “Liberals” flounder and thrash about, bereft of access to facts.
Lyndsey Layton, and her editors, are grossly incompetent. How incompetent is Layton? Please consider this:
In her 29 paragraphs, Lyndsey Layton never explains the standard according to which she makes the claims in the piece.
She never describes the income required for eligibility for the federal lunch program. She never explains how those income levels compare to the income levels which constitute our normal definition of “poverty”—the income levels which are normally used to compute “the poverty rate.”
In a modestly rational world, Layton and her editor would quickly get fired. But you don’t live in that rational world. You live in a world where this type of incompetence is normal at major news orgs.
In the fall of 2013, we did three posts about major reporters, and one professor, who were pushing this same type of claim. (Click here, then click on the internal links.)
But then, we did a similar post just this Tuesday. It is now assumed that our major journalists and our professors will reason and argue this way!
Can a modern democracy actually work with people like this directing the discourse? Just look around! We think the answer has become more obvious with each passing year.
The Laytons notice few distinctions. You can tell them any damn thing and they will gulp it whole.
They will accept the ludicrous claims which have driven our discourse in the past three or four decades. They will accept ludicrous claims about major pols and policy topics alike.
It will all sound right to them! From this, we get our discourse!
Nous sommes Charlie—and tout est permis! If you doubt that, just check the headline on the front page of this morning’s Washington Post.
That four-column headline is clownishly wrong. Aristotle wouldn’t have known what to make of these types.
We have a dream today: We’d love to be the salesman who gets to sell Layton a car.
If the sticker price was $26,000, we could charge her 44 grand, perhaps a few thousand more. She wouldn’t notice the difference! We’d speak to her editor next!
It’s close enough for front-page work at this morning’s Washington Post. We’ll leave you with a haunting question:
Do you think these life-forms purchase their cars in this same feckless manner?