Gorilla dust and the gender wage gap: Over the next several days, we’ll consider the way our liberal professors sometimes talk when they become engaged in policy debates.
For today, we thought we’d revisit a fascinating cable news event. We refer to the evening when Rachel Maddow discussed, or perhaps pretended to discuss, the size and nature of the gender wage gap.
On Sunday, April 29, 2012, Maddow had appeared on Meet the Press. She had repeatedly made the standard presentation, saying that women are paid 77 cents on the dollar, as compared to men, for doing “the exact same work.”
Maddow was challenged by Alex Castellanos, who said her claim was wrong. On her MSNBC show the next evening, Maddow said she had spent hours that day trying to determine what Castellanos possibly could have meant.
She still had no earthly idea, Maddow said, quite improbably, during a long and angry opening segment.
Finally, it was time to call in the expert! Maddow introduced Professor Hartmann of George Washington University, the “founder and president of the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.”
Below, you see the first Q-and-A between Maddow and Hartmann. In this exchange, Hartmann says that Maddow was wrong in her claim the previous day. But she says this in such a way that viewers almost surely couldn’t tell.
Alas! Maddow posed a murky question. The professor responded in kind:
MADDOW (4/30/12): I know that you at the women’s—Institute for Women’s Policy Research, you have done some of the most important and most highly publicized work on this issue. Is there any way that the idea of a gender-based disparity is something that depends on how you look at it? Is this something other than a blunt truth about the American economy?There was a time when we thought we probably knew what Professor Hartmann was saying there. By now, her statement seems even harder to parse than we once understood.
PROFESSOR HARTMANN: Well, I mean, you obviously have by far the better part of the argument. You’ve got the Census Bureau and I might mention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics agreeing with you. Oh, also, I could mention the U.S. General Accountability Office.
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.
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.
That said, Professor Hartmann quickly said this: “Of course, these numbers from BLS and Census Bureau are not really talking about discrimination.” She proceeded to discuss how much of the 23 percent gap is actually due to discrimination, and how much of the gap can be “explained” in some other way.
“A large part of the gap probably is due to discrimination,” the professor said. She seemed to say that one quarter to one half of the gap stems from that cause.
Here’s the problem: on Meet the Press, Maddow had insisted that the full 23 percent gap was caused by discrimination. She seemed to think that the 23 percent statistic was intended as a measure of same.
Professor Hartmann’s second statement was even harder to follow. But as she roamed the countryside, she eventually offered this:
PROFESSOR HARTMANN: I mean, these regression analysis, they include occupation. They include your education, number of years of experience, maybe sometimes marital status, number of children—just about anything you can think of. And you cannot make the whole gap go away. So there is discrimination.“You cannot make the whole gap go away,” the professor said. “So there is discrimination.”
Some experts dispute even that; they say the remaining gap may turn out to be due to some non-discriminatory cause which hasn’t yet been discovered. But Maddow had said, the day before, that the entire 23 percent gap was due to discrimination.
Hartmann kept rejecting that view, even as she threw clouds of gorilla dust which almost surely kept cable viewers confused.
Professor Hartmann was almost completely incoherent this night. Maddow’s murky, imprecise questions only deepened the confusion.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to answer this question:
Was Hartmann acting in good faith during this murky conversation? Or, as a good progressive, was she throwing gorilla dust to 1) avoid embarrassing Maddow and 2) to keep a pleasing tribal claim alive?
We liberals may be inclined to think that our professors don’t do things like that. The sentiment is understandable. But we can assure you they do!
For many years, it was “experts” on the right who created and enabled the bogus claims which drove our hopeless public discussions. Today, a great deal of this skilled dissembling occurs over here on the left.
How much of the “gender wage gap” does result from discrimination? It’s hard to say, in large part because of the bogus claims and gorilla dust thrown up by journalists, professors and “experts” over here in our camp.
(Some experts says the part of the gap which is caused by discrimination is something like five cents on the dollar. We have no real idea, in part because our own tribe works to keep the question from being discussed.)
We tribals love our bogus old claim about the size of the gap! It thrills the tribe when we state it, so our journos and experts keep churning it out. Getting back to last week’s Oscars flap, it may be that Patricia Arquette has heard the familiar old claim and believes it.
Or not. Needless to say, no one asked.
Rush and Sean have always played the game this way. Increasingly, our team also plays it this way. We’ll offer more nightmares from liberal professors as the week proceeds. We find it hard to believe that this kind of academic/journalistic dissembling serves progressive interests.
Do the plutocrats cheer when we play it this way? We’d be inclined to think yes. Our bogus claims drive wedges deeper. They keep us divided and conquered.