Part 1—Three unflattering lessons: Over the weekend, a famous statistic got lots of play in America’s leading newspapers.
On Saturday morning, the Washington Post ran a mordant cartoon by the mordant cartoonist Margulies:
In the cartoon, a TV screen announces the fact that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman. A TV viewer is shown saying this:
“CBS could have gotten Tina Fey for 77 percent of what he’s getting!”
In this way, a famous statistic was reinforced again. The cartoon’s message was obvious and quite familiar: Women get paid 77 percent of what men get paid for doing the same darn work!
On Sunday morning, major pushback appeared against this familiar claim.
In that same hard-copy Washington Post, an opinion column by Ruth Marcus attacked “Democrats’ revolting equal-pay demagoguery.” While saying she’d vote for the Equal Pay Act, Marcus also said this:
“Unequal pay remains a problem, although not at the women-earn-77-cents-on-the-dollar level of Democrats’ sloganeering.”
Elsewhere in Sunday’s hard-copy Post, the weekly Fact Checker column awarded Two Pinocchios to Obama for his recent use of the familiar statistic. On line, the column ran beneath this headline:
“Democrats ‘77 cent’ claim on wage gap is as misleading as it is persistent”
Glenn Kessler said he had been “tempted to go one step further to Three Pinocchios.” In our view, he should have done so.
Frank Bruni completed the rule of three in Sunday’s New York Times. In an opinion column, Bruni criticized Obama’s recent use of the famous statistic:
BRUNI (4/13/14): ...President Obama practiced the timeless political art of oversimplification, reducing a messy reality into a tidy figure and saying that working women make only 77 cents for every dollar that working men earn. He left the impression that this was principally the consequence of direct discrimination in the form of unequal pay for the same job.As he continued, Bruni created confusion about a similar statistic. “Among younger women, many of whom have yet to hit that pause button, the hourly ‘wage gap’ is 93 cents on the dollar,” he said, referring to a recent study by Pew.
Some of it is, and that’s flatly unacceptable.
But most of it isn’t. And the misuse of the 77-cent statistic could actually hurt the important cause of giving women a fair shake, because it allows people who don’t value that goal a way to discredit those of us who do, and because it gives short shrift to dynamics that must be a part of any meaningful, truthful, constructive discussion.
In comments, some readers conveyed the (understandable) impression that Bruni was offering 7 cents as a more accurate measure of wage discrimination, as opposed to the familiar, inaccurate figure of 23 cents on the dollar.
Whatever the realties may be for younger women in the workplace, the Pew statistic Bruni cited is not intended as a measure of wage discrimination. As he tried to address pre-existing confusion, Bruni created more of the same.
As compared to men, how much are women paid for doing the same or equal work? The question is hard to answer, in part because so many people seem to be creating so much confusion on purpose.
But the famous 77 cent statistic has been peddled for many years, almost always by liberals and Democrats. The statistic is widely misunderstood, in a way which paints an unfortunate picture of our public discourse.
What can we learn about ourselves from the confusion surrounding this famous statistic? All week long, we will explore three unflattering lessons:
The intellectual impoverishment of our public discourse: It isn’t hard to explain what the famous “77 cent” statistic actually means.
That said, the intellectual level of our nation’s public discourse is extremely low. Within our low-IQ discourse, few things veer get explained.
For decades, our discourse has been driven by bogus claims about a wide array of topics. During that period, our press corps has been unable, or unwilling to debunk familiar bogus claims, most of which have come from the right.
In recent weeks, journalists and intellectuals have had enormous problems explaining this new statistic. We live in a very low-IQ culture. The widespread confusion about this statistic is the latest sign.
The lack of will among major news orgs: Quite often, journalists and professors seem to be unable to explain the simplest statistics. But a second problem lurks—our big newspapers often refuse to accept such challenges.
Yesterday, two opinion writers challenged this famous statistic. So did the Washington Post’s Kessler, in the once-a-week “ghetto for facts” the hard-copy Post has established.
That said, the New York Times still hasn’t presented a news report or news analysis which attempts to explain this famous statistic. The news division of the Times continues to take a pass.
In its news pages, the Times has engaged in familiar “he said/he said” treatment of this highly significant matter. The paper quotes dueling statements by partisan figures about this famous statistic.
Its “economics reporters” make no attempt to clarify the matter. See our previous report.
“Liberal” and Democratic impotence: The confusion surrounding this statistic shows the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the contemporary “liberal world.” By far, this is the most important lesson we can draw from this latest statistical gong-show.
It’s obvious why the Democratic Party has been promoting confusion about this famous statistic. In this year’s midterm election, it needs a heavy turn-out among young woman voters.
Rather plainly, the party is trying to gin up interest through the use of bogus statistical claims. In this way, the party announces a highly unflattering but obvious fact—it knows of no legitimate way to appeal to American voters.
This is a remarkable fact about the modern word. We live at a time of massive looting by the so-called “one percent,” which is really the 0.1 percent. The entire nation, red and blue, is subject to this looting.
In a rational world, this would present a rich array of political targets for Democrats and liberals. Instead, Obama feels forced to sow confusion about a statistic he knows is misleading. And Rachel Maddow has played the much larger fool/demagogue on her inane TV program.
Our view? In the last week, Maddow firmly established herself as one of the most disingenuous performers in the modern “news” business. But corporate millionaire liberals like Maddow seem to know of no honest ways to make their case to the wider public, even as the plutocrats loot the entire nation, red as well as blue.
In this target-rich environment, Obama seems to be left with nothing to say; Maddow is baldly deceiving her viewers. This helps us see the remarkable impotence of the establishment liberal world.
That famous statistic isn’t hard to explain. It isn’t hard to explain the widespread looting (of red and blue) which defines our world.
But people like Maddow don’t know how to talk to the public, except for a narrow band of rubes whom they may seek to mislead. In our view, Maddow disgraced herself last week as she clowned about this familiar statistic.
A TV star clowned and played the fool. But then, what else is new?
Tomorrow: What the statistic means