Part 2—The silence of the lambs: To what degree of accuracy is our discourse calibrated?
Such standards tend to be low. Consider an account in this morning’s New York Times about the inflation of footballs.
In an exciting front-page report, Bill Pennington provides some of the background to the nation’s latest consensus scandal. Whatever actually happened in this case, this is not a carefully calibrated account of the relevant facts:
PENNINGTON (5/12/15): At the core of the league’s investigation was the discovery at halftime that a high percentage of the footballs used by the Patriots in the A.F.C. championship game were underinflated. The footballs had been inspected by game officials before the game and inflated to the permissible pounds-per-square-inch measure established by the N.F.L. Circumstantial but detailed information and accounts provided in the league report last week implicated Jastremski, McNally and Brady as part of an operation to furtively deflate the footballs beyond the permissible threshold sometime between the pregame inspection and the opening kickoff.Pennington got the final score right. Aside from that, the facts he presents are perhaps a bit muddled and fuzzed.
Tipped off by a Colts executive, the officials measured the footballs again at halftime and found that a majority of the Patriots footballs—the teams each used their own balls—were underinflated. The footballs were once again inflated as required, and the Patriots then continued to dominate the Colts in a 45-7 rout.
Let’s consider four muddled points in that passage, along with one major omission.
First muddled point: Did the NFL “discover at halftime that a high percentage of the footballs used by the Patriots were underinflated?”
According to the NFL report, all the Patriots’ footballs measured below 12.5 pounds per square inch of pressure, the minimum pressure cited in NFL regulations. Then again, so did all three of the Colts’ footballs which were reliably measured at halftime, according to one air pressure gauge.
Why would Colts’ footballs measure below 12.5 psi, when they supposedly measured 13.0 psi at game time? Presumably, because of the Ideal Gas Law, an artefact of nature’s god, a factor Pennington omitted from his report.
Second muddled point: Had the footballs “been inspected by game officials before the game and inflated to the permissible pounds-per-square-inch measure established by the N.F.L.?”
In a sense, but not as such! In fact, the NFL establishes a permissible range of air pressure measures, not a single specific permissible measure. According to the NFL report, the Patriots’ footballs measured 12.5 psi before the game; the Colts’ footballs measured 13.0 or 13.1 psi. (This explains Pennington’s otherwise unexplained reference to a “permissible threshold.”)
Third muddled point: Did officials “measure the footballs again at halftime and find that a majority of the Patriots footballs were underinflated?”
Again, according to the NFL report, they found that all the footballs were under the 12.5 “permissible threshold,” as the Ideal Gas Law would have predicted.
Fourth muddled point: Were the Patriots’ footballs “once again inflated as required?”
In a sense, but not as such! For reasons it doesn’t explain, the NFL report says the Patriots’ footballs were set to 13.0 psi at halftime, not to the permissible 12.5 psi they had requested at the start of the game. This leads us to the comical part of this scandalous drama which Pennington wholly omits:
Major omission: During the course of this drama, it became clear that the NFL had established no reliable procedures for measuring the air pressure of footballs.
Uh-oh! Walt Anderson, the head referee, had brought two air pressure gauges to the game that day. According to the NFL report, it was discovered at halftime that Anderson’s gauges give systematically different readings of air pressure, with measurements differing by 0.3-0.45 psi.
Beyond that, Anderson couldn’t remember which of the gauges he had used to measure the air pressure of the footballs before the game. Most absurdly, one of the gauges produced these readings for the four Patriots’ footballs which were measured after the game:
13.50 psi; 13.35 psi; 13.35 psi; 13.65 psi.
If the footballs were set to 13.0 psi at halftime, how could they produce those readings after the game? Simply put, they couldn’t! For that reason, these comical facts are disappeared from the Times.
What explains the way the Times has reported these facts? Most likely, this:
“Deflategate” has become our nation’s latest consensus scandal. By the time the NFL report appeared, mainstream pundits had agreed—the NFL was the good guy in this exciting case.
In an earlier scandal involving Ray Rice, the NFL had been cast as the consensus bad guy. Once that happened, various facts were massaged, discarded and changed to make that story line work.
(Ray Rice was suddenly cast as the world’s most honest human. There was no way he could have lied to Roger Goodell about what actually happened!)
In this case, an opposite process has taken place. For that reason, you’ll see no one present the comical facts in which the NFL revealed itself as “the gang that can’t measure air pressure straight.”
In a rational world, the NFL’s clownish data collection would serve as a bit of a warning light on the path to ultimate judgment. Since judgment was pre-rendered here, those highly entertaining (and embarrassing) facts will simply be disappeared.
In the end, this NFL fandango doesn’t matter a huge amount. The outcome of our next presidential election almost surely will.
And yet, how strange! Just as no one is going to embarrass the NFL in this matter, the New York Times has been granted a giant free pass concerning its recent attempt to create a consensus political scandal.
Let’s consider one part of what the Times did. Then, let’s consider the three weeks of silence the Times has now been granted:
Back in 2008, the Times’ Jo Becker published a lengthy, front-page report suggesting scandalous misbehavior on the part of Bill Clinton.
Her piece read more like a fairy tale than an actual news report. It started with a scandalous jet plane ride whose meaning was easy to read:
BECKER (1/31/08): Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.An alert third-grader would grasp the meaning of Becker’s novelized tale.
Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.
Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader's bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton's public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan's poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.
The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world's largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said.
Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalized, Mr. Clinton's charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra...
She waited until paragraph 31 to report the actual reason for Clinton's presence in Almaty. Instead, she told an obvious tale of wealth and corruption—and it all started with Frank and Bill sharing that excellent jet plane ride.
By now, it seems fairly clear that the plane ride never happened. In 2009, Forbes magazine contradicted Becker’s account in a fairly definitive fashion.
Having reviewed the flight manifest, Forbes reported that Giustra arrived in Almaty on September 2, four days before Clinton touched down for an overnight whirlwind visit. Just last week, the Washington Post presented the same account of the facts. Frank flew in four days before Bill, the Post joined Forbes in reporting.
Back in 2008, Becker built her fairy tale narrative around that ride on that luxurious jet. Rather definitively, Forbes shot her claim down.
But so what? On April 24, Becker did an even longer front-page report in the Times, helping us see that both the Clintons are semi-treasonous crooks. But how comical:
In classic fashion, Becker began her story with that same account of that same excellent plane ride! Frank and Bill were together again, kissing each others’ ascots!
The NFL can’t measure air pressure straight, but no one is going to say so. Over at the New York Times, Jo Becker has a problem with the truth—but over the past nineteen days, this flaw has been disappeared.
How odd! It has now been almost three weeks, and no one has asked the New York Times to explain this apparent repeat misstatement. Everybody makes mistakes. But according to the laws of the guild, the New York Times gets to make its “mistakes” as many times as it wants!
How does consensus scandal work? Consider this example:
The Clinton camp called attention to Becker’s apparent repeated error on April 23, the day it appeared on-line. People heard about the apparent repeated “error” all over the press corps.
But how strange! No one has asked the Times to explain or correct this apparent repeated “mistake!” Most strikingly, none of our favorite fiery liberals have opened their traps about it!
The public editor at the Times hasn’t said squat about the apparent repeat “mistake.” No correction or clarification has been appended to Becker’s latest magisterial work.
Within the press corps, none of the “liberals” we love so much have challenged the Times on this comical but repellent point. All the children know the rules—just as the lovely shall be choosers, the Times must be enabled! Careers hang in the balance!
On a journalistic basis, Becker committed many other sins and crimes in her bombshell report. Those other crimes have gone unremarked too, just like her repeat “mistake” about that luxury plane ride.
That said, the “error” about the ride on the jet is a highly comical error. So was the NFL’s attempt to measure air pressure, a clown show you can’t hear about under consensus rules.
Jo Becker’s bombshell report involved a collection of journalistic crimes and errors. No one has breathed a word about that, a morally repellent fact we’ll examine all week.
Coming: Tomasky, Chait, Bellantoni, Walsh—even Our Darling Rachel!