Part 6—Maddow falls for the third time: We love the smell of misinformation in the evening.
Check that! We’re fascinated by the way a set of perfectly accurate claims can create a massively false impression. Citizens need to understand the way this process can work.
If you don’t care about the way citizens get misled, you don’t have to keep reading! If you think that topic is important, we have an ongoing case which is state-of-the-art.
How do false impressions get created? Rachel Maddow’s reports on Alabama are creating a perfect case study. Liberal viewers are being misled as Maddow keeps pushing a claim in a way which is ugly and, by now, almost surely dishonest.
Last evening, Maddow presented her third segment on driver’s license offices in Alabama. Ironically, the segment started with the cable star saying this:
“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback asking for an update on this story. It concerns the great red state of Alabama, Republicans in complete control in that state.”
We don’t know if Maddow was really getting calls for an update. But as she tells it, the story concerns Republicans in a red state way down South.
Presumably for that reason, her viewers keep hearing highly selective, misleading presentations. This is the way she framed the facts for last night's segment, which was fairly short:
MADDOW (10/16/15): Last month, Governor Bentley announced that Alabama would close the places where you get a driver’s license in most of the heavily black counties in the state of Alabama. This of course follows a new strict voter ID law in Alabama for which a driver’s license is the most common form of ID that people show in order to be allowed to vote in that state now.That’s the way she framed the story for last night’s segment, the third she has done on this topic.
Well, Governor Bentley has tried to defend that decision since it generated a lot of outrage but it really has been an unending embarrassment at home and around the country since word got out. I mean, all the counties where the population is at least three-quarters black, all those counties, losing their driver’s license offices.
Everything said there is accurate. That said, the accurate statements are highly selective—and we’d rate them as grossly misleading.
This is customarily known as “cherry-picking.” Maddow has now engaged in the process three times concerning demon Bama.
Does Maddow know that she’s cherry-picking? We can’t quite answer that. But in her treatment of this important topic, she has created a state-of-the-art example of the way false impressions get spread.
Were Maddow’s basic statements accurate? Last night, these were her only statements concerning the counties which lost their driver’s license offices:
“Governor Bentley announced that Alabama would close the places where you get a driver’s license in most of the heavily black counties in the state of Alabama.”
“I mean, all the counties where the population is at least three-quarters black, all those counties, losing their driver’s license offices.”
That first statement is somewhat imprecise. Let’s start with the second statement, since it’s more precise.
It’s true! In every county in Alabama where the population is at least three-quarters black, the driver’s license office was closed.
That fact can create a damning impression. Unless you know how few such counties there are, and how small those counties are. Unless you know about other counties which also lost their offices.
Maddow keeps skipping that information. So you’ll know, these are the counties which fit her description as of the 2010 census:
Population of affected counties which were at least 75 percent blackThose counties did lose their only driver’s license offices, as did twenty-five other counties around the state. Here’s the missing context:
Macon County: 21,452 (82.6% black)
Greene County: 9,045 (81.5% black)
Sumter County: 13,763 (75.0% black)
As of 2010, the total population of those counties was 44,260. This was Alabama’s total population:
In short, those are very small counties. Taken together, they contain less than one percent of the state’s population!
They’re a tiny part of Alabama’s population. They’re a very small part of the state’s black population, which stood at roughly 1.25 million in 2010.
(For information on Alabama’s counties, just start here.)
Maddow stated an accurate fact. To do so, she focused on a tiny part of a fairly large state. She failed to tell you about other counties which lost their offices—counties like these, for example:
Population of affected counties which were at least 75 percent whiteThe total population of these counties was 340,998. Do you start to see the problem with Maddow’s selective facts?
Lauderdale County: 92,709 (86.4% white)
Clay County: 34,932 (81.7% white)
Lawrence County: 34,339 (77.6% white)
Franklin County: 31,704 (83.0% white)
Geneva County: 26,790 (86.3% white)
Cherokee County: 25,989 (92.7%)
Winston County: 24,843 (97.3% white)
Bibb County: 22,915 (75.8% white)
Fayette County: 17,241 (86.9% white)
Cleburne County: 14,972 (94.0% white)
Lamar County: 14,564 (86.7% white)
Overall, 28 counties lost their only driver’s license office. Three of those counties were at least three-quarters black—but eleven of those counties were at least three-quarters white.
Maddow keeps mentioning the first group of counties and she keeps forgetting to mention the second! Can you start to see the problem with her selective facts?
Don’t let us mislead you! Those lists might lead you to think that white Alabamians were disproportionately affected by the office closings.
The overall numbers don’t suggest or say that. In the 2010 census, Alabama was 26.2% black. By our count, the twenty-eight counties which lost their offices were 28.2% black.
(In this recent post, Kevin Drum assessed the thirty counties which lost an office. He thereby included two counties which lost an office but still have at least one. The population of those thirty counties was 23.2% black. Incomparably, we stuck with the more widely-referenced twenty-eight counties which lost their only office.)
Let’s quit for the day. As we do, let’s say this:
Race is our nation’s most important topic. In our judgment, people who clown, toy and posture with race should be consigned to a special circle in corporate cable news Hell.
Maddow has been toying with race as she pretends to discuss Alabama. In the process, she’s been pushing an ugly story—a story which pleases our tribe.
In our view, this is very bad politics, as we’ll explain next week. But make no mistake:
When you ride with Maddow, you’re frequently in a clown car. The other tribe understands this fact.
Do you think that’s good for our team?
Still coming: So much cherry-picking, so little time!
For the record: MSNBC hasn’t yet posted last night’s Maddow transcript. The Maddow site didn’t post the videotape of the Alabama segment.
They did post the videotape of last night’s “cocktail moment” segment. For a good time, click here.