BREAKING: The shape of fact-checking at the Times!


Go ahead—try to explain this:
The New York Times is the best known, allegedly brightest newspaper in the U.S., a nation of 330 million people.

The paper has chosen Linda Qiu to serve as as its fact-checker. We thought you might want to see what fact-checking looks like at the Times.

In today's hard-copy editions, the Times features a FACT CHECK report concerning Democratic responses to the State of the Union.

In a bit of a sign of the times, Dems delivered five such responses. Qiu started with Joe Kennedy's official Democratic Party response. This is the statement she fact-checked:
“Top C.E.O.s making 300 times the average worker is not right.”
"True but misleading," Qiu strangely ruled. In doing so, she ignored the fact that the overall statement is a values judgment, not a factual claim.

In Qiu's actual analysis, she considered Kennedy's factual claim. She began with an accurate, if minor, complaint:
QIU (2/2/18): Mr. Kennedy is likely referring to a 2014 study from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. It found that compensation for chief executives at the top 350 American firms was about 300 times more than their employees.

To start, that figure is out of date. The institute’s most recent study on the matter, released in 2017, found a smaller—but still high—ratio of 271 to 1.
We'd be inclined to call that a quibble, but at least that claim isn't wrong. Sadly, though, Qiu continued as shown below. The analysts writhed and howled:
QIU (continuing directly): Also, the employment compensation research site PayScale conducted a 2016 survey across 168 companies with revenues over $1 billion. That research found executive cash compensation was, on average, about 70 times the median salary of their employees, though some broached the 300 to 1 mark.

Looking at wages alone—and not counting other forms of compensation like bonuses or stock options—chief executives made an average salary of $194,000 in 2016, about four times what the average worker made, according to even broader data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Truly, that's amazing. According to Qiu, the CEOs receive substantially less compensation if you only consider their cash compensation, or if you only consider their "wages." (Warning! Technical terms!) This lowers the giant CEO-to-worker ratio which results if you consider the total compensation of the CEOs.

According to Qiu, that CEO-to-worker ratio shrinks if you consider only some of the CEOs' earnings. Presumably, that statements is true. It's also true that the Red Sox won all their games last year if you don't count the games they lost.

How absurd is Qiu's analysis? Consider that PayScale survey of cash compensation, to which Qiu offers a link.

It's true! If you only consider "cash compensation," PayScale found that the CEOs only made 70 times as much as their average employees. But PayScale's text makes it clear that the bulk of CEO compensation doesn't lie in "cash compensation."

PayScale quickly links to this chart,
which shows what the CEOs in question received in total compensation. In almost every case, the CEOs earned three to four times as much, overall, as they did in cash compensation.

As such, nothing in that PayScale survey contradicts or calls into question anything Kennedy said. You could almost say that Qiu was providing some (irrelevant) "alternative facts!"

Seriously, who would "fact-check" Kennedy's statement on the basis chosen by Qiu? According to Qiu, CEO compensation isn't so high if you only count some such compensation!

Qiu has engaged in some very strange reasoning here. But on the basis of this consideration, Kennedy's statement was judged "misleading." This is the way the fact-checking works at your nation's brightest newspaper. Or at least so the Times branding claims.

The Red Sox won every game last year, not counting the games they lost! This is the way the reasoning works at our nation's brainiest newspaper.

When you see a newspaper's fact-checker working this way, what do you expect to find in its front-page bombshell reports? We'll continue with that topic tomorrow. But Qiu's puzzling work helps us ponder the puzzling way our upper-end culture now works.

Did an editor read Qiu's piece? Why did it go into print?


  1. "This is the way the fact-checking works at your nation's brightest newspaper."

    Would you agree with Paul Craig Roberts describing them combined as "The press prostitutes are a lie factory"?

  2. Furthermore, the group "Top CEOs" isn't precisely defined. Even if some CEOs were earning 300 times as much as the average worker, I wouldn't call Kennedy's statement "false".