Krugman gets it right: Here at the Howler, we're favorably disposed towards the Washington Post's Paul Farhi.
For one thing, he graduated from UCLA—and from University High in Los Angeles! Other Uni grads include Sandra Dee and Ryan O'Neal, plus Annette, Judy, Marilyn, Liz.
Those famous grads, plus Farhi. You can throw in Sinatra's kids!
Also, Farhi typically does good work. Until yesterday, when he actually praised Chris Wallace's fact-check of Trump—and no, we aren't making that up.
Farho thinks that Wallace rocked when he fact-checked Trump this Sunday. This is the way yesterday's report began:
WALLACE AND ELLISON (7/23/20): During his interview with President Trump, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace may have uttered four of the most important words in the long, jagged history of Trump TV interviews: “That’s not true, sir.”According to Farhi, Wallace rocked when he challenged Trump's claim that we have the world's lowest mortality (or death) rate.
Wallace was referring specifically to Trump’s false assertion that the United States has the lowest coronavirus mortality rate in the world—but it set a more general tone...
The Sunday interview was widely praised for Wallace’s deftness in exposing Trump’s most bogus claims, such as the covid-19 death rate.
"Wallace wasn’t merely prepared with the facts—he knew how to deploy them," Farhi horrifically wrote. Making matters a million times worse, he also told us this:
FARHI AND ELLISON (7/23/20): Wallace’s encounter with Trump was recorded Friday and aired about 48 hours later. This gave Wallace and his producers time to insert context and fact checks into the interview. Wallace was able to note in a voice-over, for example, that the White House’s own figures didn’t support Trump’s assertions about the United States having “the lowest” covid fatality rate.Wallace did insert that claim, but Trump proceeded to receive a document from Kayleigh and say it proved him right.
Each viewer could decide whose claim was more likely correct. No data were ever presented.
As it turns out, Wallace had two full days to prepare his fact-check, and that was the best he could do! All in all, it simply proves what we've said all along:
Facts play virtually no role in our discourse. Also, our highest-ranking journalists have almost no analytical skills.
As we've noted, Trump wasn't talking about "mortality rate" at all—or at least, he wasn't talking about mortality rate in the way the average viewer might understand the term.
Trump was actually talking about "case fatality rate," a rather arcane statistic which has little utility in the current general discussion.
As it turns out, we do have a relatively low "case fatality rate;" on the whole, that's only true because we have so many cases. Even there, we don't have the lowest "case fatality rate." But that statistic is largely useless in the current general context.
How good is our "mortality rate," if we understand that term in the way most people would? In the past few days, we've shown you data about total deaths to date—data which make the United States look like a charnel house as compared to countries like Germany, South Korea, Japan, Australia and Taiwan.
It's astounding to think that Wallace had two days to prepare a rebuttal and he showed viewers no such data. Meanwhile, for a second way of assessing this matter, consider Paul Krugman's new column.
As we've mentioned in the past, our current rates of daily deaths is much worse than the corresponding rate in such large European nations as Germany, Italy, France and Spain.
Today, Krugman compares the United States to Italy in terms of current daily deaths:
KRUGMAN (7/24/20): [Italy] was the first Western nation to experience a major wave of infections. Hospitals were overwhelmed; partly as a result, the initial death toll was terrible. Yet cases peaked after a few weeks and began a steep decline. And White House officials were seemingly confident that America would follow a similar track.As Krugman notes, after adjusting for population, Italy's current daily or weekly death rate is well less than one-tenth that of the United States. And that's just (initially hard-hit) Italy! France, Spain and Germany are all doing much better than that.
We didn’t. U.S. cases plateaued for a couple of months, then began rising rapidly. Death rates followed with a lag. At this point we can only look longingly at Italy’s success in containing the coronavirus: Restaurants and cafes are open, albeit with restrictions, much of normal life has resumed, yet Italy’s current death rate is less than a 10th of America’s. On a typical recent day, more than 800 Americans but only around a dozen Italians died from Covid-19.
That's just four Euro nations. If look at other nations, Trump's claim is an ugly joke. Without adjusting for population, these are some of the current numbers of weekly deaths:
Deaths from coronavirus, previous week,What the hell! Denmark 1, New Zealand 0! It looks like World Cup soccer!
as of July 23:
United States: 5,771
South Korea: 6
We haven't adjusted for population, and none of those countries is as large as the United States. (By population, Germany is almost exactly one-fourth our size. Japan's a bit more than one-third.)
We haven't adjusted for population. But using this metric, you don't have to adjust for population to see how crazy Trump's claim was. His general claim came from the suburbs of Crazy Town, like so many things he says.
Does it look to you like we have the best "death rate" in the world? (Farhi uses the terms death rate/mortality rate interchangeably.) It's astounding that Wallace, given two days, didn't present data like these when he "fact-checked" the commissar's latest ludicrous claim.
Wallace barely "fact-checked" Trump's claim at all; Farhi thinks he did great. We'll remind you again of two basic points:
Information plays almost no role in our discourse. Also, our major journalists possess almost no analytical skills at all.