IMITATIONS OF DISCOURSE: On Meet the Press, stars try to explain!


Complete total absence of skill: CNN's report about the price of milk defines a failing age.

The sheer stupidity of the report was its "distinguishing characteristic." CNN spoke with exactly one (1) family, in exactly one (1) highly unusual location.

Then channel then proceeded to say, in Cronkite fashion, that that's the way it is. For more detail, see yesterday's report.

It didn't seem to occur to Keilar or McMorris-Santoro, or to their CNN overlords, that the various dramatic claims made by one (1) family might be checked against official data concerning the matter at hand. 

Dearest darlings, use your heads! That would involve the use of statistics—and statistics are boring and hard! 

And so it actually happened! The CNN stars settled for an "N" of 1, then acted as if they had defined the state of affairs across the nation.  CNN stuck with human interest—and with misleading, unfounded claims.

You'd think it can't get dumber than that, but it routinely does. It does so every day of the week, across all journalistic platforms.

This is what we the people are actually like; this is the way we actually function. For today, we'll offer one small example, from Sunday's Meet the Press.

Meet the Press is our longest-running, most prestigious mainstream news program. Sunday's episode included guests from the PBS NewsHour and the New York Times, entities which are branded as our brightest mainstream news orgs.

And yet! During the panel discussion, our old pal Chuck Todd threw to Amna Nawaz. When he did, the PBS rep said this:

NAWAZ (11/7/21): I think even if you look just at Virginia, yes, Youngkin was able to drive up the rural vote, got even bigger margins than 2020 among rural and white voters. Also flipped a couple of those key districts in the suburbs and exurbs, right? Chesterfield County outside of Richmond, Stafford County outside of D.C. And then Democrats weren’t able to, even though they increased turnout, weren't able to keep apace with the GOP increase in turnout. That's the trifecta for Republicans. It's a triple whammy for Democrats.

Our youthful analysts looked up in surprise. Skillfully, we were able to feel their pain.

Democrats had "increased turnout" in Virginia last week, Nawaz unmistakably said. On the other hand, Republicans had produced an "increase in turnout" too.

Based upon the first part of her statement, Nawaz seemed to be comparing the turnout from last week's election to the turnout in 2020. But here are the number of votes in Virginia from those two elections:

Votes received in Virginia:
Joe Biden, 2020: 2,413,568
Donald J. Trump, 2020: 1,962,430
Glenn Youngkin, 2021: 1,663,558
Terry McAuliffe, 2021: 1,600,056

People, tell the truth! Does it look like either party produced an "increase in turnout?"  As is routinely the case when major journalists speak in groups, Nawaz's meaning was wholly unclear.

In a slightly rational world, clarification would follow, but we don't live in that world. Moments later, New York Times rep Peter Baker followed up with this:

BAKER: ...Just because Donald Trump lost doesn't mean the Republicans have suddenly lost their traction. In fact, Republicans have done pretty well in the last 13 months, right? They won House seats last year even as Donald Trump was losing. 

What Virginia voters showed, and I think other voters around the country showed, is they're willing to vote for Republicans, just not Trump. They didn't want to vote for Trump. Youngkin not only outpaced Trump in terms of winning the state, which Trump lost, he outpaced him across the board. And through almost every city and county in Virginia, he got better, more votes than Trump did last year, even though it was an off-year election.

Say what? According to the voice of the Times, Youngkin  got more votes than Trump did through almost every city and county in Virginia! Youngkin had somehow managed to do this "even though it was an off-year election!"

Absolutely nothing will turn on this one (1) bungled conversation. We offer it to illustrate a basic point:

Coherence and clarity are virtually non-existent within our upper-end press corps. No one seems to expect anything different, and this will almost always be true where statistics are involved.

There are a million ways to misuse or misstate statistics. By now, our journalists have mastered every one of these techniques. 

They're happy to run with an N of one. They make incoherent comparisons. 

They eliminate basic data. They don't know how to handle test scores. They refuse to report basic data concerning our nation's astronomical per capita spending on health care. They forget to adjust for inflation.

There is no way to bungle discussions in which they aren't prepared to excel—and they routinely serve as toadies, as mouthpieces, for favored pols or groups. For example, Todd later challenged Nawaz concerning a highly significant point:

TODD: All right, look, let’s quickly—I'm going to get to the Trump stuff, and we're going to have another conversation about that, but let's talk about what happened on Friday quickly, Amna. Because I'm trying to figure out, they spent months saying, "We're never decoupling these bills."

 NAWAZ: Right.

TODD: They decoupled the bill.

 NAWAZ: Yes.

TODD: And I have no idea what the heck's going to happen to Build Back Better.

Despite the endless mandate to proceed "quickly," Todd seemed to be saying this:

All along, House progressives had seemed to say that they weren't willing to vote for the smaller "infrastructure" bill unless the larger "Build Back Better" bill was voted on at the same time. 

Presumably, they wanted to see Manchin and Sinema vote for the larger bill before they would agree to vote for the smaller bill.  But last week, the House progressives dropped this demand. They voted for the smaller bill, with the fate of Build Back Better still totally up in the air.

"I have no idea what the heck's going to happen to Build Back Better," Todd quite sensibly said. In reply, Nawaz disappointingly cast herself in the role of mouthpiece / press agent:

NAWAZ (continuing directly): Correct. Yes. But look, here's what the progressives say and this is why they're calling it a win. I spoke with Congressman Pramila Jayapal yesterday and she says, "Look, the six Democrats, the moderates who are holding up the bill, I have a personal commitment from them that they're going to support it. They made a commitment in paper to me personally and to the president." 
This trust deficit they've been talking about right? They are now talking to each other, the progressives and the six moderates in particular. So, she has every confidence this is going to move forward. The bigger issue they have here though, does go back to the Virginia election, too, which is messaging what is in this thing. I think most people don't even know how it impacts them. The majority of Americans don't know what's in it.

In that presentation, Nawaz was simply taking dictation from Jayapal. She completely skipped the most important question—what makes House progressives think that Sinema and Manchin will ever vote for any form of the Build Back Better bill? What makes them think the bill will pass when it "moves forward" to the Senate?

What makes House progressives believe that Sinema and Manchin will vote for some form of that bill? Nawaz completely skipped that question in her response to Todd, and Todd simply moved on. 

(Last night, Rachel Maddow rolled over and died concerning that question during a full interview with Jayapal. But them, what else is new?)

Nawaz and Maddow were acting as press agents, mouthpieces, stenographers, toadies. Todd, of course, made no attempt to push Nawaz concerning his original question. Sunday's panel discussion "quickly" skipped from point to point, as these imitations of discourse typically do.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but in truth, we have no "press corps."

They settle for an N of 1. They stumble about in the darkness. Their pseudo-discussions must move along "quickly." There's no way to confuse a discussion at which they don't excel.

Those are the traits of our failing nation's mainstream press corps. Then too, we have the gruesome excesses of Our Own Blue Tribe's major tribunes and screamers.

These people are a major embarrassment, but our tribe is unable to see or say this. In the next two days, we'll look at some of Maddow's recent work—and then we'll move to the shouters and name-callers.

Our tribe's screamers and shouters are nasty and dumb. We alone are unable to see this.

Tomorrow: Lock them up all the way down


  1. "Our tribe's screamers and shouters are nasty and dumb."

    Yawn. Tell us something we don't know, dear Bob.

    "We alone are unable to see this."

    Eh... come again, dear? We don't think you, personally, are dumb, what what did you mean by that, dear Bob?

  2. Bob,
    Are you suggesting that corporations might not be on the up and up?
    Such an edgy take.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. "Then [sic] channel then proceeded to say, in Cronkite fashion, that that's the way it is."

    Is Somerby saying that it wasn't that way for that particular family? On what basis?

    How many families would be sufficient to interview? Is two still too few, is 100 too many? At what point would the report become another economic summary, with averages prices, and why aren't the economic reports already released sufficient for that purpose? Does hearing two families complain about the rising cost of milk add anything to what these good folks from Texas had to say?

    Somerby is being ridiculous about this report -- which was intended only to add "color" to dry facts (already reported extensively in other articles in the paper). Most people like to hear about each other's lives. Not Somerby, for some reason, despite having urged reporters to get out and interview some of those red voters, in the not so distant past. Now, when they do so, they are still in the wrong because there is no way to please Somerby when it comes to the price of milk.

  5. CPI milk prices were flat in October, up 4.3% year-over-year.

    1. CPI is a good way to determine such things. That's why Somerby's complaint about a report on consumer perceptions is specious. That family wasn't being interviewed to find out what milk costs.

  6. Somerby doesn't know statistics either. He says:

    "The CNN stars settled for an "N" of 1,"

    The capital letter N represents the entire population. If you want to talk about a sample or a sample size, you use lowercase n to represent it.

    That is part of Statistics 101, a course Somerby has clearly never taken. Sampling theory is the part of statistics that considers how samples should be drawn from populations. Is n=2 sufficient? How about n=32? How about n=332, or n=3332? How do you know when you have enough people in your sample? Somerby has no clue.

    And here he treats qualitative research as if it were a quantitative study. How long would it take to do in-depth interviews of 3332 people? A long time. Longer than the questions might remain relevant to current events. So how many people are sufficient to interview?

    And Somerby seems to think that the selected family was atypical. He doesn't discuss random sampling or suggest what criteria might have made them unrepresentative of some larger group (and how would that be determined without some previous study?). He just asserts their atypicality. But large families strike me as exactly the sort who might be most affected by rising milk prices, so on what basis does Somerby think they should have been excluded by the reporter? Too Texan?

    Somerby has no idea what he is talking about. It is just another way to batter reporters, as long as his readers know less about statistics than he does. But that is a sticking point. Most people probably know more about stats than Somerby, including the reporters he maligns.

  7. Nawaz says: "I spoke with Congressman Pramila Jayapal yesterday and she says,"

    Somerby says: "In that presentation, Nawaz was simply taking dictation from Jayapal."

    This is what reporters do. They report what the people they interview say. They are not the newsmakers. They report.

    Somerby then goes on to complain that Nawaz was no mind-reader and couldn't tell us what Manchin and Sinema would do about the Build Back Better bill. Somerby needs to make up his own mind about whether he wants news reporters to make empty predictions and pull things out of their asses or stick to reporting what has been said and done by others.

    Today, he is just being an asshole. Perhaps because these are female reporters who he believes are occupying space on shows where HE should have been invited. But Somerby never makes any statement about his own views and has never made a remark he hasn't hedged. Why would any show want to hear what he says when he never has anything to do say?

    1. Corby, ostensibly…,journos report the statements of all parties involved in an issue, but they don’t do that unquestioningly.

      Reporters are supposed to be familiar enough with the issue to ask obvious questions in response to the statements from others that they are relaying.

      In addressing Todd’s statement as to Build Back Better, Nawaz simply quoted Jaypal’s jjustification for the compromise without addressing the most obvious problem ro which Todd alluded- how does this change things with Manchin and Sinema?

      THAT question is THE 800lb gorilla in the room. It wasn’t answered or even directly asked. It’s inexplicable how you could consider that obvious consideration as being incidental and subjective— pulled out of a reporter’s keister. Especially since Nawaz’ response was to start riffing on the across-the-board problems that dems have with messaging

    2. If a reporter has not interviewed Manchin and Sinema, they should not be speculating about what they might say or do. Somerby's insistence that they should have addressed that topic is ridiculous, a manufactured excuse to attack journalists, not a reasonable expectation. It doesn't change anything that YOU agree with him.

    3. Somerby insisted on nothing.

      Todd brought up of the topic of Build Back Better and Nawaz quoted Jayapal AT him. She went on to suggest the problem there is just more difficulty with Dem messaging to the masses, rather than the obvious issue of how does this action move the two dissenters.

      It’s ridiculous of you to suggest that the media should be off limits to criticism.

  8. Today Josh Marshall is talking about the fact that so many of Trump's supporters seem to have problems relating to women. Hell will freeze over before Somerby cares about such things. Instead, he thinks it is important to talk about an "N of 1" and complain that reporters cannot spout better statistics off the tops of their heads while participating in a panel discussion. Could he do that? I'll bet not.

    1. Yeah it's crazy to expect that reporters who's job it is to know about election results could possibly remember difficult statistics like 1.6 million being less than 2.4 million.

      Way too complicated! Somerby asks far too much.

    2. Women are good for cooking and cleaning. Not much else.

    3. People prepare facts for a speech, not for an extemporaneous TV appearance that could cover a lot of ground. The internet is for looking up facts and figures. TV pundits are discussing ideas, not facts.

      Somerby knows that, but he nitpicks the mistakes, which are no worse than anyone would make in the same situation. It is a transparent game Somerby plays to undermine the mainstream media. He never documents the outright lies that appear on Fox News.

    4. @1:41, do you realize how much your comment reveals about your sex drive?

    5. Go scrub some potatoes.

    6. 11:59,
      Don't be a one trick pony.
      You're going to need to add racism and xenophobia, if you want that 2024 Republican Presidential nomination.

  9. They are all Maureen Dowds now!

    1. What's important is that they look good and sound confident! Facts are boring and difficult, people can google those on their own time.

  10. It still shocks that Todd and others make so much money and don't earn it. Then again Tim Russet was also a fraud.

    1. What did you think of Chris Matthews?

    2. Not much after he kept attacking the Clintons.

    3. Whoa. Who woulda thunk that legendary FDR will become such a faithful Bubba and Psycho-Witch's flunkey? What's this world coming to?

  11. Here is Digby's take on the parents who are threatening school board members across the country. Notice her description of their behavior in her post today:

    She concludes:

    "If these parents were sincerely “well-meaning” they would condemn harassment and violent threats. They would not behave like animals at school board meetings. This is culture war, emphasis on the war. Just look at the threats. They are one size fits all wingnuttia. If it wasn’t this issue it would be something else.

    Glenn Younkin, the great white hope for political journalists everywhere, knew exactly what he was exploiting. And Democrats are supposed to find a way to appease them? Yeah, that’ll work."

    1. Thanks for the link to Digby, Corby. Digby's description of various events is hugely different from conservatives' descriptions of these same events. Not having been there, I have no way of knowing which descriptions are more accurate.

    2. Surely you've seen some of the videos of parents screaming during school board meetings? That should give you a clue.

    3. 11:26 Some people screaming at other people hardly justifies an FBI investigation. What federal crime was involved here?

    4. Certainly, "Let's go Brandon" is the most thoughtful, intellectual, and useful economic idea Republicans have ever come up with.
      It's like Republicans put their smartest economic thinkers in a room, and told them, "Don't come out until you have something better than supply-side."

    5. David, while you’re wondering about the plans to involve federal law enforcement in raucous school board meetings, figure out why the feds got to raid the home and offices of James O’Keefe and other Biden political opposition, over Ashley Biden’s lost diary.

    6. Ina just world, the "offices of James O' Keefe" would be a prison cell.

    7. Be careful what you wish for.

    8. Speaking of which…

      Here’s your national discussion, Bob!

    9. The Washington Examiner.

      Couldn't find a clip from Tucker's "White Power Hour"?

    10. "What federal crime was involved here?"

      Killing irony.

    11. Cecelia,
      Great idea.
      Here is an address of the Far Left (Marxist, Commies, if you will), who need convincing first.
      Let us know how it goes.

      Raytheon Technologies Corporation
      Board of Directors 
      c/o Corporate Secretary 
      Raytheon Technologies Corporation 
      870 Winter Street 
      Waltham, MA 02451-1449

    12. They’re not Marxists, they’re oligarchs. They’ll control everything and keep you in the digs in which Marxist always end up.

      That will be the extent of your Marxism.

      Looks like you’d know enough about history to be familiar with scenario.

    13. 3:28,
      The Right's definition of "Marxist" is "anyone I don't agree with". The Right loves defense contractors, so, defense contractors, by definition, aren't Marxists.

      I get that it doesn't make sense, but nothing from the Right makes sense. These are people (morons) who want to ban CRT, and also really hate cancel culture.

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