Maddow Digs Herself Deeper With More Election Spending Semantics

For Rachel Maddow, corrections never come easy. But while the MSNBC host has at least offered corrections where she has previously gotten it wrong - granted, with the immense level of sarcasm and snark that is her hallmark - a recent flap with online watchdogs has the indignant Maddow splitting hairs in near-comedic fashion in an effort to avoid admitting she was mistaken.

But the numbers still belie her position.

The exchange began with Maddow's appearance on Leno Tuesday night. She falsely claimed that "of the top ten people donating money in [the 2010 election cycle], seven of them were giving to Republicans." In fact, as NB's Noel Sheppard pointed out, Maddow had it exactly backwards: 7 of the top 10 individual contributors gave more to Democrats than Republicans during the past cycle (and a lot more at that).

But since NB and others - including cable news blogger and former NB contributor Johnny Dollar - pointed out this factual inaccuracy, Maddow has not corrected her claim. Instead, she has lashed out at the people pointing out her mistake, and tried to shift the terms of the debate.

Maddow responded to her critics during her Thursday night show. In her own defense, she said (via J$'s retort - italics are mine):

Of the top ten, seven of the top ten from the last election are contributing to the right. Only three of them are contributing to the left. And the only three that are contributing to the left are unions....There are only three out of the top ten contributors of big money of outside groups in the last election who are not contributing to right-wing causes and they are the unions.

So rather than admitting that she was wrong, Maddow moved the goal posts - on Tuesday, she was discussing individual donors, but on Thursday she shifted the discussion to independent groups that spend money on non-partisan (in the sense that they are not affiliated with a party or candidate) political communications.

Maddow's latter claim is correct: seven of the ten top independent spenders are conservative, while only three, all labor unions, are liberal. But that does not make her initial statement regarding individual contributors true.

Even the less tangible point Maddow tried to make - that conservative money dominates elections - is not exactly a slam dunk given the data. OpenSecrets.org, the source for data used by both Maddow and her critics, reports that businesses, labor unions, and "ideological" groups, their political action committees (PACs) and their individual members, all gave more to Democrats than Republicans during the 2010 election cycle.

Maddow's myopic focus on the top 10 independent spenders is virtually the only way she could salvage her argument. But the notion that spending by third party groups denotes more control over the electoral process than money given to political candidates is specious at best. And as OpenSecrets.org notes at the link above, Democratic candidates for office took in more money from every category, including "other," in the 2010 election cycle.

In short, not only was Maddow's initial claim wrong, her follow-up assertion was an excercise in semantics, and her underlying premise that conservative sources of political money dominate elections is not supported by the data. And yet Maddow continues spinning her web.

*****UPDATE: I meant to note that Maddow was not the only TV personality who falsely claimed that seven of the top ten individual contributors gave more to Democrats during the 2010 cycle. Fox News's Shep Smith also made that claim, and as far as I know has yet to correct the record.