The folks at MSNBC should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed of their prime time commentator Rachel Maddow.
Having been exposed by Politifact for lying last week about Wisconsin having a budget surplus, Maddow on Thursday hypocritically defended herself by playing nine cherry-picked words from the broadcast in question while disgracefully calling her critics homophobes (video follows with transcript and commentary):
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: There are too many people who work too hard on this show for us to get slandered when we are in fact telling the truth.
Usually, somebody saying something untrue about MSNBC or about this show, usually, honestly, it doesn’t rise above the level of somebody being wrong on the Internet. But sometimes it’s real newspapers doing what looks like real fact-checking and they really get it wrong.
The right wing this week, for example, got very excited when a "St. Petersburg Times" project called PolitiFact called a piece of our reporting on the Wisconsin crisis false. It was specifically about Wisconsin’s budget. They said, quote, "Maddow and the others are wrong. There is indeed a projected deficit in Wisconsin."
Flashing red lights. Bells and whistles. Meter to red. Maddow lied. She said there is no budget shortfall in the state of Wisconsin. Roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "PolitiFact" ran a whole article about me supposedly denying the existence of a budget shortfall in Wisconsin. They say, quote, "Here’s the bottom line: there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. We rate Maddow’s take false."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "PolitiFact" says I am false, false, because I denied there is a budget shortfall in Wisconsin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you are somebody who does not bite your nails, but you would like to start, if you feel like reading the letters we sent to "PolitiFact" asking them to please run a correction on this, we have posted those letters on our blog so you, too, can share in our frustration. They have told us they do not intend to run a correction about their mistakes on this, which I should not find astonishing but I do.
"PolitiFact," you are wrong here on the facts and bluntly and you ought to correct it. Putting the word "fact" in your name does not grant you automatic mastery of the facts.
And that was her entire defense.
Rather than actually address the rest of her segment last Thursday, which as Politifact and NewsBusters reported did indeed inform viewers, “Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year,” Maddow next went after Politifact for what she believed were prior mistakes in its findings about totally unrelated issues:
MADDOW: When Karl Rove wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" that Barack Obama had, quote, "The worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year," "PolitiFact" rated that mostly true, even though the approval rating Mr. Rove cited was 49 percent and Ronald Reagan posted a 48 percent approval rating at the end of his first year.
It did not matter to "PolitiFact" apparently. They rated that, the statement from Mr. Rove as mostly true. What? Yes. Because apparently the word "true" means a lot less than you think it means.
"PolitiFact" also said that Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s explanation of the Stupak Amendment, the abortion amendment to health reform, they called that a false analysis. When "PolitiFact" was challenged on that claim by the Web site "FireDogLake," "Politifact" reportedly conceded to "FireDogLake" that what Congresswoman Lowey had said about the bill, her analysis of the bill, they conceded that OK, what she said could be true in some cases. They just didn’t find it to be a likely predictor of what was going to happen in the future.
So, even though they apparently conceded it could be true, they decided to not run a correction and stick with their ruling that it was false. It could be true, but we’re going to call it false. Because what is true really? We have fact in our name.
I have no interest in defending Politifact on these issues for they are totally unrelated to the matter at hand. What Maddow did – and what her employers should be disgraced by – is defend herself with the classic misdirection of impugning the messenger while offering no real defense for being accused of lying other than the cherry-picked sentence, “There is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall.”
But what surrounded those nine words in her February 17 broadcast?
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I’m here to report that there is nothing wrong in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is fine. Wisconsin is great, actually. Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.
I am not kidding. I’m quoting their own version of the Congressional Budget Office, the state’s own nonpartisan "assess the state’s finances" agency. That agency said the month that the new Republican governor of Wisconsin was sworn in, last month, that the state was on track to have a $120 million budget surplus this year.
So, then why exactly does Wisconsin look like this right now?
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: Why is there a revolt in the American Midwest tonight? Why are we in day three of massive, massive protests -- real upheaval in Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison? Why are we seeing what was described today by my friend John Nichols, a seventh-generation Wisconsinite, as perhaps the biggest protests that have been seen in that state since Vietnam? Why is this -- look at this -- why is this happening?
As the state’s own finances show, it is not happening because people who work for the state are the cause of some horrible budget crisis. It’s not because teachers are lazy and rich. It’s not because greedy snowplow drivers have bankrupted the state somehow.
The state is not bankrupt. Even though the state had started the year on track to have a budget surplus -- now, there is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall. Republican Governor Scott Walker, coincidentally, has given away $140 million worth of business tax breaks since he came into office.
Hey, wait. That’s about exactly the size of the shortfall.
What is happening in Wisconsin right now has absolutely nothing to do with public workers. The headline here, the way this keeps getting shorthanded, is workers angry after state is forced by budget crisis to crack down.
That’s not what’s going on. The state is not being forced to crack down. A lot of states do have budget crises right now, but heading into this year, Wisconsin was not one of them.
Let’s be clear what came before and after the cherry-picked nine words that Maddow and Company used for her defense:
• I’m here to report that there is nothing wrong in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is fine. Wisconsin is great, actually. Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.
• I’m quoting their own version of the Congressional Budget Office, the state’s own nonpartisan "assess the state’s finances" agency. That agency said the month that the new Republican governor of Wisconsin was sworn in, last month, that the state was on track to have a $120 million budget surplus this year.
• Even though the state had started the year on track to have a budget surplus -- now, there is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall. Republican Governor Scott Walker, coincidentally, has given away $140 million worth of business tax breaks since he came into office.
• A lot of states do have budget crises right now, but heading into this year, Wisconsin was not one of them.
Could she have been any clearer? This segment last Thursday was designed to dishonestly disprove the claim of a “$137 million budget shortfall” not support it, and that’s what Politifact accurately deemed was false:
[Maddow] added a kicker that is also making the rounds: Walker and fellow Republicans in the Legislature this year gave away $140 million in business tax breaks -- so if there is a deficit projected of $137 million, they created it.
Maddow and others making the claim all cite the same source for their information -- a Jan. 31, 2011 memo prepared by Robert Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
It includes this line: "Our analysis indicates a general fund gross balance of $121.4 million and a net balance of $56.4 million."
We were curious about claims of a surplus based on the fiscal bureau memo.
In writing it when it was released, reporters from the Journal Sentinel and Associated Press had put the shortfall at between $78 million and $340 million. That’s the projection for the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2011.
Walker himself has settled on $137 million as the deficit figure, a number reporters have adopted as shorthand.
We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.
Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.
There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.
More on that second point in a bit.
The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that -- read on its own -- does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.
But the remainder of the routine memo -- consider it the fine print -- outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.
The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall. […]
Meanwhile, what about Maddow’s claim -- also repeated across the liberal blogosphere -- that Walker’s tax-cut bills approved in January are responsible for the $137 million deficit?
Lang’s fiscal bureau report and news accounts addressed that issue as well.
The tax cuts will cost the state a projected $140 million in tax revenue -- but not until the next two-year budget, from July 2011 to June 2013. The cuts are not even in effect yet, so they cannot be part of the current problem.
Here’s the bottom line:
There is fierce debate over the approach Walker took to address the short-term budget deficit. But there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. While not historically large, the shortfall in the current budget needed to be addressed in some fashion. Walker’s tax cuts will boost the size of the projected deficit in the next budget, but they’re not part of this problem and did not create it.
We rate Maddow’s take False.
Indeed, and in her defense of her lies, Maddow on Thursday evening addressed none of the points made by Politifact instead just twice played for her audience nine words as a supposed declarative statement that were actually what the segment set out to disprove.
Pretty pathetic when you think about it, so pathetic that Politifact responded to her nonsense Friday:
Maddow's criticism in Thursday's show used artful editing and told an incomplete story. At issue is whether we checked the right factual claim. We examined her statement that Wisconsin "is on track to have a budget surplus this year." But she maintains that in the same segment, she made clear that she knew the state had a shortfall. (You can read a transcript of the entire segment here.)
We chose to examine her surplus claim because we had requests from many readers and it was the main focus at the beginning of her segment. It went on for nearly a minute. Her later statement about the shortfall was very brief and her main point seemed to be that the shortfall was created by $140 million in tax breaks for businesses. Still, we acknowledged in our article that she made that point.
In her criticism of PolitiFact Thursday night, Maddow misled viewers by repeatedly playing just a nine-word snippet of her saying that "There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall." She neglected to include her full quote in context:
"There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, coincidentally, has given away $140 million worth of business tax breaks since he came into office. Hey, wait. That's about exactly the size of the shortfall."
That artful editing -- plus the fact that she didn't mention the more lengthy quote that we checked -- deprived viewers of the full context for her remarks and our reasoning for checking the claim we checked. We not only examined that claim, we also debunked the suggestion from Maddow and others that the tax breaks were the cause of the $137 million shortfall.
When her producer Bill Wolff e-mailed us earlier this week asking for a correction (his correspondence to us has been posted on the Rachel Maddow blog) we reviewed our work, watched the segment and decided no correction was warranted.
The Politifact article included some of those hysterical e-mail messages from Wollf. Readers are advised to get a good chuckle and review them
Unfortunately, there was nothing funny about Maddow's next offering during this segment Thursday:
MADDOW: Right now, on the Internet, there are people who are upset with a host at the FOX News channel whose name is Shepard Smith. They are upset because Mr. Smith cited the same data that I cited recently about big money outside contributors in the last election cycle.
According to opensecrets.org, which everybody cites, which tracks federal election filings and which nobody is impugning, here are those contributors. We’ve been talking about this for the last few days. Of the top 10 -- seven of the top 10 from the last election, seven of the top 10 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.
This I believe is a key piece of analysis for understanding why the Republicans are going after unions. If you can dismantle unions, if you can weaken unions and the sector in the economy where unions are strongest is the public sector, if you can weaken unions, that has clear partisan implications. There are only three of the top 10 contributors of big money of outside groups in the last election who are not contributing to right wing causes and they are the unions.
But the right wing is on fire right now about Shep Smith citing that same information I cited because I also cited it and therefore, it must be false.
Because this particular burst of anger is a pure right wing Internet phenomenon, if you have seen anything about this, you have probably seen it retweeted at some point as Rachel Maddow is wrong and she looks like a man. Also favorite Rachel Maddow is wrong and also gay.
You know, just because you don’t like the way it sounds when I say it or you don’t like my hair cut, or you don’t like that I’m gay, it does not mean that what we say is not true. Those are the real numbers from opensecrets.org. Those are the real big money outside contributors from the last election cycle.
It was true when Open Secrets said it. It was true when I said it. It is true when Mr. Smith over at the FOX News channel said it.
And if you squint a little bit it is true, I do sometimes look like a dude, and I am definitely gay. Calling bullpuckey is fun. Calling bullpuckey is journalistically useful.
It is a neat idea to be able to call balls and strikes in facts and news, to fact check things you hear in the news and fact-check things you hear politicians and political figures say. People do get stuff wrong and it should be pointed out. When I confused the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in terms of which one had a preamble, you may recall that I not only apologized for that. I sung and danced my apology to that.
When you get something wrong, it is both good practice and I find satisfying to own up to it. Say you got it wrong, learn something about it, and move on. But that should apply to everybody. That should apply to everybody even if you have the word "fact" in your name, or in what you say you are doing.
Calling somebody a liar when they are not lying is not the same as fact-checking. That is just bullpuckey, too.
As NewsBusters reported Wednesday, this all began with Maddow’s appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show” the previous evening when she badly misrepresented data concerning campaign contributions during the 2010 elections:
MADDOW: But, if you look at like the last election cycle, of the top ten people donating money in that election, seven of them were giving to Republicans. It was all corporate interests and right-wing PACs and stuff. Seven of the ten were all right-wing. And the only three that weren't were unions.
As NewsBusters noted Wednesday, Maddow was wrong about this in a number of ways. Most importantly, with Leno, her term “top ten people donating money in that election” was proved false on several counts.
After a tip from a reader, more investigation was done, and it was determined that Maddow must have been talking about other data at the website Open Secrets which she proved by referring to it on Thursday.
As NewsBusters observed, when Maddow cited this data, she was either ignorantly or intentionally being imprecise. When she discussed this issue on her program Monday, she referred to "top ten big money contributors." But Tuesday on the “Tonight Show” she said "top ten people."
Defending herself from criticism Thursday, she said “big money outside contributors," but still has never said "top ten outside non-party committees" which is actually the data she’s been consistently citing without once identifying it properly.
In reality, there is a difference. Outside non-party committees are folks that contribute money for political causes but not specific candidates. That's why they're deemed "non-party." This is a smaller sub-section under the broader category of "outside spending groups."
If you look at all "outside spending groups" for 2010 at Open Secrets - which by Maddow's wording consistently has been the implication - you'll find that four of the top ten contributors were liberal with only two of them being unions.
This would have completely destroyed her point that unions are the only “big money outside contributors” giving to Democrats thereby invalidating her assertion that this is the reason Gov. Walker is trying to blame the “supposed” deficits on public sector unions in his state.
It appears that even after being exposed for this falsehood, Maddow still feels comfortable saying “big money outside contributors” even though the data she’s citing is “outside non-party committees.”
I guess “big money outside contributors” sounds much better than the truth. It also allows her to withhold from her viewers that by far the largest “big money outside contributor” in 2010 was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Maddow's point would be further refuted if one looked at total contributions of "outside non-party committees" over the past several election cycles rather than just the most recent one when a conservative wave took over the nation.
It is indeed true that outside conservative non-party committees donated far more than liberals in 2010 - $190 million to $94 million - but in 2008, these numbers were $160 million liberal vs. $120 million conservative. In 2006 it was $39 million liberal to $20 million conservative. In 2004 it was $121 million liberal to $69 million conservative.
As such, in the limited segment of contributors that Maddow has been harping on the past week - though not properly identifying them - liberal groups out-donated conservatives three of the last four election cycles.
And, as John Romano noted Thursday, if you look at the broader "outside spending groups" data - which Maddow has been implying - since 2004, Democrats have nothing to complain about:
According to OpenSecrets.org Republicans received $267.3 million vs. $201.4 million for Democrats in 2010. Sounds damning. $66 million is a big advantage. However, the facts show that this advantage vacillates between Dem. and Repub. For instance, the situation was reversed in 2008 with Democrats receiving $319.2 million vs. the Republican take $243.5 million. [...]
In 2006, the spending was basically even, which is interesting as the Democrats ran the table: CON $144.9 million vs. LIB $144.8 million. 2004 was a different story altogether. Outside groups gave heavily to the Democrats that year. A hefty $279.1 million for the Democrats vs. a relatively paltry $158.6 million for the GOP.
As such, I guess "big money contributions" is only a problem when liberals get out-funded.
But also pathetic was Maddow playing the gay card.
During her segment Thursday, Maddow indirectly referred to an article at Johnny Dollar's website concerning herself and Fox News's Shepard Smith.
She went on to say (with a picture of JohnnyDollar.us on the screen):
MADDOW: Because this particular burst of anger is a pure right wing Internet phenomenon, if you have seen anything about this, you have probably seen it retweeted at some point as Rachel Maddow is wrong and she looks like a man. Also favorite Rachel Maddow is wrong and also gay.
You know, just because you don’t like the way it sounds when I say it or you don’t like my hair cut, or you don’t like that I’m gay, it does not mean that what we say is not true. [...]
And if you squint a little bit it is true, I do sometimes look like a dude, and I am definitely gay.
If you look at Johnny Dollar's piece or mine, you will see no references to her appearance or sexual orientation.
I don't care what political commentators look like or who they choose to couple with. For Maddow to use the gay card to evoke sympathy from her viewers, as if the only reason she's being criticized is because of her appearance or sexual orientation, is disgraceful.
We've learned - and, of course, predicted! - that conservatives aren't allowed to criticize Barack Obama because he's black. Virtually all critiques of the 44th President by people on the right are automatically assumed by the Left to be racially-oriented.
If this is now going to extend to gay people such that any critique of someone like Maddow is presumed to be homophobic, it will be just another advantage the Left has in sheltering itself from criticism.
If the folks at MSNBC support this nonsense, they should be just as ashamed of themselves as Maddow should be for advancing it.
On a more personal note, I find Maddow's behavior this past week frightening. Although I strongly disagree with her views, I still have typically found her to be a hard-working, dedicated political commentator striving when possible to be factually accurate.
Unlike her hero Keith Olbermann, she typically is fast to respond to mistakes that she's made and address them, although not always to my liking.
However, it is clear by her antics in recent months that facts are no longer as important to Maddow as the agenda. Maybe this is due to the shellacking she and her ilk took at the polls in November, and like so many on the left she's fearing her dream of America becoming a socialist utopia is coming to an end.
To be sure, there were many who thought the exit of Olbermann was the beginning of a move by MSNBC to straighten its act out and actually become a news network.
The recent behavior of the remaining prime time hosts including Maddow - as well as the pathetic addition of the totally hapless Cenk Uygur whose program is totally unwatchable! - suggests this is not the case, and that MSNBC will continue to be the biggest joke in television journalism.
It's hard to believe the new owners at Comcast are happy about this.