Alex Blaze

Rachel Maddow Fudges the Facts, Calls Out Homophobes

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 28, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: liberal, MSNBC, politifact, rachel maddow, shareholders, st. petersberg times

Rachel Maddow, on February 18th, did commentary on the protests in Wisconsin. She opens with and repeats several times the claim that Wisconsin is going to have a "budget surplus this year," that the deficit a fabrication being used to justify ending collective bargaining rights in that state. She also claimed that there is a "$137 million budget shortfall" in that state (1:45), and that it was created by the governor giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

Naturally, people were confused by those two, contradictory statements. So Politifact, a project of The St. Petersburg Times, answered the question and said that there really is a budget shortfall in the state:

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.[...]

So why does Lang write his biennial memo in a way that invites confusion?

Lang, a veteran and respected civil servant working in a nonpartisan job, told us he does not want to presume what legislative or other action will be taken to address the potential shortfalls he lists.

Admittedly, the approach this time created the opportunity for a snappy -- and powerful -- political attack.

But it is an inaccurate one.

Also, the tax cuts Maddow cites are for the next two fiscal years, not this fiscal year:

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.

So, OK, this might just be a legitimate error. How does Maddow respond? Does she back up her original statements? Does she admit to having made an error? Her reply to Politifact starts at 6:45.

Notice she only plays the first part of the sentence in which she makes a claim that completely contradicts the introduction to her segment. She doesn't replay the first part where she says, "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," and then goes on to repeat that claim several times.

It was sloppy work, contradicting herself and getting it wrong both times, but she doesn't get credit for the one time she was closer to the truth when she contradicted that statement in the same segment, and she certainly doesn't get credit for the half a sentence that was right when the other half of that sentence was wrong.

Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, Andrew Leonard at Salon, and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones ran corrections. Maddow, instead, patted herself on the back for running corrections (and singing and dancing them!) while refusing to run a correction here, instead pretending like she never made the incorrect statements in the first place because her viewers would probably never bother to look it up.

She then went for pity points at around 10:45 bringing up the homophobia of people retweeting this and another story about her numbers when it comes to independent expenditures by unions (which was a bizarre way to present that information, only citing money from independent expenditures). Follow the shiny object, etc.

Something tells me that if Bill O'Reilly made two contradictory statements in a segment, and, when called out for it, played part of one to make it look like he was right all along, people would probably say that he's a propagandist who got caught and lament for his audience who didn't get to see the truth. He is a propagandist, and his audience is stuck in his alternate universe (supported by his friends on his network, on rightwing radio, on conservative blogs, etc.).

We, on the other hand, wonder why people would ever not trust Rachel Maddow and how folks continue to trust the right even when they're obvious liars.


I also take issue with Maddow's narrative about why the Republicans want to dismantle the unions in Wisconsin (in the video before the jump). Yes, Republicans would have more political power if unions were dismantled, but is that it? What's the point of them getting more political power? Do they just want to win more elections for the sake of winning more elections, as Maddow says?

Liberals, especially the rich ones that run the liberal movement in the party, the orgs, and the media, are unable to express their ideas in terms of class conflict. Cable news is notorious for explaining politics always in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats, which is a really dry way of doing it that misses the point. Back when cable was all conservative, it made sense - they don't want people to know that there's a large-scale class war going on right now, that's been going on forever, and that the end-goal of the other side is to have a small aristocracy that the rest of us have to serve.

Liberals have lately fallen in line, expressing frustration with what are really class issues as partisan issues. Saying that Republicans want to remove support for Democrats so that they win more elections is an aseptic, and often inaccessible, way of saying that rich people are trying to keep working people down by making us more disorganized than we already are.

Conservatives tell a better story than liberals do, and the story they've been pounding home on Wisconsin is that rich state workers and their corrupt unions are trying to bilk the state and everyone else will end up having to pay for it. This should be the sort of thing that back-fires on conservatives, since people generally do like state workers and think that they do valuable work.

Instead, liberals come back with how it's a ploy for the party to gain some power, how it's all about elections, instead of a direct attack on hard workers and part of a decades-long assault on the working class by the ruling class. The budget shortfalls we're seeing all over the country are a result of the various schemes Wall Street employed over the past decade to make as much money as they could while trashing the economy for the rest of us, and now they want to continue the scam and make the working class pay for what they did.

The budget shortfalls are real. They're the real effect of the greed, the greed of people like General Electric's shareholders. Not everything can be described in the superficial frame of political gain.

The collective bargaining rights are being asked for because wealthy people think that people will give up collective bargaining rights more easily if they think there's some sort of emergency going on, but they've wanted to eliminate unions ever since the first unions were created, long before unions were even a stable source of support for the Democratic Party. There's a reason union leaders were the first people rounded up during the Junta in Argentina back in the 70's, why Reagan busted the air traffic controllers' union in the 80's, and why union-busting was being demanded by many on the right when the American auto companies were looking for some help - commoners organizing will always be a threat to the privilege and power of the aristocracy.

Of course, that sort of class analysis wouldn't work out to well for Maddow and her colleagues who are part of the richest 0.1% of the US. Instead, think about elections.


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I find this piece as misguided as ANYTHING that Maddow has ever presented...and Maddow's accuracy record overall, is by far, one of the best in cable news.

What about the fact that unions have conceded most if not ALL of the financial concessions asked for??? **Not mentionned in this post**

What about Walkers disgustingly two-faced sucking up to the "fake Koch" call, exposing his true union-busting intentions, and abysmal level of integrity??? **Not mentionned in this post**

"Conservatives tell a better story than liberals do" ...I'd say if they do, it's because lies, misrepresentations, distorted "facts" and the outright celebration of ignorance plays well in many conservative minds...

This entire piece reads like an audition for Fox News. Ugh.

"Maddow's accuracy record overall, is by far, one of the best in cable news"

That says more about cable news than it does about Maddow.
The other two points that I didn't address, well, you're right, I could have nit-picked Maddow more but I didn't. Sorry. Maybe another time.

Otherwise, all I can say is that you can't complain about "lies, misrepresentations, distorted 'facts'" on the news when your first instinct when a television personality lies directly to you is to defend her.

Yes, Fox News is worse. But everyone already knows they're a conservative propaganda network.

Rick Sutton | March 1, 2011 8:04 AM

Alex, I'm trying to discover what makes you happy, 'cause we sure as hell know what irritates you.

Rachel's show is one of the most innovative on TV. She routinely digs into material and discovers factoids few knew. She's a GLBT sister who gets it.

She's an oasis.

This particular post points out an error.

Lay offa Rachel.

I don't think that the partisan argument is exclusive of the class warfare argument. Republicans get donations from corporations. That money keeps them in power to continue to build the aristocracy you claim is the goal. Do Democrats kowtow to wealth? Sure. The healthcare plan passed by Democrats was a gift to the healthcare industry. However, with that healthcare plan, they made sure to get in some rights, like allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get helthcare. Who is going to fight for the low and middle classes in this class warfare? Democrats do. Not as well as they should, but they do. Those 14 Wisconsin Democratic senators are still out of the state, fighting to get the protestors' views heard.

Those 14 Democratic senators are standing up, and good for them.

What I meant there is not just that class war isn't neatly divided along partisan lines, but that the rhetoric of class is itself necessary to advance these issues. There's a reason half the unemployed people I've talked to under 30 have read that book by Ron Paul - they're looking for an explanation as to why the promise of America isn't there for them, why it was an illusion. The right is definitely able to give it to them - Unions stole it, immigrants are taking your job, social security and medicare and medicaid are bankrupting america - but Democrats tend to leave that sort of explainin' out of their rhetoric.

There are lots of notable exceptions. But the rightwing narrative is stronger for a reason.

It's amazing to me that Democrats are terrified of being accused of class warfare while the Republicans are so clearly engaged in it.

Caitlin Breedlove | February 28, 2011 4:31 PM

Having lived in the South my whole adult life, and having grown up in Madison, WI--I have to agree with you here. In fact, most of us are really shocked that a town mostly controlled by arm-chair liberals has been home to such a phenomenon as we have seen in the last 14 days. Many of my family and friends have been saying that we must talk about the WHOLE bill--not only the piece about collective bargaining--and when we do look at it, we see that it is deeply about class warfare, war on the poor, and consolidating control and power of the wealthiest.

Yes! I've been explaining the situation to people here in France this weekend, and the reaction has been the same: they accepted the loss of part of their health care coverage and pension and compensation?

Even if the governor backs off and allows the collective bargaining to stay there, the right will still have won.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 1, 2011 5:36 AM

"Acceptance" was before Madison and the call for a general strike. The new situation is the greatest upsurge of worker/union militancy since the Depression before this one, As they did in Cairo, opinions and expectations are changing rapidly.

"As labor battles erupt in state capitals, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/us/01poll.html?_r=1

The mood among workers and youth has changed from acceptance to defiance. "The South Central Federation of Labor, an umbrella organization representing more than 45,000 workers in Wisconsin, voted last night to endorse a general strike if the state legislature passes Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

About 100 delegates of the 97-union federation voted unanimously in favor of the strike, and called for the group to start educating its members and affiliates on the organization and function of a general strike." Business Insider

Alex, I've replied to your comments on On Top, but you as well have done sloppy work in you critique of Rachel. I get that the numbers were wrong, but your assertion that Rachel is going for "pity points" is wrong. You even associate those tweets to the Politifact issue when in fact she was on to a completely different topic about people taking issue with Shephard Smith for quoting the same facts from OpenSecrets.org that Rachel did. Nowhere in the video does she say that anyone that disagrees with her is homophobic as you asserted in your comment on On Top. She merely points out, as a humorous aside nonetheless, that the Tweets came with ad hominem statements about her appearance or sexual orientation. What she said was certainly reasonable.

Thanks for following the discussion over.

I suppose we have to agree to disagree about those tweets. She did not actually say the words "Everyone who disagrees with me is homophobic," you're right, but I don't think that she was intending that people be so dense as to not make any sort of connection between the segment (about people who say she's wrong even though it's impossible for Rachel Maddow to be wrong) and the response to the tweets in the segment (where people who dare to claim that Maddow is wrong also say that she looks like a man).

It's a common liberal tactic, to say that anyone who makes a reasonable point against one or one's beliefs has violated some sacred code of inclusivity and therefore shouldn't be listened to. In the safe and simplistic narrative of cable news, across the political spectrum, there are good guys and bad guys and making your opposition seem like the bad guys automatically makes them wrong.

Anyway, a question to the people defending Maddow on this thread: Are you saying it doesn't matter that she got the facts wrong and then lied about what she had said when caught? All the other arguments aside - that Fox News is worse, that Maddow's generally good, that Politifact is staffed by conservative meanies - is there are problem here or do you all think it's perfectly alright to lie like this in what's supposed to be a journalistic enterprise?

I still don't think Rachel is deflecting here by bringing up the ad hominem attacks. Tho I haven't seen the specific tweets, I certainly have seen enough comments aimed at her that pretty much say "She looks like a man and she's wrong." I would be inclined to agree that probably none of the tweets actually offered any proof in how she or Shep Smith were wrong in stating that of the top 10 donors to the 2010 election, 3 were unions and 7 were corporate groups.
As for the error in the deficit reporting, technically Rachel is wrong, but that doesn't make Politifact technically right.
Their biggest sticking point was that the $140MM tax breaks given to corporations don't hit this years budget, but next years. Still, if you're facing a deficit, that doesn't seem very fiscally sound. Plus, the savings that the governor is going after probably won't affect this year either. Consider open enrollment. Usually, that hits at the beginning of a year. You can't change midstream. Now granted, it may coincide with the school year, but that means only about 4 months of savings would be realized in this year.

Rick Sutton | March 1, 2011 1:46 PM

Ex-pats ridiculing one of the only visible GLBT newspersons in America, is just a tad Europhile.

I didn't see a lie. I saw a curious statement, explained later by Rachel regarding her source. I've met Rachel. I don't think lying is her forte.

It's not OK for newscasters or commentators to get facts wrong. I consume and write news, to a small degree the latter....I'm constantly on the alert for good/bad commentators.

Rachel is undoubtedly one of the good ones.

I'm just sorry we all can't be quite so, uh, Parisian about it.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 1, 2011 4:03 AM

Preserving and radicalizing unions and unleashing the Labor Party are keys to winning emergent class warfare battles.

Liberals, led by Obama and rightists led by Teabaggers understand that but from an opposing point of view. Republicans want to do away with unions and Democrats want to tame them and transform them into company unions with broken contracts and no strike pledges. Neither is acceptable.

The attack on unions and the imposition of intolerable levels of austerity produced a sharp radicalization among workers and youth that went unnoticed until recently. It's fueled by mass unemployment and the fact that 46 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia are facing severe financial problems ranging from budget shortfalls to imminent collapse and bankruptcy. And from the fact that the recovery is only for the rich.

Wisconsin actually has relatively minor financial difficulties compared to California, Florida, New York and Texas. There two Democrat governors, Brown and Cuomo and two Republicans. Perry and Scott are launching similar anti-union efforts and turning the austerity screws to eliminate many more essential programs. In addition, many US cities like Miami and Los Angeles are on the verge of bankruptcy.
Nixon, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes and Obama all contributed to attacks on unions and the standard of living of working people and consumers. Clinton was the worst of them - NAFTA and deregulation set the stage for today's mass unemployment and depression.

The US collapse, as it did in 1929, leaves the global economy in tatters. That's made even worse by the partial collapse of agriculture caused by global warming and speculators, a key cause of events from Morocco to Pakistan and across the EU.

In the EU and the muslim world workers and youth have led the struggle against austerity and enforced poverty and for economic democracy - socialism

"enforced poverty" - I like that turn of phrase.

I saw her response to Politifact the other night and my first thought was, "But ya did, Blanche. You did."