Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Forbes Fallacy

Elizabeth Warren has been getting a lot of play today for one of her lines from last night’s debate between the potential Democratic challengers to Senator Scott Brown.  In her opening remarks, she said, “Forbes Magazine named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite senator, and I was thinking that’s probably not an award I’m going to get.”

Trouble is, it’s just not true.  Forbes Magazine has never named Scott Brown “Wall Street’s favorite senator.”  Hasn’t happened.  That is factually incorrect.  Erroneous.  David Bernstein at the Boston Phoenix explained it perfectly (more than a month ago, I might add):
The "Wall Street's favorite Senator" claim, incidentally, is absolutely bogus; Brown was the 6th (not 1st) Senator on that Forbes list of congressmen having received the most in Wall Street contributions from January 2009 through June 2010. Brown's special election was in January 2010; almost nobody else in Congress had an election during that stretch. During that period, I'd bet Brown was in the top 10 for contributions by people whose names begin with S, too, and people with a '7' in their ZIP Code.
I would also note that 6 of the 10 congressmen on that list are Democrats, including Harry Reid, who Warren hopes to be taking orders from come 2013.

And it’s not just Warren who is spreading this Forbes Fallacy – it is a favorite talking point of Democrats and progressives.  Thankfully for all of them, it appears that news organizations are repeating this assertion with no concern for whether it is true or not.

This would be par for the course if Democrats in Massachusetts hadn’t just engaged in some serious hand-wringing over Scott Brown’s use of an incorrect piece of information.

Last week, a Democratic blogger and activist took Brown to task for what he called “the muffin myth.”  Chris Matthews – not the tingling leg Chris Matthews – reports that in a recent speech, Senator Brown cited that DOJ $16 muffin story as an example of government waste.  Matthews (@chrismatth on Twitter) points out that this story has been debunked by DOJ and went “from scandal to myth very quickly.”  This prompts some typical partisan outrage from Matthews about Brown’s “speaking without checking facts first” and being “loose with the facts” and he rounds it out with “it really makes me wonder how much thought and research goes into his votes. Not much, I’m guessing.”

For the record, I consider Matthews a sort of Twitter frenemy.  Our political opinions differ, but he tends to be a polite partisan, which we could use more of on both sides of the aisle.  And I don’t blame him for trying to ding Senator Brown on his comment – all elected officials and candidates should be held accountable for what they say and the facts they present.

Unfortunately for Matthews (and the Democratic Party, which was quick to jump on this criticism), all of the outrage Matthews directs at Brown could just as easily be directed at Warren.  Speaking without checking facts first?  Check.  Loose with the facts?  Check.  Makes you wonder how much thought and research will go into her votes?  Aand check.

I would even argue that Warren’s error is greater than Brown’s.  Brown asserted that DOJ spent $16 on muffins in order to make a larger point about government waste.  While DOJ did not spend $16 on muffins, I think we would all agree that there is still government waste.  Warren stated that “Forbes Magazine named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite senator” in order to assert that… Scott Brown is Wall Street’s favorite senator.  But he’s not. 

All she had to do was add “one of” to her statement and it would be considered factual (although there’s still the issue of the time period covered by Forbes).  But that packs less of a punch.  If I may borrow some of Matthews’ outrage, it really makes me wonder whether she knows this isn’t true and is saying it anyway, or if she is just that uninformed about the central premise of her campaign.


  1. Campaign Cash

    Wall Street's Favorite Congressmen

    by Brian Wingfield, 06.01.10, 06:00 AM EDT

    A certain truck-driving senator from Massachusetts and two GOP congressmen running for Senate are among the biggest recipients of contributions from the financial sector.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous. You'll notice that I already linked to that article in my post. I did not dispute that Brown is on this list, I disputed the claim that he tops this list, which is quite evidently false. If Democrats want to say "oh well, close enough" when one of their own attacks a Republican, they should be prepared to have that same attitude about Republicans.

  3. I'd like to see more effort made to check facts before repeating narratives but I don't think the right wing blogosphere shares that value (see RedState, Ace of Spades, Breitbart, etc) and neither does Fox.

  4. No one party has a monopoly on fact checking. See Rather, Dan - documents on GWB Vietnam service.


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