Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Double Dose of Absurdity from the Washington Post and Media Matters

On August 23rd, the Washington Post published a piece on the Politics section of their website by David Fahrenthold that supposedly examines the size of the US Government.  Absurdly, Fahrenthold makes the following claim:
...the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That’s more than the populations of 24 states.
Back in 2010, it had 4.3 million employees. More than the populations of 24 states.
Notice that  Fahrenthold includes a link to Census data, which one might expect to support his claim that the USG is employing as many people as live in nearly half of all US states.  However, if one does even a little fact-checking, it quickly becomes obvious that Fahrenthold's claim is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

Some cursory fact-checking shows that, according to 2010 US Census data, the seven least populous states had a combined population of over 5.8 million.  That's right, 1.5 million more people live in just our seven smallest states than Fahrenthold is claiming live in 24 states.

The Post's bizarre and facially ridiculous claims are absurd enough, but then the media watchdog website Media Matters for America went and made things worse by calling Fahrenthold's claims "misleading statistics."  Rather than pointing out that Fahrenthold is simply lying, Media Matters' Ari Rabin-Havt instead decided to quibble with his choice of an example.  Apparently thinking that he is making some kind of point, Rabin-Havt points out that 4.1 million people is
...less than half the audience that viewed America's Got Talent last week.
The absurd fact is that both the Washington Post and Media Matters let Fahrenthold's claim pass without questioning the basic math involved, despite the fact that the original article provides a link to Census data that disproves his claim.  

[Update: The Washington Post's fact checker is, as I suspected, on vacation.]

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