Sunday, October 12, 2008


High on the list of Books That Ought to Be on Every Journalist's Desk (fits-in-back-pocket category) is Darrell Huff's "How to Lie With Statistics," a Strunkenwhite-size paperback about -- well, what do you suppose a book called "How to Lie With Statistics" ought to be about? I picked up my copy in College Park 20-whatever years ago, and my opinion of the Maryland J-program remains somewhat inflated because the thing was on a shelf of books required for a reporting course.

One of the nice illustrative tales in HtLWS is the one about the rabbitburger. Guy's driving along and sees a sign: "Rabbitburgers, 25 cents." His curiosity roused, he stops in and asks the proprieter: How can you sell a genuine rabbitburger for only 25 cents? Well, says the proprieter, I have to admit -- it's not 100% rabbit. I do mix in a little horsemeat.

How much horsemeat? asks the guest. Fifty-fifty, says the proprieter. One horse to one rabbit.

That may be why some campaign coverage of the past week has a strange whiff about it. Here's a tale from the NYT news service, appearing in the provincial press:

Obama, McCain ratchet up attacks
Sen. John McCain joined in the attacks Thursday on Sen. Barack Obama for his ties to the 1960s radical William Ayers, telling a raucous crowd in Wisconsin that “we need to know the full extent of the relationship” to judge whether Obama “is telling the truth.”

Obama, in turn, condemned McCain's plan for the government to buy bad home loans as a “bailout” for risk-taking banks and lenders, and he told several thousand voters in Dayton, Ohio, that McCain's approach to the financial crisis was “risky” and “erratic.”

Candidate A says Candidate B is probably lying about something shady, but we won't know what until he comes clean about whatever dark hints they're dropping over at Fox today. Candidate B says Candidate A's home-loan proposal is a bailout. Horse, meet rabbit; both candidates are "ratcheting up attacks."

And here's one from Fox itself (using the AP, which allows Fox to go "see? Everybody's talking about it!"):

Fact-Checks Show Candidates Stretch Truth About Foes' Old Associates
SPRINGFIELD, Ill.: With the election winding down, each candidate is trying to push the idea that his opponent must be guilty of something if he has connections to shady characters -- and both are stretching the truth to accomplish the smear by association.

Who might these shady characters be?

-- William Ayers: Forty years ago, Ayers was a founder of the Weather Underground, a radical group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

He certainly seems to be a fixture of campaign discourse. You'd almost think he was somebody who ...
Charles Keating: Keating was a real estate speculator and savings and loan owner. His institution failed, costing many investors their life savings and sticking taxpayers with a $2.8 billion bailout cost.
McCain received $112,000 from him, his family and associates, and took trips to the Bahamas at Keating's expense. McCain took up Keating's cause with financial regulators who were investigating the businessman.

... gave the senator a lot of money and sent him on vacations? Or something like that. Odd, though; I read lots and lots of this stuff (hey, it's a job), and I'm not seeing a lot of indications that the good old Keating Five are being invoked every other minute on the campaign trail. Rabbit, horse. Horse, rabbit.

There's a strange sort of -- well, when people like John Singlaub were running around loose in Washington, it was called "moral equivalence" at play here: Candidate A kicks Candidate B in the fusebox. Candidate B says "I thought we were going to talk about policy, not kick each other in the fusebox." Headline says "Campaigns focus on fusebox-kicking."

Mmm, rabbitburger. Medium rare for me, with some provolone. May I recommend the excellent Bell's Third Coast Ale?



Blogger Wishydig said...

Very nicely done. And Bell's TCA would be perfect with rabbit.

4:48 AM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

There's a sort of desperate need to make some fair, balanced "story" out of everything. Asimov once said, "...when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." Fox, especially, loves to do this.

9:42 AM, October 13, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Glad you can get the Third Coast down in that poor landlocked state! I have yet to meet a Bell's product I didn't like. And small businesses are totally the engine of, like, everything.

Ridge, I hadn't heard that Asimov quote, but it might have to end up in the lecture about logical fallacies

11:42 PM, October 15, 2008  

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