Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, December 9, 2019 9:08 pm

If I’d wanted a take this stupid, I’d have subscribed to the Times, not the Post.


Some people have asked me why I found Matt Vizer’s Washington Post story on Elizabeth Warren’s legal work (which I’m not going to link to) so objectionable. The short answer is that both factual accuracy and contextual accuracy matter, and while the story appeared to be factually accurate, it was wildly flawed from a contextual standpoint.

What do I mean by that? Well for starters, the article started out by saying Warren had made $2 million from her legal work. What it should have said in the headline and the same sentence was that she earned that $2 million over about 30 years, so that her average annual income from that work was about $66,000.

The article also should have pointed out that by the standards of corporate lawyers, Warren was grossly underpaid. Top corporate lawyers today command in excess of $1,000 per hour, or more than $2 million per year, not over 30 years.

Contextual accuracy also demands that before anyone stars hinting at impropriety, Warren’s earnings be compared with those of the Clintons and Obamas, who can command several times more money for a one-night speech than Warren averaged pear YEAR during her 30 years of legal work.

It’s fair to ask questions about some the clients Warren chose to represent. But contextual accuracy also requires pointing out that even as she was representing them, she was working to make it more difficult for them to behave in predatory fashion. And in the context of the presidential election, that matters a lot: As one lawyer, Warren couldn’t do much to change the system. But as president of the United States? She might be able to do quite a lot, particularly if Democrats hold the House and retake the Senate. (So could a couple of other current Dem candidates, and I’m reasonably sure that Kamala Harris, who has dropped out, would’ve been able to as well.)

Finally, contextual accuracy demands that the story point out that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, WHILE ON THE WHITE HOUSE PAYROLL, earned between $29 million and $135 million in outside income in 2018. (The reporting requires only ranges, not specific amounts, be reported.) In the face of that level of corruption, the Post’s absurd focus on Warren looks not just misguided but slanted. Indeed, I’ll wager that if the facts had been the same and Warren had been a man, the story wouldn’t even have been conceived, let alone published.

In short, this was the kind of contextually stillborn story that the New York Times specializes in — it was a Hillary’s-emails-type story about Warren. And that’s not just wrong, it’s insulting. If I wanted a take like that, I’d subscribe to the Times. Matt Viser and his editors should be ashamed.

2 Comments

  1. That’s an interesting – and worrying – post, Lex. I’ve just had a conversation on the topic with a family member, who said he really didn’t know where to get accurate, unbiased news reports. I initially pointed him to the papers of record (including The Economist and the FT), and also to the global wire services – Reuters, AP, AFP, etc. – for fact-based reporting. Perhaps I was wrong with recommending the former. I’m amazed, Lex, that the Post’s editing and copy desks did not catch the glaring lack of context so accurately outlined by you above. These organizations have a Constitutional responsibility to get not only the facts right, but to put them in context, as you say. The world is ignorant enough, without normally responsible sources of information adding to that ignorance.

    Comment by Blair — Wednesday, December 11, 2019 1:48 am @ 1:48 am

    • Thanks, Blair. I think every fact-based outlet that covers politics in general and presidential elections in particular does it once in a while, and I accept that that’s just gonna happen. And like I said, the Times does it way more often than the Post. But I’ve noticed in this cycle that it seems to have happened a lot more to the women candidates, and then this article just struck me as particularly egregious. One big underlying problem, I think, is that the D.C. press corps — particularly but not exclusively the men — are in no way ready for a woman president (in other words, the awful coverage in 2016 wasn’t just because Hillary Clinton was “an unlikable person”), and not enough people are calling them out on it.

      Comment by Lex — Wednesday, December 11, 2019 7:26 am @ 7:26 am


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