1. Fake news, courtesy of the New York Times
President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency withdrew her name from consideration last week after a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers questioned her looney-tunes politics.
The way the New York Times told it, however, Saule Omarova’s nomination tanked because Republicans made an issue of the fact she was born in the Soviet Union.
This is a damned lie.
"Saule Omarova, a Cornell Law professor whom President Biden picked for a key banking regulator job, is withdrawing from consideration for the post," the New York Times said in a breaking news alert. "Bank lobbyists and Republicans painted her as a communist because she was born in the Soviet Union."
The paper's subsequent coverage added, “Ms. Omarova, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, faced months of criticism from Republicans and bank lobbyists who cast her as a threat to the American economy. ... Republicans in Congress [claimed] that both her academic work and her Soviet origins should disqualify her."
Not even close.
Republican lawmakers opposed Omarova’s nomination to supervise an estimated 1,200 financial institutions because she wants to nationalize the banking system. They opposed her because she wants a complete federal takeover of all wages, gas, and food prices, according to her own words and policy papers. Finally, they opposed her because she believes a single, unelected government bureaucracy should control all capital and credit.
Omarova also has a rosy view of Soviet socioeconomic policies, and saying on the record that she would like very much to bankrupt the oil industry did nothing to endear her to senators, either.
Never mind all that, the New York Times said. Omarova is clearly the victim of a GOP-led red scare.
This narrative, which, again, is a lie, glosses over the fact at least five Democratic senators also opposed her nomination. Hilariously, unlike the Republicans who objected to Omarova, the New York Times gives the Democratic lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, suggesting their concerns were rooted in policy and ideological differences.
The New York Times’s narrative also ignores completely that Jelena McWilliams, who was likewise born in the Soviet Union, was confirmed in 2018 to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation by a vote of 69-24. Clearly Omarova's place of birth was never a problem for lawmakers. It was always her stated fondness for certain Soviet-esque policies.
Remember, Omarova is the same person who proclaimed in 2019 that “until I came to the U.S., I couldn’t imagine that things like gender pay gap still existed in today’s world. Say what you will about the old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. The market doesn’t always ‘know best.’”
It’s a real shocker that members of the Senate blinked when her name came before them for consideration.
The New York Times is not stupid. Its reporters followed Omarova’s nomination closely enough to know the objections. Nevertheless, it chose merely to "report" a falsehood painting Republicans in the worst light imaginable.
There’s a word for what the New York Times published last week: disinformation.
2. Lies, damn lies, statistics, and “data science” models
The media have been harder on President Joe Biden in the first year of his presidency than they were on former President Donald Trump in his last, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank claimed last week.
Clearly, he said, the press are failing our democracy.
“The country is in an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative,” Milbank argued. “And we in the news media, collectively, have given equal, if not slightly more favorable, treatment to the authoritarians.”
How, exactly, did Milbank measure media coverage of Biden versus Trump? He consulted a computer.
“At my request, a data analytics [organization] combed through more than 200,000 articles — tens of millions of words — from 65 news websites (newspapers, network, and cable news, political publications, news wires, and more) to do a ‘sentiment analysis’ of coverage,” he wrote.
This part is especially fun: "Using algorithms that give weight to certain adjectives based on their placement in the story, it rated the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage President Donald Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020.”
Milbank added, “The findings … confirmed my fear: My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.”
You've got to be kidding me.
First, let’s put aside for a moment the underlying subtext to his argument, which is: To save democracy, journalists must publish only positive news stories on the most powerful man in the free world. Put aside Milbank’s bonkers assertion, a handful of unflattering news stories regarding a stalled agenda is worse somehow for a president than a mountain of news reports suggesting he is guilty of treason and sedition. Put aside the fact the data cited by Milbank measure only differences in neutrality in tone. The research says nothing about whether the coverage is pro- or anti-authoritarian. That’s all Milbank’s doing.
All that aside, let’s address the obvious: A computer can’t weigh the difference in “sentiment” between a story about Trump challenging the results of the 2020 election and Biden struggling to keep his team together on Capitol Hill. It’s childish to believe otherwise. Yeah, the reports on Biden's struggles to whip Democrats into passing his agenda don't reflect well on him. But are we really going to say those stories are harsher or more damaging than all the reports regarding Trump's efforts to overturn the election results?
For that matter, do you know what the algorithm doesn’t measure? Stories that simply don’t exist. What about those? What about the unflattering Biden stories major newsrooms either downplay or ignore — or even censor. Where does burying the Hunter Biden laptop story measure? How should we measure reporters falsely dismissing the laptop story as Russian disinformation? How should the algorithm measure journalists ignoring the story of Hunter Biden’s ties to a Chinese-owned blood mine?
How should the algorithm measure the moment the press allowed themselves to be used by the Biden administration for an Arlington National Cemetery photo shoot promoting his disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal? How should the algorithm measure the sudden disappearance of media COVID-19 death counters now Biden is president? Did the algorithm not pick up the difference in media coverage of Trump’s executive abuses and, say, Biden unconstitutionally extending a COVID-19 eviction moratorium, which prevents landlords from evicting delinquent tenets?
Don’t do partisanship, kids. It’ll rot your brain to the point where you think a calculator can measure “sentiment.”