Category Archives: Media

Don’t Trust Political Memes, and Don’t Share Them

Think of this post as a public service message.

In some ways, memes are the 21st century version of the comic strip or the political cartoon. They can be quite funny, and they make their point in just a second or two. Memes have been a boon for comic-strip-style humor. Someone needs to fill the void left by Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, and a lot of people have ably volunteered. Anyone with a joke and basic computer skills can make a funny meme, and millions of people can share the fun. National distributors no longer serve as gatekeepers and censors, allowing some unique talents to shine that would have remained dark just a decade or two ago. This has been a wonderful development.

But for many reasons, political memes are typically riddled with factual errors and offer little more than confirmation bias. They should be shunned, not shared.

Here is a quick statistics lesson from one political meme I saw making the rounds recently. That’s not to pick on this meme specifically. There are millions like it, just as bad, floating around the Internet. This is just one I happened to see, though I should note that Turning Point USA has a poor reputation, even by its genre’s low standards.

Also keep in mind that this meme is on the correct side of its issue. Imagine how wrong the wrong ones can be! As Frederic Bastiat wrote, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.”

Here is the meme:

turning point meme

Here is a list of things it gets wrong.

1: This meme is undated and cites no sources.

2: There is no publication titled “World Economic Freedom Index.”

3: For indexes that do exist, their data do not go back 60 years. They go back to 1970 for the Fraser/Cato index, and 1995 for the Heritage/WSJ index.

4: Venezuela does rank 179th in the 2018 Heritage/WSJ index. But it gives no rankings from roughly 60 years ago. If the 4th place figure comes from a different index, that is not a valid apples-to-apples comparison. But we don’t know where that figure comes from. None is cited. Google doesn’t turn one up, either. For all we know, some intern could have just made it up, and now people are sharing it.

5: Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998. His brand of socialism was 14 years old when Turning Point USA was founded in 2012, not 10 years before this undated meme was created.

That’s five errors in one meme that took less than ten minutes to dig up. That says more about Turning Point USA and political memes in general than it does about Venezuela’s ongoing tragedy.

Don’t trust unsourced political memes, don’t share them, and take people who heavily rely on them as seriously as they deserve–even, or especially, if they share your ideological priors.

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Breaking News

The Hill: John Bolton: ‘I will not be shaving my mustache’

Breaking News

Politico: Trump says he will hold press conference soon

A Really Slow News Day

Headlines from some of today’s most-read stories at Politico:

Bo Obama turns 7! A look inside the first dog’s fetching life

The GOP Is Throwing Away Millions of Dollars
(trillions is more accurate – ed.)

And one story that would make for a rather speedier news day if the headline was literally true:

Chris Christie returns from the dead

The Politics of SpongeBob

Spongebob-squarepants
Two unrelated news stories caught my eye this morning that capture the depth of today’s political discourse. The first is a Politico story explaining, apparently in all seriousness, why SpongeBob Squarepants is becoming a Republican icon. In the name of balance, the story even includes a negative quote from Al Sharpton, presented without irony.

In the second story, a wit presented HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with a copy of Websites for Dummies at an event, as a tactful reminder of the difficulties her department has had getting various insurance exchange websites to work properly.

This is why I work in policy, and not politics.

How Not to Write a Lede

In journalism, the lede is the first sentence or two of a story. It’s spelled that way to disambiguate it from the various meanings of the word “lead.” The lede’s job is to summarize the story as succinctly as possible while inviting the reader to read further. Some ledes, however are better than others:

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane City Council will discuss a proposed ordinance that would make unlawful public exposure a criminal misdemeanor on Monday night.

Taken literally, if you feel like engaging in some good-old-fashioned public nudity in Spokane, don’t do it on a Monday. Wait until Tuesday. Or, if it’s Sunday night, hurry up and get out there! Unfortunately for exhibitionists, one doubts this was the reporter actually meant to say.

Getting Buchanan Wrong

The New York Times obituary for James Buchanan is up. The opening paragraph contains a whopper of an error:

James M. Buchanan, a scholar and author whose analyses of economic and political decision-making won the 1986 Nobel in economic sciences and shaped a generation of conservative thinking about deficits, taxes and the size of government, died on Wednesday in Blacksburg, Va. He was 93.

The author of the piece, Robert McFadden, might be surprised to learn that in 2005 Buchanan wrote a book titled Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism. McFadden also might be surprised to learn that there are more than two political philosophies. Just because someone is not progressive doesn’t mean, therefore, they are conservative. Buchanan self-identified as a classical liberal, which is a philosophy distinct from both progressivism and conservatism, and has roots reaching as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.

The strict binary view of politics held by most journalists might be convenient for creating compelling election campaign stories. But it is sorely incomplete, and does readers no favors as far as imparting any actual understanding of the issues.