In 2000, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw used the statistic that “women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar men receive for the same work” in a question to Joe Lieberman during the Vice Presidential candidates debate, prompting me to turn or the TV and write a letter to CNN. The statistic had long been debunked as misleading and inaccurate for years by every objective observer who examined it. The unspoken assumption that figure is meant to convey is that this supposed gap reflects sexism in the workplace. It dates from the early days of NOW and the feminist push for the Equal Rights Amendment, an activist-concocted lie, like many of the global warming “facts” mouthed by Al Gore, designed to simplify a complex phenomenon into something unequivocally persuasive. For Shaw, a journalist, to repeat a false and misleading statistic as fact in a nationally televised debate was inexcusable, and irresponsible journalism.
Did I mention that this was in 2000?
The 77% stat is one of my two pet fake statistics (the other being the statement that 50% of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, used by culture warriors on both the left and right), and I have vowed not to let either pass without a red flag until I either drop dead or people stop lying. So I don’t care to hear, thank you, about how I’m picking on the President Obama when Mitt Romney has been using some misleading facts too. I know he has. But when a President of the United States whose supporters laud as a genius and scholar, and who pledged not to mislead the American people promotes his campaign with a widely publicized statistic that he has to know misinforms the public, I believe that’s alarming, insulting, and infuriating. The fact that Democrats and feminists have been using the same lie for over three decades doesn’t make it less offensive, but more.
Of the recent Obama campaign spot—“approved by ” the President– use of the statement that women are “paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men”, the non-partisan Fact-Check.org (and they really are non-partisan, unlike other organizations that claim that mantle, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or Politifact) minces no words:
“That’s not true. The ad falsely states that the pay gap is for doing “the same work.” It also implies that discrimination by employers is responsible for the difference. That’s an exaggeration.”
And this should hardly be a revelation, since everything FactCheck says has been a matter of record for decades. You can read it yourself here. Then ask yourself, and explain to me, why the public should trust any argument or statistical claim put forth by a leaders, candidate or organization that uses a figure as intentionally misleading as this one. Ask yourself what kind of respect this conduct shows for the American people, and the mission of an informed democracy. If a leader or candidate wants to make an argument for the wisdom of new legislation, wonderful: make it fairly, explaining the issue without deceptive manipulation of the facts. Otherwise, I have to assume, as do you, that this is not an effort to make a persuasive argument at all, but an effort to willfully deceive, while attracting the favor and support of the political constituency that perpetuates the falsehood.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.