Did everyone in the media fail reading comprehension?

If you grew up and went to college on the east coast of the US in the past 100 years then you’ve probably had to take the SATs.  One important part of the test is reading comprehension, where students have to read a passage and answer questions on it.  In the SATs the passages are pretty complex, much more than say, average political discourse.  However, time and time again journalists seem to fail at relating what someone actually said.

Here are two recent examples, from both political teams, where reporters absolutely failed their reading comprehension tests.

Recently, Hilary Rosen caused outrage from the right when she said that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life.  Here is her full quote and then we can get on to the questions.

“What you have is Mitt Romeny running around the country saying ‘well, you know, my wife tells me what women really care about is economic issues and when I listen to my wife, that’s what I’m hearing.  Guess what?  His wife has never really worked a day in her life.  She’s never really dealt with the kind of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing, in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school…”

Now onto your SAT questions:

In this passage the author implies that Ann Romney “has never really worked a day in her life” because she

A. Is a stay-at-home mom and therefore doesn’t work

B. Is a stay-at-home mom and therefore doesn’t have a job

C. Has never had to struggle or worry about her economic stability.

D. Has Mitt Romney on a leash.

If you said A, then congratulations, you’ve been watching Fox News.  If you said B, then you probably have been over at CNN or work for Obama.  If you said D, then kudos but unfortunately the correct answer was C.  It’s always C.  Some journalists/pundits did manage to pick up on this but managed to be drowned out by the illiterati.

Our next failure in journalism comes from the New York Times writer Jeff Zeleny covering a campaign speech by Rick Santorum.  Addressing the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare, Santorum said:

“Why would we put someone up who is uniquely – pick any other Republican in the country – he is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?”

So in this passage, the author suggests Wisconsonians should not vote for Mitt Romney because

A. He is the most evil Republican in the country, albeit probably still better than Democrats.

B. He is awful at being a Republican.

C. Given Romney’s record on healthcare he is uniquely unqualified to debate President Obama on the issue.

D. His wife is unemployed.

If you answered A or B, then congratulations, you have the reading comprehension of Jeff Zeleny.  Following Santorum’s speech,  Zeleny asked him “You said that Mitt Romney was the worst Republican in the country, is that true?”  This turned into the Santorum “Bullshit” Video, with liberals saying that he was stumped by the question and conservatives deriding the “extreme rhetoric.”  Of course, the question sounds like it was written by a child and was just used to provoke a response, which then made news, which unfortunately is further proof that the media is more concerned with making news than reporting it.

Lessons from John Derbyshire

This weekend, the political internet exploded over an article by John Derbyshire in an online zine about “the talk” non-black parents have with their children.  His article came in response to many black commentators acknowledging that they gave their children “the talk” about how, as blacks, they would have to be conscious about how others saw their skin color.  This itself was in response to the recent Trayvon Martin shooting and its racial undertones.  Derbyshire said that he had given his children a similar talk, which can more or less be summed up as, black people are dangerous and best to be avoided.  After the firestorm, Derbyshire was fired from his position at the conservative magazine National Review.

There’s a couple things to be said here, first, I am one non-black American that never received this talk or any aspect of it, I guess it’s just been luck I’ve survived so far.  Second, the outrage over the article is notsomuch about the acutal contents of it but rather the fact that it exposes a fairly common racial attitude in America.  Many of the comments on social news sites reporting the story show that there are many others who share Derbyshire’s attitude.  Both conservatives and liberals liked to pretend that people still didn’t think this way and this exposure provides an uncomfortable reminder that it’s very much still present.

Perhaps most important though, is what Derbyshire says at the end of his list.

“13. In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.”

Derbyshire’s earlier warnings of blacks used statistics to show that blacks are more dangerous and in doing so he was indirectly saying that blacks caused more crime or that there is disproportionate education because they are black.  Then at the end of the article he basically says that blacks are bad except when they’re not, noting the “IWSB” as he says.  So in what is perhaps his most racist advice, is also his most telling.  Why are blacks on average poorer, less educated, and more prone to crime than non-black?  Derbyshire implies that it’s because they’re black.

But by defining the IWSB he unknowingly notes the real culprit, poverty.  You can take almost all of his article, replace the word blacks with the poor and get better statistical results.  For instance, a higher percentage of the prison population is poor than it is black, and poor people have lower IQ’s on average than rich people.  Also, if you are black you’re also much more likely to be poor, not because you’re black, but because of history, 400 years of enslavement, and another 100 of feudalism.  500 years of history of creating an underclass in America and less than 50 trying to repair it.  Derbyshire’s suggestion: make the underclass permanent.

Candidates and their Favorite Founding Fathers

There’s a bit of a lull in the debating and politicizing right now as Romney wraps up the GOP nomination.  Without those debates we’re missing out on a lot of specifically vague economic and foreign policy questions, but we’re also missing some of the more personal questions that often get ridiculed by political commentators and candidate Newt Gingrich.  Sometimes deservedly so, like when John King pitched a “this or that” game to the candidates, like asking if they prefer coke or pepsi.  But personal questions can often be more revealing than the overly-rehearsed policy questions.  One question in particular needs to be asked of all candidates, “Who is your favorite founding father?”

The question demands knowledge of American history, political theory, and a justification of a candidate’s own values.  It lets voters know which figure they relate to and what their own idols look like.  It also forces GOP candidates to acknowledge that there were other presidents besides Reagan.  This question has actually been asked quite often and I would vote for any candidate that gives the right answer (and there is only one right answer), but so far none have.

Perhaps the most famous answer came from pseudo-candidate Sarah Palin, who, when asked by Glenn Beck, gave a response eerily similar to the more infamous newspaper question.

Palin has, for all intents and purposes, endorsed Newt Ginrgrich, so it might come as no surprise then that Gingrich also chose Washington as his favorite, albeit with a bit more confidence and a bit less ability to pronounce “Washington.”

Next on the list, we have Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, both calling James Madison their favorite.  Rick Perry even took the time to show off his knowledge of history by linking Madison to the Federalist Papers even in his state of glazed opiation.

Ron Paul also surprised some people when he said John Adams was his favorite, with most expecting him to say Jefferson.  It makes more sense when you see this picture tho.

It makes sense why, as presidential candidates, they would all choose former presidents, but unfortunately they are all wrong.  Not to disparage the other founding fathers, they all had fairly interesting lives and careers, putting forth great ideas and achieving great things.  But I’m sorry, nobody can compare to Benjamin Franklin.

While most of the well-known founding fathers were polymaths, Franklin out polymathed them all, a renowned statesman, scientist, philosopher, entrepreneur, and socialite.  His work on electricity made him perhaps the first modern celebrity and put him at the forefront of the Enlightenment.  He did not make his name as a founding father, yet helped establish the United States in the values of the Enlightenment.  While George Washington and James Madison’s signatures are not on the Declaration of Independence, guess whose is?  In every area except warfare and being president, he destroys every other founder.  Unfortunately this may also be why no candidate will ever say Franklin is their favorite, but if anybody does, they have my vote.