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Red vs. Blue: The Deception

A conservative columnist botches a Swiftian satire by quoting a bogus statistic. Plus: Would it kill NewsMax to hawk a more accurate vote-by-county map?, and the Media Research Center changes the subject on a red-blue comparison that doesn't favor Republicans.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/11/2004

Such is the state of alleged conservative humor that its purveyors have to incorporate long-debunked lies. And even then, it still isn't funny. Not intentionally, anyway.

Which is the case with a Nov. 3 attempt at Swiftian satire by Mike Thompson, "past chairman of the Florida Conservative Union," at Human Events. (The fact that Ann Coulter is Human Events' "legal affairs correspondent" says most of what you need to know about this publication.) Thompson tries to replicate Jonathan Swift's "modest proposal" by offering one of his own: reconfiguring the United States based on how it voted in the presidential election, "red" (Bush) and "blue" (Kerry). It fails as Swiftian satire because rather than dispassionately and logically arguing for the illogical to make a larger point, Thompson is simply mean, more interested in bashing liberals than being, you know, funny.

"[C]onservative citizens and like-minded political leaders ... have been denigrated by the vilest of lies and characterizations from hordes of liberals," Thompson writes, and it pretty much continues in that vein; later, he states that "liberals promote the only other subjects with which they feel conversationally comfortable: Obscenity and sexual perversion."

Thompson's vision of a separate "Bush USA" and a "Gore/Kerry USA" would be mostly harmless in that condescending über-conservative kind of way -- he obliviously laments that "[d]efamation ... flourishes and passes today for acceptable political discourse" -- if he didn't throw in a long-discredited statistic to boost his case:

Bush USA also is far safer, its murder rate being about 16% of the homicidal binge that plagues Gore/Kerry USA--2.1 per 100,000 residents, compared with 13.2 per 100,000 (from a study by Professor Joseph Olson, Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota).

That little statistic was pulled from an oft-forwarded e-mail that has been circulating for years. Not only did Joseph Olson of Hamline University not write it, the statistic Thompson cited is completely wrong. The murder rate in Bush counties was 4.1 and 6.5 in Gore counties.

How do we know? ConWebWatch busted NewsMax for regurgitating these exact same bogus statistics back in April. And we got it from urban-legend-busters Snopes, who had it even earlier.

Thompson doesn't seem to get the one ingredient of good Swiftian satire: It has to be based in truth. (Being funny would help, too.)

(Tip o' the hat to Atrios for noticing this first and for citing ConWebWatch.)

* * *

NewsMax also joins in on the red-blue deception by peddling an updated version of the vote-by-county map of the U.S. it was shilling after the 2000 election -- and resorting to misleading promotion of it.

"Dan Rather Shocked by Bush Map" stated a recent promo line on NewsMax's front page. "Michael Moore Furious with Bush Map!" read the subject line of a recent e-mail promoting it. NewsMax has provided no evidence that either Moore or Rather have specifically commented about the map at all, let alone that they are "furious" or "shocked."

If they actually had, though, any emotion they might express would likely involve how misleading the map is. After all, counties and other land masses don't vote for president, people do (as ConWebWatch noted back in 2000), and what the counties that went for Kerry lack in total land mass, they more than make up for in population. As others have pointed out, the 20 states Kerry won contain 48 percent of the U.S. population.

If NewsMax was truly interested in cartographic accuracy (and we've seen no indication that it is), the colors of its map would be weighted by the margin of victory in each county, which would make the map more purple than red. Further, a more realistic map could show each state resized according to population to better show the proportion of the victory.

But, as NewsMax would no doubt be the first to argue, a realistic map doesn't sell T-shirts to gullible conservatives.

* * *

The Media Research Center has done its part as well to spin the red-blue divide.

Brent Baker noted in a Nov. 8 CyberAlert that MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell "spewed" a mostly true fact: that "[n]inety percent of the red states are welfare client states of the federal government. They collect more from the federal government than they send in."

Yes, actual statistics from the Tax Foundation support this. As Bob Somerby further noted, eight of the 10 states who get the least back per dollar of money sent to the federal government are blue. (Somerby has also noted that the three healthiest states in the U.S. are blue, while all 15 of the least-healthy states are red.

Baker responded like any good conservative would -- by changing the subject:

That's just another way of making a point which liberals dismiss when made to explain why the largest dollar amount of Bush's tax cuts went to the wealthy: The top few percent of income earners pay the vast majority of the income taxes collected by the federal government while the bottom 50 percent, in both red and blue states, pick up virtually none of the income tax burden.

In other words, Baker stays clean away from addressing what O'Donnell said, let alone why it should be considered "spewing."

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