Economy

Is There Biased Fact-Checking at the Washington Post on Sanders' Legit Assertion on Super-Billionaires?

In Trump's era of fake news, we now have selective fact-checking run amok.

Photo Credit: WashingtonPost.com

Talk about seeing the trees and missing the forest.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, gave a foreign policy address at Westminster—where Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech after World War II—and said that the world’s six richest people own more than the poorest 50 percent of the world.

“There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people,” Sanders said. “There is no justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street, giant multi-national corporations and international financial institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout the world.”

The six wealthiest people he cited, according to a Forbes tally of the richest billionaires, are Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Carlos Slim Helu. Their combined wealth is $462 billion, compared to $409 billion for the world’s poorest half, as tallied by Oxfam, the global anti-poverty organization.

Pretty simple point made by Sanders, right? Well, the fact-checkers at the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post said Sanders was not telling the truth and gave him a grade of three Pinocchios on a one-to-five scale. Why? Because they didn’t like Oxfam’s statistical sources and methodology, saying it did not account for fluctuations in international currencies and didn’t count all the assets that the world’s poorest people have.

“Case closed—not quite,” its video said, after citing Sanders' quote, and Forbes’ and Oxfam’s numbers. “The Oxfam report has some methodological hiccups. They don’t consider what kind of assets each group owns. Or the difference in buying power between currencies. One dollar in India goes a lot further than in the U.S. And finally, they don’t examine how debt is measured.”

This stunning conclusion is posted on a screen under the title, “meaningless,” and said, “It’s one thing to look at inequality inside a country, but international comparisons are fraught with problems. Sanders’ statistic, while provocative, is basically meaningless.”

The Post’s analysis takes great umbrage at the statistical imbalances in the various ways global wealth and poverty are measured, as if there is a perfect standard out there that cannot be nit-picked by skeptics and naysayers. But because there’s not such a pristine metric, they pile on Sanders—missing the forest for the trees. Sanders' staff rejects the Post's criticism, but the WaPo piece is exasperated by their response.

It said, “Despite all this, Sanders’ team stands by Oxfam’s methodology, according to spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis. The main takeaway, Miller-Lewis points out, is that "little to no wealth can spell disaster in a time of crisis.”

Sanders was making a moral point about global wealth inequities, and one that is fundamentally inarguable. It’s worth noting that the U.S. government is not exactly saintly when it comes to its own record-keeping (the Post said Sanders should stick to domestic stats). For example, right-wingers in Congress have made sure that states do not have to report every incident of firearms-related violence to a national FBI database, an omission that creates an ambiguity that enables the pro-gun lobby to kill authoritative calls for gun laws.

Is there really any ambiguity about the fact that North American capitalism has created vast wealth for corporatists and that not much of it has trickled down to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations?

“My point is that we need to look at foreign policy as more than just the crisis of the day. That is important, but we need a more expansive view,” Sanders said in his Westminster speech. “At a time of exploding technology and wealth, how do we move away from a world of war, terrorism and massive levels of poverty into a world of peace and economic security for all. How do we move toward a global community in which people have the decent jobs, food, clean water, education, health care and housing they need? These are, admittedly, not easy issues to deal with, but they are questions we cannot afford to ignore.”

And those are the very questions that the Bezos-owned Post’s fact-check police never mentioned in their most-read Sanders slap-down.

 

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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).