Back It Up

When Barack Obama gets some free time from meetings in the West Wing, he likes to dress in fishnet stockings and push-up bras. George Bush averaged 418 days of vacation annually at his ranch while he was in office. Nancy Pelosi drinks the blood of her constituents’ children. Mitt Romney is the spearpoint of a Mormon conspiracy to obtain national office and get all of us hunting for Joseph Smith’s lost golden tablets. Is any of that true? Does it matter? Does anyone read the retraction column in the newspaper as avidly as I do? That’s a trick question – I don’t think anyone bothers retracting anything they say, because actually reporting anything accurate is no longer any kind of priority in politics or journalism. All one has to do is to say something, without regard for its veracity, and let events take their course.

Let me run another one past you, something being echoed ad nauseam on the right side of the aisle: Barack Obama’s current 10-day trip to India is costing $200 million per day. Glenn Beck is practically sobbing over the news, and it’s likely to drive Rush Limbaugh back to pain-killers. Only … of course, the White House says the figure has “no basis in reality.” But let’s go beyond the mere fact that people are saying it. Hell, let’s go beyond the basic concept of fact-checking in journalism, and engage in a little logical discourse over the claims that are flying around.

Snopes.com always provides a great structural basis for analyzing claims that don’t pass the sniff test, and it’s anything but a political site. Among the claims that Snopes notes:

  • More than 3,000 people are accompanying Obama on the taxpayers’ dime, including secret service, journalists and advance personnel;
  • Forty aircraft are making the trip;
  • A fleet of 34 ships are accompanying the Presidential delegation, including an aircraft carrier;
  • The entire Taj Mahal hotel is being rented out for the delegation; and
  • The trip is vacation for Obama.

Let’s be clear: this is a trip of state by President Obama. The journalists will tell you immediately that they pay their own way. Check with the Taj Mahal hotel, and you’ll see that it is not completely reserved by the Presidential delegation. In addition, make up your mind, muckrakers — is it a fleet of 40 planes or a fleet of 40 ships? And should we ignore that 40 ships of the line are 10-12% of the U.S. Navy, or that aircraft carrier battle groups only average 10-12 ships, or that Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell states flatly that no such huge deployment was even contemplated. Wonder why not? What use would all of those ships offshore of Mumbai be if something went down? Three squads of special forces would be more useful against any threat in India than a fleet of water-based artillery and cruise missiles.

Think people are lying? How about just looking at the math. $200 million dollars a day works out to $66,000 per person per day, even accepting that the U.S. government is paying for some of those people’s roles for the first time ever. If this nonsense is plausible, President Obama’s 10-day trip to India would cost two billion dollars. Does anyone actually believe that? The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released figures on several expensive 1998 trips that President Clinton took:

  • Africa, 12 days, 1300 entourage … $42.8 million
  • Chile, 5 days, 600 entourage … $10.5 million
  • China, 9 days, 500 entourage … $18.8 million

Those trips amount to $3.6m, $2.1m and $2.1m per day, respectively. Even accounting for inflation and the fact that the city President Obama is visiting was recently the target of a major terrorist attack (am I the only one who thinks that warrants thorough security?), does anyone actually believe that this playboy is dropping nearly 50 times as much cash as the next most expensive recent trip of state? Use your head, peoples. And bounce over to FactCheck.org for more analysis, which is an equal-opportunity debunker.

If you remain unconvinced after listening to people say that it’s not true and after mulling the numbers yourself, let’s look at the credebility of the story in the first place. This story arises out of one report by an outfit in India called the Press Trust of India. It was based on an anonymous Indian official, meaning that of necessity any information on which it was founded was second hand. And current security arrangements and logistics aren’t released to the public because it could compromise those arrangements, so even for true USG insides, it would be very difficult for all but a select handful of people to realistically estimate what this trip is going to cost.

I know there are a lot of Italics in this post, but I’m thunderstruck that anyone seriously reports this figure – I don’t blame the masses watching the news, but I would fiercely advocate for a little common sense. We’re listening to the tail wagging the dog because one random news org in India based a completely implausible story, roundly denounced by people who should know better, on one anonymous second-hand source. It’s not okay with me that this is still a story; I just don’t trust it. And I’m disappointed that all anyone has to do is say something in this age of 24-hour news cycles, after which it’s up to the innocent (okay, not necessarily guilty) attacked to prove that their blood isn’t green or they don’t diddle little kids or that they aren’t a witch. That last one’s for you, Ms. O’Donnell. It all feeds into the Faux News kind of news cycle with alternative “news” and opinion: a pundit says something assinine, an anchor later that day reports that “it has been alleged that …,” then the commentators base even wilder allegations on “news reports that …” The network creates its own news. Rinse, repeat.

I’d like to rinse and not repeat. Dan Rather was an ass for dummying up a story, even if he honestly believed he was relating what actually happened – truth is never advanced through false data. Even if you reach the correct conclusion, getting there for the wrong reasons leads to poor correlaries down the road. With the complete breakdown of accountability for facts, we’re left with current events outlets that seek only to indoctrinate us and discard any pretense of education. Fair and balanced? I don’t even have a response to that.

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2 Responses to Back It Up

  1. Shelby says:

    Fact checking? What the hell is that? I thought for sure you of all people would know that this country believes in Yellow Journalism, by god. Oh yeah, and God Bless America.

  2. Shelby says:

    Oh yeah, and this, if you want to really back it up, you better back that ASS UP!

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