Moderators Are Awful at Fact-Checking — Especially Things Like the Unemployment Rate

by Patrick Brennan

The head of the presidential debate commission caught flak yesterday for her comments on CNN about why she doesn’t think the debate moderators should call out Trump and Clinton over factual inaccuracies:

The question was prompted by Democrats’ demands for presidential-debate moderators to correct candidates’ false statements during the debate itself. This is an awful idea for a number of reasons, but a decent one is right in the debate commissioner’s response.

Liberal Twitter was all a-huff about how the commissioner cites the unemployment rate as an area where the facts are up for debate — har har, they say, you know there literally is an official unemployment rate the government publishes, right?

Except anyone smart saying this is being remarkably coy: People of good faith and serious economic training debate about whether the “official” unemployment rate is a good representation of the unemployment rate all the time!

How absurd is it to complain about the commissioner’s statement here? Say Trump says something along the lines of! “the real unemployment rate is much higher than the government tells you.”

This might well be true — although it all depends on what you mean by the real unemployment rate. There is zero basis for believing that the government is engaged in some conspiracy to make the numbers look better than they are, which is one reading of Trump’s statement, but another reading is that he’s saying the “official unemployment rate” — the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U-3 rate — suggests our economy is relatively strong, which is misleading since many other measures suggest it’s not. This would be a position Trump shares with a huge swath of people, including Bernie Sanders, Janet Yellen (sometimes), and Ben Bernanke.

The people braying for fact-checking in debates are thus asking for moderators to attempt, in real time, to adjudicate disputes that divide Ph.D. economists and of course, a whole range of other such disputes on which the respective experts — trade economists, classification experts, presidential historians, whatever — often don’t agree.

Political journalists are Awful. At. This.

Keep reading this post . . .

Keith Lamont Scott and Daniel Kevin Harris

by Roger Clegg

“Keith Lamont Scott Is Sixth Person to Die in Police Shooting in Charlotte This Year,” says an NBC News headline.  Well, yeah, but if you actually read the story, near the end you learn some interesting facts.  All those shot were men.  Each was 43 or younger.  Four were black, one was Asian, and one was white. And all except for one was armed.

What’s more, here are the details on the one who was not armed: ”Daniel Kevin Harris, a white, unarmed, 29-year-old, was shot on Aug. 18, after a state trooper tried to pull him over for speeding but he kept driving. He was shot when he finally got out of his car. His family says he was hearing impaired.” The state trooper was black, by the way.  Somehow, though, his shooting did not prompt riots. H/t Mike Tremoglie (a former Philadelphia cop). 

There will always be police shootings, and it is a statistical certainty that some of them will involve African Americans, and the law of averages says some of those will involve police who are not African Americans, and inevitably sometimes the circumstances will make it easy to second guess the decisions made by the police.

So it’s illogical to think, “Gee, another black guy shot by a white cop — maybe there really is a problem here.” It’s wrong to jump to conclusions even in a particular case before all the facts are known. And it’s ludicrous to pounce on each such shooting as proving anything about the police generally.

Withholding Police Video Didn’t Cause Charlotte Riots

by John Hood

My fellow North Carolinians have learned a lot in the past few days — about law enforcement, race relations, cynical politics, media memes, and the need for wise leadership during crisis. But the cost of our education has been far too high. Dozens of police officers, journalists, and citizens were injured during the riots that broke out after a black officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, also African-American, last Tuesday. One protester, Justin Carr, was killed. Some businesses were looted. Others shut down or instructed employees not to venture uptown. The damage, physical and otherwise, was extensive in the community where I was born. The losses feel personal to me. My family’s roots in the Charlotte area extend all the way back to its initial settlement in the mid-1700s.

Despite receiving our very expensive lessons, there’s one thing North Carolinians don’t yet know for certain — exactly what transpired at the scene of Scott’s death. Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, says the physical and testimonial evidence indicates Scott was armed, resisting arrest, and perceived to be an imminent threat by the officers on the scene. On Friday, Scott’s wife released her own cellphone video. A day later, Putney released the police department’s videos. Millions of people then watched, studied, and drew their own conclusions. Because none of the footage showed the entire incident, at a high-enough resolution to see everything clearly, these conclusions were inevitably speculative and subjective. The authorities — and a judge and jury, if charges were ever brought — could use other evidence not yet available for public inspection.

What’s more certain is that the riots that rocked Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday were not caused by the city’s refusal to release its videos immediately. How do I know that? Because the rioting began on Tuesday night, before people had a clear sense of what videos existed and how accessible they were. And because on Thursday and Friday, before the footage was released on Saturday, Charlotte experienced largely peaceful protests, not riots.

The critical factor was that on Thursday morning, city officials finally accepted the offer Gov. Pat McCrory had made early the previous day: the declaration of a state of emergency and the deployment of state troopers and the National Guard. Overwhelming force is what deterred additional crimes against police, property, and innocent civilians. Charlotte station WBTV reported that Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts initially refused McCrory’s offer because she worried that a state of emergency would look bad. Publicly, she stated that in the aftermath of the initial rioting on Tuesday evening, she still believed the Wednesday protests would be peaceful. At best, this was a disastrous error in judgment.

It wasn’t the only one. Reckless allegations inflamed the situation. A group of clergy led by NAACP state president William Barber stepped forward to help restrain protesters, and may have had that effect in some cases. But they also irresponsibly blamed police for “provoking” the riots. And they trafficked in a range of conspiracy theories — such as claims that Carr was killed by police, or that officers may have planted the gun attributed to Scott — that made themselves look ridiculous and their cause look political. Indeed, Barber even used his moment in the media spotlight to talk about Medicaid expansion and other political disputes far afield from the case — but conveniently linked to Republicans in Raleigh rather than Democrats in Charlotte.

When it comes to freedom of speech, there is a key distinction between expressing an opinion and shouting down someone else expressing an opinion. The latter is called the “heckler’s veto.” In Charlotte, some people angry about the Scott case, or about race and justice issues in general, seemed to believe they enjoyed a “rioter’s veto.” They thought they could interrupt the normal investigative process and insist that unless the city released its videos immediately — even though such a premature release might influence the testimony of witnesses still being interviewed — the unrest would continue. “No tapes, no peace!” they shouted.

Absolutely unacceptable. Peace and security come first. Then, presentation of facts. Then, discussion about what those facts mean and what response is warranted. This is the sequence civilization requires. It is the responsibility of leaders, public and private, to insist on this sequence. Some did, such as Chief Putney and Gov. McCrory. Others didn’t. They should be embarrassed. Alas, they won’t be.

Re: Hillary’s Lead

by Rich Lowry

Response To...

Hillary's Lead Melted Because of ...

Jim, something that Bill Rusher used to say has always stuck with me. I remember a discussion prior to the 2006 election, when Republicans were counting on fundraising and incumbency to save their House majority, and he said, “When the American people want to move, they move.” Meaning all the mechanics in the world can’t buck the popular mood. This is obviously what the Clinton campaign has to fear about November. 

The Map Follows the National Polls, Cont.

by Rich Lowry

Again, the electoral map is important, but it’s going to change based on the national polls. With Hillary’s national lead continuing to dwindle, states that had seemed to be off the board are coming back on, as demonstrated by this CNN poll that has Colorado and Pennsylvania both effectively tied.

WATCH: Memorable Moments in Presidential-Debate History

by NR Staff

As we head into the first two-party debate of the 2016 election season today, let’s take a moment to look back on some of the most memorable moments in presidential-debate history: 

Poll: What Will Hillary Clinton Lie Most Shamelessly About in Tonight’s Debate?

Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President?

by Stanley Kurtz

Tevi Troy’s new book, Shall We Wake the President? just might scare the daylights out of you—in the very nicest way, of course. After reading this combination presidential history, policy primer, and self-help book on disaster management, the world’s been looking more and more to me like a continuous series of catastrophes.

It’s hard to separate the ways in which Troy’s book has changed my way of looking at things from the bad run we’ve been in. Has the world turned into a succession of disasters, or is it just the book? All I know is that during the chapter on terror attacks, there was a terror attack; during the chapter on cyber-security, Colin Powell got hacked; and during the chapter on civil unrest, Charlotte blew up. I guess when you write a book about every way shape and form of disaster, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be “on the news.”

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian, policy maven, and highly accomplished administrator who knows of what he writes. Troy was at the heart of the George W. Bush administration’s post-9/11 disaster preparedness operations at the Department of Labor, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the Department of Health and Human Services. On top of that, he is a master of the fascinating presidential anecdote, as readers of his best-selling, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted, will know.

Shall We Wake the President? reads as an extended reflection on “the thin crust of civilization” and what it takes to crack it. At times the book can be scary, as when someone with Troy’s White House experience points out the following helpful quote: “In a crisis you realized that society operated without anyone knowing deep down what the hell was really going on.” Sometimes, though, things come clear, as when Troy draws a fascinating comparison between the relatively benign 1965 New York blackout and the rioting that went on after a similar New York blackout in 1977. Troy plausibly explains the different reactions.

Then there are Troy’s trademark anecdotes. Did you know that IRS head and candidate for impeachment John Koskinen made his bones as Bill Clinton’s Y2K czar? And I’ll bet you didn’t know about the mysterious 2014 assault on Silicon Valley’s power supply (including AK 47s) that has barely been publicized, and that the FBI has been unwilling to characterize as terrorism. We’re talking serious, heavy-duty anecdotes here, delivered in the most thoughtful and digestible form.

Reading Troy’s account of the famous “long hot summers” of rioting during the Johnson administration while watching news coverage of Charlotte has been eye-opening. Compare Hillary’s reluctance to comment on the Charlotte looting with Lyndon Johnson’s amazing inability to face the reality of the 1965 Watts riot. Watch talking heads debate whether Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch ought to fly down to Charlotte and interpose herself between the cops and the demonstrators, then read about New York mayor John Lindsay’s harrowingly dangerous visit to Harlem amidst the rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

In a thousand ways, you will see the events of the day in a new light after reading Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President? Passing on this book? Now that would be a disaster.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and public Policy Center. He can be reached at [email protected].