Accuracy in Media

One of the functions of journalism, that speaking truth to power thing, is to check what politicians tell us. This is a hurdle that NowThis News fails in a little talk-to-camera from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) published this week.

Part of it is simply that NowThis runs her talk plain and clear – this is obviously enough a piece of electioneering, so why is it being run free and clear? Why is there no context, examination or testing? Can we imagine them doing the same for, say Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.)? Someone about as far R as Warren is D? No? Well then, there’s our bias, isn’t it?

The second part is that Warren’s statement deserves commentary. She says that only 2 percent of Harvard undergraduates take out student loans. That’s not actually true – only 2 percent take out federal student loans. There are more who then take out private sector loans as well about 7 percent total. But while that’s a fairly trivial point, it does show that NowThis is just allowing Warren to push her views without any fact-checking.

It does, however, get worse. Warren’s claim is that there’s some grand unfairness that the sort of rich kids who go to Harvard don’t get burdened by loans. But rich kids who go to Harvard pay full freight – perhaps $300k for an undergraduate degree. The reason poor kids don’t come out of Harvard with debt is that they get their tuition subsidized by the Harvard Foundation, to the point that by one estimate a minimum wage family would pay $2,500 or so a year for a child to go there. That’s before whatever the kid might contribute themselves by working on the weekend or whatever.

Warren is stating that charity – which is what the Foundation is, past generations handing over money to educate the next generations – is unfair. That’s a claim that deserves at least some examination.

NowThis News as a website is not very impressive – near 500k visits a month. But the YouTube channel, where this appears, is more impressive with more than 2 million subscribers. This is, of course, why the statements of a politician needs to be tested there, not simply allowed to run.

What makes all of this worse again is that Warren, before she became a senator, was a professor at Harvard. She knows all of this – the reason there’s little debt among Harvard undergraduates is because charity pays the fees of poorer people – which is why her claim that this is bias in favor of rich people so badly needs to be examined. A test that NowThis entirely failed.




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