Accuracy in Media

There’s bad math, and then there’s really bad math – especially when you do it on national television.

On Thursday night, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams and his guest, New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay, flunked basic math in spectacular fashion during a discussion of Michael Bloomberg’s plans to form a SuperPAC to support the Democratic presidential nominee.

The discussion centered around a now-deleted tweet from journalist Mekita Rivas who claimed that Bloomberg could have given everyone in America one million dollars and still have money left over based on what he spent on his failed presidential campaign.

“Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. population is 327 million,” Rivas wrote. “He could have given each American $1 million and still have money left over. I feel like a $1 million check would be life-changing for most people. Yet he wasted it all on ads and STILL LOST.”

The actual amount is $1.53 per person.

After a deluge of comments, Rivas has protected his tweets and added that “I know I’m bad at math” to his bio.

The fact that Rivas was obviously dead wrong in his calculations seemingly escaped both Williams and Gay.

“You see it as a possibility, if he wants to spend a billion bucks beating this guy, he could do it?” Williams asked Gay

“Absolutely. Somebody tweeted recently that actually with the money he’s spent, he could have given every American a million dollars,” Gay said.

“I’ve got it. Let’s put it on the screen,” Williams responded “When I read it tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear. Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. U.S. Population, $327 million. Don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math,” not realizing how far off Rivas was.

“He could have given each American $1 million and have had lunch money left over,” he said. “It’s an incredible way of putting it.”

This was Gay’s opportunity to correct Williams, but she, too, failed her math test.

“It’s an incredible way of putting it. It’s true,” Gay said  “It does suggest, you know, what we’re talking about here, which is there is too much money in politics. It makes it difficult because what we want in politics — the point is to have competition, and the point is to have the best candidates and have people from all backgrounds be able to run. So that gives people real choice, not just super PACS and dark money flooding elections or even just a single billionaire with good intentions.”

Hours after the program aired, the show’s Twitter account apologized that they had quoted a tweet that “relied on bad math.”

Gay blamed her error on being tired from writing an opinion piece on Biden and the black vote and posted on Twitter that she’s buying a calculator.

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