The Breitbart Vetting and Shoddy Reasoning

Another reason to give everyone adiditional pause (as there already ought to be some) for anyone looking to Breitbart's empire for good information.

This morning, Breibart’s Big Government has the following screaming headline:  EXCLUSIVE: THE VETTING – DID OBAMA HAVE LOWER SAT SCORES THAN GEORGE W. BUSH?

I must start with a confession:  I can’t see that this matters, but let’s see the evidence.  The only reason to write this is to demonstrate that utterly vacuous nature of the Breitbart site.

In the words:  this isn’t about SAT scores for me, it is about reasoning skills, logic, and application of evidence.

First, the setup (emphasis mine):

Now, Breitbart News has established that Obama’s grades and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores may have been even lower than those of his supposedly less capable predecessor, George W. Bush.

Just for the sake of logical consistency, I would note that the other possibilities include:  they may have been higher that Bush’s scores and, in fact, they may have been identical to Bush’s.  The reason that they may have been higher, lower, or the same is because working on the assumption that he took the exam, those three possibilities are the entire universe of potential outcomes and really that is all that we know because, we don’t know the scores.

Here’s the “evidence”:

Breitbart News has learned that the transfer class that entered Columbia College in the fall of 1981 with Obama was one of the worst in recent memory, according to Columbia officials at the time.

The piece then quotes a school official:

Among accepted transfer students, the average combined math and verbal score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test is a 1,100 and their grade-point average at their former schools is about 3.0, Boatti said.

Ergo:

If Obama’s SAT scores were near the average of the transfer students entering Columbia in the fall of 1981, he would have scored significantly lower than George W. Bush, whose combined math and verbal scores were 1206 out of a possible 1600 points (as revealed by the New Yorker in 1999).

And so, QED, or something.

Seriously, this a remarkably shoddy bit of “reasoning” with rather scant “evidence” (and I am being charitable).

The piece concludes with:  “The only way to know is for Obama to release his records, transcripts and test scores–from Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard. Why Obama has not done so remains a mystery–unless he has something else to hide.”

Ominous, yes?

As James Joyner has noted before on this so-called vetting issue:  the man is already president, so nitpicks and innuendo about the past are just silly.  Again:  Obama is now the incumbent president.  As such, his SAT scores are rather irrelevant (not that there were relevant in 2008, to be honest).  And in this case in particular, is built out of the poorest of excuses for reasoning and evidence.  At a minimum this should give everyone additional pause (as there already ought to be some) for anyone looking to Breitbart’s empire for good information.

(And yes, that last sentence is constructed out of a whole lot of understatement).

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Jenos Idanian says:

    Sigh… once again, the Breitbart effort is being discredited by trying to change the target of the effort.

    This isn’t aimed at discrediting Obama (that’s pretty much redundant at this point); it’s aimed at discrediting the media in general.

    What they’re doing is what the media claims as its responsibility, and so desperately failed to do so back in 2008. Yes, these things are pretty irrelevant today. They would have been far more germane back in 2008.

    So why weren’t they brought out by the so-called guardians and gatekeepers? Why did they ignore it so thoroughly and deliberately at that point?

    Yes, so much of this info was available with a little digging then (such as Obama’s literary agent listing him as “Kenyan-born” for 15 years), so it didn’t take much work to find them. So why didn’t anyone do the digging then?

    The answer is obvious. What is not obvious is how it will be spun.

  2. @Jenos Idanian:

    Do you honestly think that anyone who isn’t already drinking the conservative Kool-Aid either reads what is posted at Brietbart,com or even knows it exists? And I seriously doubt the media cares.

    Trying to hide an attack on the President with this kind of silly nonsense as being some critique of the media is a sign of just how intellectually vapid the people who are writing that “Vetting” series for that website apparently are.

    So why didn’t anyone do the digging then?

    “Alex, I will take “Because the things Brietbart’s acolytes are writing about are completely irrelevant” for $2,000″

  3. Paul L, says:

    the man is already president, so nitpicks and innuendo about the past are just silly.

    Unless you believe he was once AWOL from the TANG and “no one has proved that the documents were not authentic.

  4. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Doug Mataconis: If you want to argue the “nobody reads Breitbart,” then I presume you’d be willing to compare the traffic stats on your own writings against theirs.

    From the outset, the Breitbart people were clear on their goal: to do the kind of background digging that has been done on all the Republican candidates this time — and was NOT done on Obama in 2008. And you’ve been a willing part of that — plugging the “Mitt Romney was a high school bully” story, the “Rick Perry went to a hunting camp that had a bad word written on a rock” story, the “Herman Cain has been accused of sexual harassment, but there’s no proof of it” story, and God knows how many Sarah Palin stories.

    But when such scrutiny is turned on Obama, you wave your hands and dismiss it “It’s irrelevant. He’s already the president.” Quite frankly, you sound like a more-educated version of that Social Studies teacher.

    Not a good look on you.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    Look…the entirety of current Republican dogma is based on lies, distortion, and mis-information. This is not hyperbole. It is demonstrable fact.
    From taxes to spending to foreign policy…to the place of the Presidents birth for f’sake.
    Take Romney’s Iowa “Prairie fire” speech…blithely untethered from reality.
    Take the current Crossroads GPS ad, which is being applauded for it’s tone…but is riddled with falsehoods.
    Voter fraud, tax cuts that pay for themselves, Death Panels, WMD in Iraq, mushroom clouds over our cities, Socialism, Birtherism, AGW and climate change, evolution is a hoax, dinosaurs walked next to man.
    SLT finishes his piece by saying we should take Breitbart.com facts with a grain of salt.
    We would be wise to extend that caveat to all Republican sources.

  6. @Jenos Idanian:

    First, I didn’t say that “nobody reads Brietbart.” I said that the people who read Brietbart are most likely to be people who are already very conservative, already opposed to the President, and already inclined to believe that the media is biased against them (the usual uber-conservative crybaby tactic is to complain about how “unfair” the media is).

    As for the remainder of your comment.

    When the Perry “rock” story came out, I said this:

    I’m no Rick Perry fan for several reasons, but this story strikes me as much ado about nothing. Reaching back into the past and finding something like this was probably relatively easy for the Post reporter who wrote the story, but I don’t see how it tells us anything about Rick Perry the 61 year old man, or what kind of President he would be.

    Last week, I said this about the Romney “bullying” story:

    it’s hard to see what relevance that has to Mitt Romney the 65 year-old man who, after High School, married, went on a Mormon mission, and attended BYU and Harvard Law School, experiences which he has said in the past changed him as a person. There’s no evidence that Romney engaged in any kind of similar activity as an adult, and the Post’s story does absolutely nothing to try to tie the admittedly cruel actions of Willard Mitt Romney the young man to the character of Mitt Romney the husband, father, businessman, former Governor, and candidate for President. For that reason alone, it strikes me that the entire story was a waste of time.

    As for Sarah Palin, the only thing I’ve ever done is evaluate her by the words that come out of her own mouth, and the action she has taken. Her distant past was, and remains, irrelevant to me.

    So, nice try, but that’s a swing-and-a-miss.

  7. jukeboxgrad says:

    Unless you believe he was once AWOL from the TANG

    You seem to be confused about something. It is indeed the case that GWB failed to meet his service obligations. Link, link.

  8. Scott says:

    Really? No one vetted Obama? Yet another zombie meme that keeps trotting out. Did not the Republicans spend millions of opposition research? Did not Clinton Democrats spend millions on opposition research? And yes, the media (including conservative media) did a lot of research on Obama. Another zombie lie.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    At a minimum this should give everyone additional pause (as there already ought to be some) for anyone looking to Breitbart’s empire for good information.

    No one is looking to Breitbart’s empire for good information. They are looking for confirmation. They are looking for one or two factoids to which they can anchor their pre-existing convictions. Confirmation bias being strong, and reading comprehension weak, many of the late Breitbart’s readers will wander cheerfully into the future believing that Obama is not a legitimate president because his SAT scores were lower than George Bush’s.

  10. J-Dub says:

    Romney may be a homosexual Nazi methhead. I’m starting to like this “may be” thing. It makes any statement true!

  11. jukeboxgrad says:

    jenos:

    What they’re doing is what the media claims as its responsibility, and so desperately failed to do so back in 2008.

    As Scott pointed out, this is “yet another zombie meme.” The idea that there wasn’t extensive reporting about Obama’s background is complete baloney. See here to find WaPo articles regarding the following subjects:

    – His life in Hawaii
    – His family and personal odyssey
    – His relationship with his father
    – His religious faith
    – His rise in Chicago politics
    – His state senate career
    – Recollections of people who knew him

    Those articles total roughly 35,000 words. Long articles in NYT and elsewhere can also be found via here.

    Your claim, which we hear over and over again from the usual suspects, is just one more example of how the GOP is living in an alternate reality, where all inconvenient facts simply don’t exist.

  12. Tsar Nicholas says:

    To me the larger issue is the extent to which conservatives simply can’t stop themselves from defeating their own causes.

    This election has nothing whatsoever to do with Obama’s SAT scores. Nor his law review articles. Nor his place of birth. Nor any other tertiary issue. Granted, it’s a legitimate debate whether those items in 2008 were relevant. This isn’t 2008, however. Plus the liberal mass media is not president and is not up for reelection. To focus on these issues is akin to obsessing over the Florida recount.

    Every nanosecond devoted to these items actually increases marginally the chances that Obama will be reelected. Many conservatives are insouciant of this reality.

    A large percentage of conservatives also are hard wired not to be able to let go of things. For decades this has been a perpetual miasma of the right. They’re still angry over Bork. They’re still angry that Clinton was acquitted. They want Scooter Libby to be pardoned. They want Obama publicly to admit Ayers ghost wrote those books. So on, so forth.

    A material segment of the erstwhile conservative “base” rather would lose but prove their point than win and not need to worry about it. Seriously. They’d be more satisfied if Obama’s SAT scores were published and were far below par than simply voting Obama out of office without ever seeing those scores. I’m not kidding.

  13. J-Dub says:

    I also like how they “have established”, followed by the rest of the line that basically states that they haven’t established shit.

  14. Jenos Idanian says:

    @jukeboxgrad: But we’ve already established that the truth of the matter isn’t important — it’s the relevance. Bush was already president when CBS tried to derail the election with their obviously faked documents. By the Obama standard, that all became pointless after the 2000 election.

    Not that I’m conceding any point about the truth, just applying the same standard of timeliness.

  15. Scott says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: I just happened to read this yesterday and it seemed apropos to what you just wrote:

    Festinger wrote the following in his 1956 classic, When Prophecy Fails: “Although there is a limit beyond which belief will not withstand disconfirmation, it is clear that the introduction of contrary evidence can serve to increase the conviction and enthusiasm of a believer.”

    From: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/5983/a_year_after_the_non-apocalypse%3A_where_are_they_now/

  16. al-Ameda says:

    Wow, that conservative focus on “real Issues” didn’t last long.

    I hope that the Obama Campaign is paying the Breitbart people to do this. As long as conservatives are focused on issues like Obama’s SAT scores I think it’s safe to say that the president will be re-elected.

  17. steve says:

    Jukeboxgrad beat me to it. There was a huge amount published on Obama’s past. Heck, they even published Michelle’s term paper. I think the second part of the equation is that the right just cannot believe that other people do not accept the proper conclusions from their writings. Because Obama’s father was a Kenyan, Obama must share those Kenyan beliefs. Because he served on a board with Ayers, he must believe in blowing up buildings. They just need to accept that they are the only ones who care and move on as Tsar has noted.

    Steve

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    jenos:

    just applying the same standard of timeliness

    Naturally, because you see no problem with having a commander-in-chief who failed to meet his own service obligations, and you think SAT scores have equal or greater importance.

  19. @Jenos Idanian:

    So why didn’t anyone do the digging then?

    The answer is obvious.

    Yes, it’s obvious that this is bullshit that no serious person would care about when selecting a president.

  20. Jeremy says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Here’s the problem, Jenos: this isn’t digging.

    This is seeing a vague cloud of information, without any definitives, and saying “Ooh, this must be true!” No, it isn’t. Obama may have been way over the average of his class, and thus not stupid at all.

    Digging requires evidence and facts. In this case, that means concrete, actual SAT scores. They don’t have it. Ergo, no digging.

    I applaud anyone who does digging on our elected officials and appointed bureaucrats in Washington. Unfortunately, this isn’t that. Not by a long shot.

  21. MBunge says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “To me the larger issue is the extent to which conservatives simply can’t stop themselves from defeating their own causes.”

    On the surface, this “vetting” thing looks like just another example of right wing obsession with the media and their self-image of victimization. I think it’s actually evidence that Republican/conservative thinking is suffering another stage of intellectual devolution. The latest degeneration of doctrine on the right appears to be that conservatism isn’t just better than liberalism or any other alternative. The new article of faith is that conservatism is literally perfect and that perfection is undeniably self-evident. That’s why it’s not simply enough to defeat Obama today. It must be proved that he should have never been elected in the first place.

    Mike

  22. PD Shaw says:

    @jukeboxgrad: Any article on Obama’s legislative “experience” in Illinois that fails to quote Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones, saying “I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator” is an air-brush. Obama had no personal legislative achievements in Illinois, he was Jones’ sent – man. That’s how the system worked, and clearly the national press never understood that or was willing to understand that. I’m trying to imagine how these articles would have been written if it was Romney that was a back bench legislator, acting as the tool of a machiavellian leader (preferably Mormon), that got him elected to the U.S. Senate, where he promptly began running for the Presidency. The WaPo would not have been so kind.

  23. The whole thing is sad, of course, but particularly when you view it as a reaction to something that happened 3-4 years ago. The charge that Sarah Palin was not vetted has now registered with the emotional right, but rather than process it in any rational way, they just say “we vet you back!”

    All of these crazy stories, including SP’s own comments on Obama “vetting” are about that. “We vet you back!”

  24. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    Bingo.

  25. mantis says:

    Every time I think Jenos can’t embarrass himself further, he finds a way.

  26. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @PD Shaw: As WoPo has demonstrated with its education coverage, that depends strongly on what percentage of Kaplan, Inc., is owned by Mormons.

  27. WR says:

    @Jenos Idanian: ” Bush was already president when CBS tried to derail the election with their obviously faked documents”

    Oh, look, Jenos is lying again.

    But maybe this time it’s not his fault. The entire right wing was so eager to suck down the lies about kerning that they simply ignored the later revelations that all the big revelations about forgery were simply wrong. And the yahoo chorus was so loud it drowned out most of the people who were demonstrating the truth. So I guess I’ll give Jenos the benefit of the doubt here — he’s just reciting part of typically fraudulent right wing gospel, not consciously spreading a lie. For once.

  28. PJ says:

    Romney had an off the record meeting with a number of right wing bloggers and publications a couple of weeks ago.

    The meeting, which included writers from RedState and Breitbart.com as well as a list of conservative publications reported by Huffington Post — National Review, Daily Caller, American Spectator, Washington Examiner, Powerline, Townhall,, RiehlWorldView, White House Dossier, and PJ Media (though not, as an early report had suggested, the conspiracist site WorldNetDaily). RNC chairman Reince Preibus also attended.

    Notably, the meeting also included some grassroots bloggers with no real institutional ties to the Washington Republican Establishment, including the Twitter virtuoso Ace of Spades and John Hawkins of Right Wing News.

    Now, I wonder what these bloggers agreed to do for Romney…
    And what Romney promised in return.

    Maybe it’s the fruit of that meeting that we are now seeing?

  29. Gustopher says:

    Romney may have killed more prostitutes than the North Side Strangler. During Romney’s 30s and 40s, when most serial killers kill, the police had very limited use of DNA labs and other recent techniques that could have tied him to the murders.

    We won’t know for sure until Romney releases his entire DNA, which he hasn’t done. What is he hiding?

  30. @gVOR08:

    No one is looking to Breitbart’s empire for good information.

    Sadly, I think that some people are. Just as they look to Rush or Hannity, never mind that neither of them is a reporter, but are rather simply commentators.

    This is, of course, a major part of the problem.

  31. @john personna:

    “We vet you back!”

    Exactly.

  32. Rob in CT says:

    Clowns beclown selves. News at 11!

  33. Loviatar says:

    They’re using the term “Vetting the Bed” over at Balloon Juice, something I find deliciously appropriate.

  34. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @MBunge:

    The new article of faith is that conservatism is literally perfect and that perfection is undeniably self-evident. That’s why it’s not simply enough to defeat Obama today. It must be proved that he should have never been elected in the first place.

    You might very well be onto something there.

    For a long time, FYI, I used to write off this sort of thing as being endemic to privilege. It’s no secret that many of the most active members of the conservative chattering classes are children of old money. So I figured in large part these were cases merely of spoiled brats needing to get exactly their way and in so doing not being able to see the bigger picture.

    As the years have gone by, however, and as many conservatives not only have remained strategically inept but continued to have doubled down thereon, I’ve started to think along the lines of your comment. That there might be a strange sort of sectarianism afoot. That they’re juxtaposing directly their politics with their religion.

    If that’s the case then this obsession with irrelevant items concerning Obama easily can be explained, in that you’ve basically hit the nail on the head: The Breitbarts of the world retroactively want to defeat Obama ab initio. Because having him in office in and of itself shatters their world.

    If that’s the case it would bode quite ill for the Republican Party.

  35. Hey Norm says:

    From Doug’s response to Jenos at 9:18:

    “…people who read Brietbart are most likely to be people who are already very conservative, already opposed to the President…”

    This is ludicrous.
    If you are actually very conservative, and not just calling yourself a conservative, then you really have no reason to oppose the President.
    Obama has reduced, or at least flattened spending, and is far more conservative in his spending than his so-called conservative predecesors.
    Obama has cut taxes for 99% of tax payers. Revenue increases he supports will only return to rates that promoted the longest run without a recession in modern history.
    Regulations instituted undr Obama are fewer than his Republican predecessor.
    He passed a Republican health care reform bill that is currently bending cost curves to a more sustainable trajectory.
    He brought OBL to justice when Republicans couldn’t.
    Obama is the most conservative President since before Reagan…remember…even Reagan raised taxes, compromised with Democrats, and ducked and ran from Beirut.

  36. jukeboxgrad says:

    shaw:

    Any article on Obama’s legislative “experience” in Illinois that fails to quote Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones, saying “I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator” is an air-brush.

    It’s not hard to understand why the quote wasn’t used, because it’s not well-sourced. The only record is hearsay (Spivak heard it from Kelley who heard it from Jones). Aside from that, it’s not exactly news or shocking. The articles I cited discuss Jones at length. One of them says this:

    Obama blamed his loss in a 2000 election for Congress on his perceived lack of political experience, he told friends, and Jones could assist him in filling that gap. He scheduled a meeting with Jones in his office and asked the majority leader to help make him a U.S. senator. Jones, who had grown so close to Obama that he considered him a godson, immediately agreed.

    During Obama’s final two years in Springfield, Jones gave him coveted committee assignments and several high-profile bills to sponsor, other senators said. Jones sometimes scheduled legislative sessions around Obama’s Senate campaign events.

    “The big thing the president did was to step in and give Barack a lot of bills where there may have been a bunch of work done on them,” Trotter said. “We’d been in the minority for a long time, so a lot of bills had just been sitting there, mostly done but not yet passed. President Jones gave a lot of those to Obama to shepherd through. He might not have to do a lot of work in some of those situations, but he could get a lot of credit.”

    You’re suggesting that “the national press” didn’t report on the way Jones helped Obama, but that’s false. Here we have WaPo reporting that Obama asked Jones “to help make him a U.S. senator.” That’s pretty darn close to quoting Jones (“I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator”). The article also suggests that Obama sometimes got a lot of credit without doing a lot of work, which is also pretty close to what you said: “Obama had no personal legislative achievements in Illinois, he was Jones’ sent – man.” So WaPo actually reported what you claim was never reported.

  37. anjin-san says:

    “…people who read Brietbart are most likely to be people who are already very conservative more or less brain dead…”

    FTFY

  38. Jenos Idanian says:

    @PJ: Romney had an off the record meeting with a number of right wing bloggers and publications a couple of weeks ago.

    And Obama has regular off-the-record meetings with left-wing bloggers and publications, and a lot of them have virtually unfettered access to the White House. What’s your point?

    Do NOT make me bring up the JournoList...