Monday, November 5, 2012

More inaccuracies at 'This American Life'

For those of you who listen to "This American Life" and have heard about the inaccuracies at the program which is heard locally on NHPR, don't be surprised if you hear more - or not really telling the entire story.
The latest problems with the program come from the "Nothing in Moderation" segment that aired this weekend, put together by the former reporter for the Concord Monitor, Sarah Koenig.
This episode, which covers some of the problems at the Statehouse, including the banning of Annmarie Timmins from a press conference at Speaker William O'Brien's office, something I covered extensively, is a pretty good one. But it's those nagging problems that just drive me nuts.
First, there is the line that the first thing the Republicans did when they took over the New Hampshire House in 2010 was to vote to allow handguns at the Statehouse.
Well, technically, no. This act was a repeal of a previous law approved by Democrats when they controlled the Legislature for four years. "This American Life" makes it sound as if handguns were never allowed in the NH House until the Republicans took over and voted, first thing, to allow them to be brought into the chamber. Nope, sorry, incorrect and bad use of language. For centuries, guns have always been allowed in the Statehouse until the Democrats took over and banned them. The act was a rescinding of a bill.
Then there is the line that Republicans cut the University of New Hampshire budget by 50 percent. Democrats have used this line too. Not only is it not accurate but it is a manipulation of the numbers and bad use of language.
State appropriations for higher education were not cut in half. The budget was cut by 6.1 percent. The system has a budget of $535.3 million; the state put in $35.7 million instead of $68.2 million. While is it less than half the amount that was put in the previous year, it's only a 6.1 percent cut of the university budget.
When the Democrats and "This American Life" continue to state that the Republicans in the Legislature cut the university budget in half, they are making it seem as if it is a much larger cut than it is.
New Hampshire, however, isn't alone when it comes to higher education cuts. All but four states cut their contributions to college budgets in FY12, some as high as 25 percent.
Instead of raising tuition and fees, maybe the university system should have considered cutting some of the pay scales of its employees, something that happens in the private sector all the time to keep a business afloat. More than $320 million goes to personnel costs. And 10 percent cut in personnel costs - not unheard of in the business world when times are really bad - would add back in almost all the money cut by state government. Why is it always the students who are made to suffer?
Personally, I don't believe in cutting higher education. It's important. It can bring people out of poverty. But let's not make things up. It's bad enough without having to make things up.
I'm told they spent weeks working on this segment. So there isn't any excuse for manipulating the language and being inaccurate with that kind of time to work on one segment. A five minute Google search revealed the inaccuracies.


Mark de Zabaleta said...

As Galbraith said: "To manage people effectively, you need to convince everyone that no one manipulates"

Mark de Zabaleta

Tony said...

LOL. This stuff so irritates the daylights out of me.

arnie said...

tony, i love you but you are desperate to disagree or find failure...on the gun issue you are not completely accurate either if you are going to split hairs be prepared (see AP article below) and on the cut to the U. system...we have ranked 49th or 50th in state aid to the university system for a long was a 50% cut of the state revenues to the university system from the previous budget (the amount then was a joke too) ...we should just be honest and not call them a public university because eventually you will need a high powered microscope to find the amount of revenue supporting our institutions of higher learning.

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The Associated Press
NH Legislature convenes; GOP in charge
By Norma Love
Associated Press / January 5, 2011

CONCORD, N.H.—Carrying a gun on New Hampshire's House floor is OK for the first time in 40 years under new rules the Republican-dominated chamber adopted Wednesday.

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The rules lifted a ban on carrying a weapon into the House floor and nearby rooms. The new rule allows people to carry the weapons but prohibits their display. The rule also allows armed individuals to use weapons in self-defense and in the defense of others.

The ban had been in effect since 1971, according to Democrats.

The House adopted the rules over Democrats' objections. Democrats attempted to bar guns by visitors in the gallery, but lost 274-96.

Concord Democrat Stephen Shurtleff argued in vain that schoolchildren shouldn't even inadvertently see a concealed weapon.

"We do have a right to bear arms but we also have a right for those young people to see us at work and not feel fear or intimidation," he said.

Hudson Republican Shawn Jasper said the children should learn the traditions and history of the state.

"This is an open carry state and while, for matters of decorum, I do support only concealed weapons in the chamber, anteroom and gallery, it is important that students understand this is part of our proud tradition," he said.

Under the old rule, only law enforcement officers could carry deadly weapons in the House chamber, anterooms, cloakrooms or any area of the Statehouse adjacent to those rooms.

On Tuesday, a Republican-dominated legislative committee voted to repeal a year-old ban on guns and dangerous weapons in the Statehouse complex that covers areas beyond the House floor and nearby rooms.

They left intact a rule giving security guards the right to search people for weapons. Anyone who does not want to be searched has the right to leave the building. Nothing in the rules allows security to confiscate weapons.

Weapons at the Statehouse became a concern when people with guns stood and shouted at lawmakers from the House gallery in March 2009. The disturbance was during debate and votes on a resolution to reaffirm the state's freedom from interference by the federal government. The resolution failed.

Democrats controlled the Legislature then and reinstated a Statehouse complex weapons ban that had been in place from 1996 to 2006.

Tony said...

I said the report was a good one, barring those two problems. The ban was a recent ban and the wording in the report made it seem as if guns have never been allowed in the Statehouse which is just not true at all. It was gasp value for NPR listeners. As I also stated, I don't think higher education should be cut at all. But it was - by 6.1 percent. No one needs to make up stuff or use language to make it seem worse. And as shown in the chart, college was cut in 46 other states across the country by varying amounts. In other words, it is the norm, not an anomaly.

Sarah Koenig said...

Dear Mr. Schinella,

Sarah Koenig here, from This American Life.

The "inaccuracies" you mention are not inaccuracies.

1. The gun vote on Day One of the 2011 session was a change in policy (see Norma's AP story above) - as much as in tone. And that's what I was trying to convey - that there's been a change in tone in Concord. (It is true that when I covered the State House back in the late '90s, lawmakers were allowed to bring their guns to the State House, but they had to lock them up - they couldn't carry them around, and certainly not onto the House floor.) I didn't present it for gasp value - though I would argue that this change, even for many people, even those who understand the nuances of what rule came when, was gasp-worthy.

2. I didn't say higher education funding was cut by nearly half, or that UNH's budget was cut in half, but that "funding for the University of New Hampshire" was cut nearly in half. This was confirmed to us by Jeff Pattison at the Legislative Budget Office (the exact number he gave us was 46.85%). This cut was widely reported at the time. Total state spending for higher education as a whole, if you include the community college system, was 38%. As an aside, there's often argument over whether a cut is really a cut - whether it's actually fewer dollars going to a department or institution, or just less than what that agency asked for or was counting on. To be clear, I'm talking here about a cut that actually resulted in fewer dollars going to the university than in previous years.

Speaker O'Brien has been unapologetic about the nearly 47 percent cut in state funding to UNH; he called it "a signal to UNH," that they have to change the way they do business. Here's what he said on New Hampshire Public Radio back in July: "One of the reasons that UNH is so inefficient is that we, by increasing funding, increasing scholarship -- loan aid, we have allowed it to be inefficient. …Its workers are inefficient and unproductive. They don't teach as many hours as they can. We have departments that are overstaffed. …They're not looking a what they're doing over there and becoming efficient and servicing the people of New Hampshire the way that they should. They've lost their mission. And by throwing more money at it, we're just going to increase the problem."

(Here's the link:

I'm not sure why it's relevant that other states also cut university funding.

Tony said...

Thanks Sarah for your note. I appreciate you taking the time. I stand by my criticisms of the piece and the points I made. Let's go to the audio, shall we?

First, after playing the DJ clip stating that reps were allowed to protect themselves, you state, "Yup, on Day 1, they voted to allow guns in the Statehouse ..."

Your words are not accurate. I know it's snark and all, but it's not true. It gives your audience the impression that guns have never been allowed in the Statehouse until Republicans took over in 2010. It was a gasp moment that NPR is notorious for and I can say that is an on and off listener of both NHPR and WBUR since the 1980s.

On the UNH cuts, you talk about it in the context of the overall state budget, quickly paraphrasing: During the first year of this regime, the Republicans vowed to cut government spending and not raise taxes and fees, and they actually did it. They shrunk the budget by nearly 11% ... they turned the budget process on its head by adding up revenues first and axing whatever they couldn't pay for. "The result? Funding for the University of New Hampshire cut nearly in half ..."

First, this gives the impression that New Hampshire is some rare instance of cutting higher education funds, which is why it is relevant to mention what has happened with funding nationally: All but four states in the nation cut higher education funding, as I noted.

Second, your phrasing - as well as that of Democrats running this year - makes it seem as if UNH's budget has been cut in half. You should have said: "Funding for the University of New Hampshire system was cut by $32.5 million ..." That's accurate ... but that wouldn't have offered the "gasp" moment again. When you say "half," people automatically believe that UNH's budget was cut in half. It's manipulative. I'm sorry you don't realize this.

What I am asking for is a little bit of context about the figures. The lesser amount given to UNH was 6.1 percent of the system's budget. I just looked up the previous UNH budgets: between FY11 and FY12, the budget was $3.8 million less - or less than 0.07 percent of the system's overall budget.

Third, it's too bad you couldn't have added into your report the context by which you've added here in text, especially when it comes to Speaker O'Brien sending "a signal to UNH." For readers or folks who don't know what you're talking about, I was able to get the list of UNH salaries, including two and half pages of the names of professors that make more than $100,000 a year which I couldn't find last night to link:

Here's the list of administrators, some who make more than $200,000 annually:

That's a whole lot of cash there, isn't it? Too bad you didn't delve into your perception of O'Brien's motives. That would have made for interesting radio too.

Thanks again for the note.