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Can CNBC reporters do math? Sure, but not if helps Republicans! Is anyone at GE paying attention?

Written By mista sense on Monday, April 21, 2008 | 6:03 AM














The Cable Gamer has always kinda liked CNBC's Trish Regan, in part because she is a proud member of the brunette-and-proud-of-it brigade, in contrast to the much larger blonde battalion.

But the Cable Gamer still insists that brunettes be able to do math. I mean, part of the reason to stay a brunette is to avoid the stereotype of the dumb blonde, right? (I realize that most men like the idea of a dumb blonde, but if women are going to get anywhere in this world, it will because of their brains, not, er, other parts.

So let's consider the way that Natalie Morales (another proud brunette, btw, although she does have highlights, but we are on to another point now!) intro'd Regan's piece about how "big jumps in some areas...are hitting small businesses hard."

OK fair enough. Let's see about those "big jumps." (I have the segment on TiVo, but I couldn't it on the NBC archives, it looks to me like there's a gap between a story being in the "most recent" queue and being filed away in the archives--or maybe NBC is already embarrassed by this story and has decided to memory-hole it!)

Regan reported from Rudy's Spaghetti and Pizza House, out in Closter, NJ. Nothing wrong with a little shoe-leather, getting out beyond Manhattan, but the value of a reporting trip is ultimately to do good reporting. So let's look at some of the data points that Regan used.

For example, during her segment, she sat with one of the owners, who told her that a 50 lb bag of flour had jumped from $11.75 last year to $30.50 this year. That's an increase of 259 percent. Which is quite a big jump, of course, although it's worth noting that the overall increase in food prices, in the last year, according to the USDA, is a mere 4.6 percent. So while it might be true, as Regan said in her report, that “prices [are] up across the board," it's also true that overall, they aren't up by that much.

Instead, Regan chose to lead the witness, as it were, asking, "Have you ever seen this kind of increase, year over year, in prices?" And the answer came back, "No. This is something that's completely new." Well, in fact, inflation was much much higher in the 70s than today, so if the owners of Rudy's--who seemed to be in their 50s--they either haven't been in the pizza business very long, or they have bad memories, or they are simply telling Regan what she wants to hear.

But in fact, when Regan rattled off some price-specifics, she got caught in some contradictions: She said, "tomatoes up almost 18 percent, milk over 23 percent, and flour almost 35 percent." Now stop right there for a little reality-checking! Which is it? Is flour up 259 percent, as the pizza man told her, or is it up 35 percent as she just told us?

But wait, there's more! Regan said, "Here at Rudy’s profits are off 221 percent this year." Now again, how, mathematically, is that possible? If I make $10 one year, and zero dollars the next year, my profits are down 100 percent, of course, but they can't go lower. 100 is the limit. But of course, "221 percent" sounds more dramatic, even if it's sort of nonsensical. Regan did say that Rudy's had lost $28,000, which is certainly unfortunate, if not quite cataclysmic. Even in the best of economic times, businesses, large as well as small, oftentimes lose money.

But OK, what's the impact on consumers: If we are facing, as Morales and Regan tell us, "hard times...soaring prices," how does that translate to the consumer.

Here's Regan: The price of pizza will be "soaring," from $1.95 a slice all the way up to... $2.10. Mama mia--a whopping seven percent increase! Are we really seeing here, as Regan tells us, "a struggle for survival for small business"? Or is Regan getting a little carried away, trying to inject drama and alarmism into her story?

If flour is going up 259 percent--unless, of course it's only going up 35 percent--then why is the price of a slice only going up 7 percent? And is Rudy's making money, or not? If Regan can't get her facts straight, one is reluctant to trust her conclusions.

Now Trish would seem to be a smart woman. Her Wikipedia entry tells us that she graduated from Columbia University, an Ivy League school, and then worked on Wall Street, at Goldman Sachs no less.

So why all her carelessness about numbers, and broad overstatement in her story framing and in her conclusion? Could it be that Regan is not so interested in financial precision as she is in political polemics? Could it be that NBC is trying to trash-talk the economy, as a way of hurting the Republicans and helping the Democrats?

Might that political agenda explain why Morales' intro to the segment would tell viewers that they are about to discover "just how tough times are getting"? Got that, folks! Don't be bitter and cling to God and guns, NBC might as well be saying, vote for our candidate, Barack Obama!

Is such systematic bias a possibility at sister networks to MSNBC? Indeed, the need for anti-Bush apocalypticism might help explain why Regan's numbers are all over the place--becuase the real goal is to keep up with Keith Olbermann, who never let facts or fairness get in the way of his anti-GOP diatribing.

And now Regan is getting with the Olbermann program--in fact, maybe she wants to be on the Olbermann program. If so, this piece, full of non sequiturs as it might be, is nonetheless a great audition reel for MSNBC.

But one wonders, yet again: Is this really what General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt wants to see in his corporate subsidiaries? Do GE and its shareholders really want to see NBC and CNBC traduced by the Left, just like MSNBC? Is that good for a media business--to be full of anti-Republican hitmen, and hitwomen? After all, George Soros and his fellow travelers can afford to put various lefty personalities on their payroll if their political rantings cost them their jobs, but Soros & Co. can't afford to make GE shareholders whole.

And one last note to Trish: Don't get your hopes up--Yes, Olbermann is very cool, and if you were hanging with him he could take you to new heights of sociopolitical cache, but unfortunately for your brunette ambitions, he likes blondes.

UPDATE: Nice mention of TCG in Inside Cable News, always a must-read for Cable Gamers.

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