Opinion: She butchers math + you laugh = you’re a racist

by Peter Heck · Mar 12th, 2020 12:27 pm

On the heels of finding out this week that the generations-old practice of referring to a disease by the location of its origin has suddenly become racist (at least when Republicans are making the reference, anyway), a New York Times columnist has added another important page to the timeless left-wing autobiography, "The Boy Who Cried Racist."

You might recall a few days ago when disgraced former NBC News anchor Brian Williams hosted the Times' Mara Gay to do a little wealth-shaming of Michael Bloomberg. I don't know of anyone who has much affinity for the former New York City Mayor, but in typical MSNBC fashion, the Williams/Gay tandem managed to humiliate themselves and their employers far more than their intended target.

Thursday on MSNBC's "The Eleventh Hour" with Brian Williams, New York Times Editorial Board Member Mara Gay and the host accepted without question a tweet that (jokingly) said that Michael Bloomberg could have given every American one million dollars with the five hundred million dollars he spent on his short-lived presidential campaign. In reality, $500 million divided by 327 million Americans is about $1.53 per person.

"When I read it tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear," Williams said.

The tweet read: "Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. Population, 327 million. He could have given each American $1 million and have had lunch money left over."

"It's an incredible way of putting it," Williams said.

"It's an incredible way of putting it," Gay said. "It's true. It's disturbing."

Now, was it just a silly mistake? Sure, although the fact that neither one of them caught the error before just going with it live on-air is pretty remarkable. But when you are a high-profile figure, like a television news anchor or a member of the New York Times editorial board, and you make a jarring elementary school math mistake on national television, you absolutely have to expect to take your lumps.

Is there anyone who believes that if a high-profile politician, particularly a Republican, would have made that error that Williams and Gay would not have at least drawn attention to it if not joined in the roasting themselves? Yet when the deluge of teasing and mockery descended upon Gay's Twitter feed, what do you suppose she did?

If you had "took it like a champ" or "laughed it off and rolled with it," you're going to be disappointed. If you selected, "declared herself a victim of virulent racism," congrats:

Two things to notice in that tweet: (1) Check out the sweet ratio she earned. If she thought the derision she earned by butchering 5th grade math was rough, weakly blaming it on racism upped the ante big time. (2) The subtitle is just too much:

"When you're a black woman in America with a public voice, a trivial math error can lead to a deluge of hate."

Let me stipulate that it's absurd to believe that Gay did not receive a handful of racist, mean-spirited reactions. That said, to paint the entire fallout as a spectacle of unbridled racism on parade, or to paint with a brush so wide as to color everyone who criticizes you as a racist is preposterous. Beyond that, let's parse her response a bit.

First, to be fair, this wasn't a "trivial math error." The woman was $999,998.47 off. Per American. If Donald Trump's tax returns showed he under-reported that amount of income to avoid paying his fair share, would Mara Gay and the New York Times declare that error "trivial?"

Second, judging anecdotally by Twitter responses to the infamous exchange, Brian Williams received every bit as much "hate" as Ms. Gay did. In fact, given his track record of preposterousness, he was an even softer target for critics which led to his name trending on Twitter. So, pray tell, if a white dude is getting the same criticism for the exact same offense, how is it racism? It's not, and the attempt to portray it as such doesn't just demonstrate your own haughtiness, but also the total lack of editorial discretion at the Times.

Commentator Jesse Kelly summed up the feelings of many:

When you are in the public eye, you are subjecting yourself to criticism – sometimes fair, sometimes not; sometimes harsh, sometimes playful; sometimes unearned, sometimes earned. Attempting to inoculate yourself from that criticism by accusing those who would dare pan your performance as racists demonstrates a thin-skinned conceit that benefits no one – especially you.

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