How did this ever make it to air?
During Thursday night’s live broadcast of MSNBC’s The 11th Hour, anchor Brian Williams and New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay both credulously believed a viral, flatly wrong tweet claiming that Michael Bloomberg could have gifted each American one million dollars with the money he spent on his failed campaign.
Discussing Bloomberg’s plans to form a Super PAC to support the Democratic presidential nominee, Williams said that Gay has “spoken with great knowledge” about Bloomberg in the past and how he could be a “one-man bank.”
After Gay noted that Bloomberg can make a huge difference for former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, Williams asked her if she sees the possibility that the ex-mayor could spend “a billion bucks beating” President Donald Trump.
“Absolutely,” she responded. “Somebody tweeted recently that actually with the money he’s spent, he could have given every American a million dollars.”
Williams, meanwhile, pointed out that they actually had the tweet in question from writer Mekita Rivas—who has since deleted the tweet and acknowledged the poor math—and had the control room put it on-screen.
“When I read it tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear,” Williams confidently declared. “Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. U.S. Population, $327 million. Don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math. He could have given each American $1 million and have had lunch money left over. It’s an incredible way of putting it.”
“It’s an incredible way of putting it,” Gay responded. “It’s true. It’s disturbing. It does suggest, you know, what we’re talking about here, which is there is too much money in politics.”
Yes, indeed, it is an “incredible way of putting it,” but it is nowhere near “true.” For those who don’t want to do the math, in order for Bloomberg to have given a million dollars to every American, he would have had to have spent $327 trillion.
After a commercial break, Williams issued a self-deprecating correction, saying to camera: “Turns out Mara and I got the same grades at math. I’m speaking of the tweet we both misinterpreted. He could give each American $1. Again, I didn’t have it in high school. I don’t have it tonight. Stand corrected. Sorry about that. The tweet is wrong. Garbage in, garbage out.”
In addition to the on-air correction, the program’s official Twitter account posted an apology noting that they had “quoted a tweet that relied on bad math” and “removed it from later editions of tonight’s program.”