Cable news networks get criticized a lot for their political coverage these days, but it’s rare that they are mocked because of a math problem.
On MSNBC‘s 11th Hour with Brian Williams on Thursday night, guest Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, brought up a tweet with a glaring mathematical miscalculation while discussing former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s decision to drop out of the Democratic primary.
“Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The US population is 327 million. He could have given each American $1 million and still have money left over. I feel like a $1 million check would be life-changing for most people. Yet he wasted it all on ads and STILL LOST,” writer Mekita Rivas tweeted on Super Tuesday. (Rivas has since made her Twitter account private.)
Bloomberg had bet on big Super Tuesday returns, spending half a billion dollars to flood the airwaves in states that voted on March 3. He ended up winning in only one place: the US territory of American Samoa. He dropped out the next day.
“When I read it tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear,” host Williams said, reading the tweet on the air as a graphic of it floated onto the screen. “Don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math…It’s an incredible way of putting it.”
Gay agreed, then made a point about the outsized influence of money in politics.
“It does suggest what we’re talking about here. There is too much money in politics,” she said. “What we want in politics — the point is to have competition.”
Let’s stop here for a quick math-check: $500,000,000 split between 327,000,000 people = $1.53 per person, not $1 million per person. For $1.53, you can buy a small can of Pringles, use a dryer at a laundromat for 48 minutes, or pay for an hour of street parking in some neighborhoods in New York City.
Though the point about big money in politics came across, the bad math in the tweet was widely ridiculed — as was the fact that the tweet made it through what must have been several staffers on the show. (11th Hour executive producer Jack Bohrer did not respond to a request for comment.)
Williams corrected Gay and himself after the next commercial break, joking that they “got the same grades at math” and apologizing for the tweet. The show also addressed the mistake in a tweet later.
Gay took it in stride, joking about it on Twitter the next morning.
Others rushed to her defense, pointing out that it was a relatable mistake.
In conclusion: Math is hard and everyone needs to relax! (Also, Mr. Bloomberg, sir, I think we will all still take $1.53 if you’re offering).