‘The Newsroom’ speech: Is America not the greatest country in the world?

Will McAvoy the newsroom“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.  We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, No. 4 in labor force and No. 4 in exports.”

—”Will McAvoy,” fictional news anchor from the HBO series “The Newsroom”

 

 

Overview

Why fact check a statement from a fictional character?  We check it for the same reason we fact check other statements:  To determine whether they’re true or not and how they might mislead people.  The Will McAvoy speech from the first episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” created some buzz.  It was used in advertisements for the show to generate interest.  A year later, some are circulating the clip as “The most honest three and a half minutes of television, ever” and the like.  Clips of the speech on sites like YouTube have been played millions of times.

The Facts

Will McAvoy delivers his speech after a student asks the three-person panel why each thinks the United States is the greatest county in the world.  McAvoy avoids the question at first, but after pressure from the moderator delivers a speech that includes the following:

There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.  We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports.  We lead the world in only three categories.  Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.  Twenty-five of whom are allies.

 

The speech contains a number of statements apparently intended as factual statements.  As the first season of “The Newsroom” features real-life news events borrowed from the 2010 real world, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we can test the claims against figures in use in 2010.

“Seventh in literacy”

The CIA’s World Factbook has literacy estimates for the nations of the world.  Wikipedia presents those statistics in a form that allows for easy interpretation.  The literacy estimates actually put the U.S. back in the pack numerically, but taking ties into account allows for putting the U.S. at No. 7.  The nations in the top 40 are all pretty close, well above 95 percent literate.  Andorra, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg all report 100 percent literacy.

“Twenty-second in science”

McAvoy’s speech offers few clues about what measure backed this claim.  Scimago Lab ranks the U.S. a clear No. 1 in peer-reviewed science publishing.  A study released in 2010 dealing with 15-year-old students from 65 nations placed the U.S. at No. 22 in scholastic science achievement.

“Forty-ninth in life expectancy”

The 2010 CIA World Fact Book ranks the U.S. at No. 49 in life expectancy—if the “European Union” is counted as a country separate from EU members like Germany and Italy.  Puerto Rico came in at No. 43, including the EU.

The World Bank, using a variety of data sources, ranks the U.S. at No. 39 for both 2009 and 2010.

“One hundred seventy-eighth in infant mortality”

The New York Post’s Kyle Smith had a look at this statistic back in June of 2012 and concluded that somebody read the list from the CIA World Factbook upside-down.

We found McAvoy’s exact statistic at a website run by the Center for Youth Studies.  The site refers readers to the CIA World Factbook for more information.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a story based on the infant mortality rankings from the 2010 version of the World Factbook, and the numbers confirm Smith’s finding that the inverted ranking is 176, not 178, and the list ranks the U.S. at No. 46 when properly read.

“Third in median household income”

Wikipedia’s presentation of  the 2010 numbers from the OECD places the U.S. at No. 4 for median household income.  That’s from a list of 35 countries.

“No. 4 in labor force”

Photius.com shows the U.S. at No. 4 in labor force for 2010, showing the CIA World Factbook for 2010 as its source.  The European Union beats out the U.S. for third place on the list.

“No. 4 in exports”

Photius.com also agrees with McAvoy’s claim about export ranking, placing the U.S. at No. 4, right after Germany, in 2010.

“We lead the world in only three categories.”

The U.S. leads the world in quite a few categories, including defense spending, largest economy, highest number of annual immigrants, and best higher-education system.

“Number of incarcerated citizens per capita”

Allcountries.com, using information from the United Nations Development Program, ranked the U.S. No. 1 in incarcerations per capita.  The list carried the disclaimer “Because of differences in legal definitions, data are not strictly comparable across countries.”

“Number of adults who believe angels are real”
belief in angels italy brazil

Brazil believes in angels.

We located poll data for only a handful of countries available in 2010.  We also located a number of polls showing that strong majorities in the U.S. believe in angels.  The various polls showed the U.S. ahead of Canada, Australia and Great Britain in belief in angels.  The contest with Italy, relying on data from a scholarly paper by Franz Hollinger, was too close to call, while that same study showed the U.S. trailing Brazil.

“Defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.  Twenty-five of whom are allies.”

In 2009, The Economist reported that U.S. military spending was highest in the world for 2008, higher than “the next 14 biggest spenders combined.”

For the following year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute rated the U.S. the top military spender for 2009.  By our calculations, the U.S. spent more than the next 20 biggest spenders combined, but less than the next 21 biggest spenders combined.

SIPRI had not published its rankings of military spending for 2010 during the 2010 calendar year, but for 2010 the numbers again fail to match McAvoy’s claim, with U.S. military spending exceeding that of the next highest 14 nations appearing on the list.

As both China and Russia consistently appear on the lists of biggest military spenders, apparently at least one of them counts as an ally in the reality of “The Newsroom,” considering McAvoy’s claim that 25 of the 26 nations immediately behind the U.S. are allies.  The U.S. has no military alliance with either China or Russia.

Analyzing the Rhetoric

We see that McAvoy’s numbers have an imperfect relationship with reality, and in evaluating their rhetorical value we tip our hat to Lamont Colucci, whose op-ed for U.S. News & World Report helped blaze the trail we follow:

This television tirade would be of no matter had it stayed in the dystopic universe that is Hollywood, but alas, the [I]nternet has pushed the statement across borders and time. The temptation to go line by line and deconstruct this outburst will be resisted, and would do little but add credence to the inanity. It is, naturally, what is not said that is more important, more enlightening, and more reasonable.

 

Colucci warns of a trap we’ve mentioned before:  It’s a common rhetorical trick to use a true fact to fallaciously support an argument.

What’s McAvoy’s argument?  That the United States is not the greatest nation in the world.  He tries to support that argument with a set of rankings that place the U.S. somewhere other than No. 1.  But is that a reasonable way to disqualify a country from being considered the greatest among its peers?

It’s wrongheaded.

The right approach

Statistically judging the greatest nation ought to involve looking for a nation that ranks consistently high in favorable categories and consistently low in unfavorable categories, with each category weighted as to relative importance.  Important categories might include the size of the economy, worker productivity, quality of the education system, contributions to scientific research, charitable contributions, economic freedom and median income.

The U.S. ranks highly in each of those categories, even ones mentioned by McAvoy.  And the U.S. ranks No. 1 in another category that speaks to the U.S. standing among the nations:  net migration.  More people come to the U.S. than to any other country.

We won’t seek to make the case that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world.  But McAvoy said, among other things, that no evidence supports the claim that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world.  To the contrary, the U.S. consistently ranks high in desirable national statistics and consistently low in undesirable ones.  One can easily make a reasonable case for ranking the United States No. 1.

Bad data?

It’s worth emphasizing that the data we have ranking nations one against another often represent flawed comparisons.   Life expectancy has much to do with diet and behavior.  Nations use different methods to track statistics such as infant mortality.  Military spending lists that do not rank militarized nations like North Korea and Iran don’t tell a complete story.  Ranking the belief in angels while using a tiny subset of data that omits nations culturally dominated by Islam makes little sense.  Such examples abound on McAvoy’s list of supposed American failures.

Summary

McAvoy’s argument gets some numbers wrong and misuses some of the right numbers.  Overall, the argument is incoherent.

“There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”

icon False

 

Addendum July 28, 2013

For those interested in more fact checks of “The Newsroom,” check out Brian William Waddell’s “The Newsroom Fact Check.”

Update Dec. 29, 2014

While checking outgoing link data, we found our link to the .pdf file on the study of belief in angels no longer works. We were unable to fix that problem, but discovered some new data at Pew Research that effectively shows that the claim from “The Newsroom” relies on incomplete survey data.  For the general population, for example, Pew reports belief in angels at 84 percent in Brazil, 84 percent in Colombia and 86 percent in Venezuela. Each of those figures exceeds the 77 percent in the United States who believe in angels according to a 2011 CBS poll.

 

References

Quotes for Will McAvoy (Character) from “The Newsroom” (2012).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics.” UNESCO Institute for Statistics. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

The World FactBook.” CIA.gov. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

List of Countries by Literacy Rate.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 July 2013. Web. 22 July 2013.

Scimago Journal and Country Rank.” Scimago Lab. SRG S. L. Company, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science.” OECD.org. OECD, PISA, 2010. Web. 22 July 2013.

Shepherd, Jessica. “World Education Rankings: Which Country Does Best at Reading, Maths and Science?The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Dec. 2010. Web. 22 July 2013.

Compare 2010 CIA World Factbook.” Www.findthedata.org. FindTheBest.com, Inc., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

Life Expectancy at Birth, Total (years).WorldBank.org. The World Bank, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

Smith, Kyle. “Break the News.” New York Post. NYP Holdings, Inc., 24 June 2012. Web. 22 July 2013.

U.S. Mortality Statistics.” Center For Youth Studies. Center For Youth Studies, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

How Milwaukee Ranks in Infant Mortality.” JSOnline. Journal Sentinel Inc., 22 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 July 2013.

Median Household Income.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 July 2013. Web. 22 July 2013.

Labor Force 2010 Country Ranks, By Rank.” Photius.com. ITA, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Exports 2010 Country Ranks, By Rank.” Photius.com. ITA, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

The World University Rankings: Measure by Measure: The US Is the Best of the Best.” Times Higher Education. TSL Education Ltd., 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 July 2013.

Prison Population and Incarceration Rate – 2007 Rank – Country Rankings.” Allcountries.org. ITA, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Hogberg, David, Ph.D. “Don’t Fall Prey to Propaganda: Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality Are Unreliable Measures for Comparing the U.S. Health Care System to Others.” NationalCenter.org. The National Center for Public Policy Research, July 2006. Web. 23 July 2013.

Life Expectancy Lower in US than Other Rich Countries.” New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 July 2013.

Sedghi, Ami. “International Migration: Where Do People Go and Where From?The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 July 2013.

The United States Ranks First in the World in Cable Modem Deployment, with 96% of Households Having a Cable Modem Capability.” ITIF.org. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, 2013. Web. 23 July 2013.

Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans Believe in Angels.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 23 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 July 2013.

Newport, Frank. “Americans More Likely to Believe in God Than the Devil, Heaven More Than Hell.” Gallup.com. Gallup, Inc., 13 June 2007. Web. 23 July 2013.

Salmon, Jacqueline L. “Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds.” Washington Post. The Washington Post Company, 24 June 2008. Web. 23 July 2013.

Pew Religious Survey.” Washington Post. The Washington Post Company, 23 June 2008. Web. 23 July 2013.

Belief in Angels.” Thearda.com. The Association of Religious Data Archives, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

What People Do and Do Not Believe in.” HarrisInteractive.com. The Harris Poll, 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 23 July 2013.

Special Nielsen Poll: Faith in Australia 2009.” SMH.com. Nielsen Poll, 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 23 July 2013.

Two-thirds of Canadians Claim Belief in Angels.” Canada.com. Postmedia Network Inc., 30 Dec. 2007. Web. 23 July 2013.

Kiefer, Heather Mason. “Divine Subjects: Canadians Believe, Britons Skeptical.” Gallup.com. Gallup, Inc., 16 Nov. 2004. Web. 23 July 2013.

“What Do The Russians Believe In?” RickRoss.com. N.p., 8 Nov. 2004. Web. 23 July 2013.

Beck, Eldad. “Poll Reveals Israelis Believe in Angels, Ghosts.” Ynet. Yedioth Internet, 28 Mar. 2008. Web. 23 July 2013.

Höllinger, Franz. “The Experience of Divine Presence: Religious Culture in Brazil, the United States and Western Europe.” Bertelsmann Stiftung,  n.d.  Web.  23 July 2013.

SIPRI Yearbook 2010 — Military Expenditure.” SIPRI.org. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2 June 2010. Web. 23 July 2013.

Security Spending Primer: Fact Sheet #7 U.S. and World Military Spending.” CostofWar.com. The National Priorities Project, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Arming up.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 8 June 2009. Web. 23 July 2013.

Laurence, Jeremy, and Danbee Moon. “North Korea Spends about a Third of Income on Military: Group.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 July 2013.

Colucci, Lamont. “Don’t Believe the Left–America’s Still Number One.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 July 2013.

Bergmann, Andrew. “The New Global Economy.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Pasquale, Valentina. “Labor Productivity and Growth.” Global Finance. Global Finance Media Inc., n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

The Top 10 Most Charitable Countries of the World.” Greater Horizons. Greater Horizons, 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 July 2013.

2013 Index of Economic Freedom.” Heritage.org. The Heritage Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Net Migration – Country Ranking.” Index Mundi. Index Mundi, n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Pew Research Center, 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 July 2013.

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60 Responses to ‘The Newsroom’ speech: Is America not the greatest country in the world?

  1. Youreadumbass says:

    WHO GIVES A [****]? the speech was trying to make a point, not be completely accurate with a bunch of facts that were, according to you, for the most part, correct. Are you seriously saying his argument is incoherent? You’re a [*******] moron.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      “the speech was trying to make a point, not be completely accurate with a bunch of facts that were, according to you, for the most part, correct.”

      The fact check notes that the accuracy of the factoids is tangential to the overall point of McAvoy’s speech.

      “Are you seriously saying his argument is incoherent?”

      Yes, and we would welcome a coherent argument suggesting we are wrong in reaching that conclusion.

      • Jim says:

        Nice article–been looking for something like this. Don’t forget, the character on TV admitted he didn’t remember what he said and that he was on medications–so a coherent, academic, argument was probably not in the cards for his character anyway. It was a rant–mostly about how much greater we were, than how great we are. His argument was better than “freedom and freedom” and “diversity and [whatever]”–at least he had his facts mostly right, and that could certainly shape an opinion of being frustrated with an ill-informed electorate.

        • Bryan W. White says:

          If his argument was better than the others it might have something to do with his failure to stick to the prescribed number of words (two).

          But thanks for the background on McAvoy’s later statements about his rant. I don’t watch the show, and did the fact check mainly because other people have picked up on the rant and held it up as a good argument. Thanks for reading and commenting.

          • Scott Arnold says:

            The “prescribed number of words” was “in one sentence or less (laughter) – you know what I mean.”

          • Bryan W. White says:

            Right, but as we covered elsewhere in the reply thread, it wasn’t a good argument even if it met the reply requirements. And the longer explanation was weak for the reasons mentioned in the article.

    • No the speech was meant as bullshit propaganda to mislead people with false statistics.

  2. James says:

    Just a note, he did stick to the two words, “It’s not”. What came after was supporting his shocking statement.

  3. Edon says:

    Bryan W. White, when you elaborate on ‘the right approach’ and conclude by YOURSELF that ‘important categories’ exclude:
    – ‘number of incarcerated citizens per capita’;
    – ‘Religion stats’
    – ‘Defense spending’

    (let me put it in McAvoy’s words) – I DONT KNOW WHAT THE [****] ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!

    • Bryan W. White says:

      I was clear in the article that I was not trying to make the case that the U.S. is the greatest nation. I was not offering a recommended comprehensive list but rather providing examples of some of the most obviously important categories. That said, I don’t know why you think any of the categories you list are highly important.

      To repeat, I’m not making the argument that the U.S. is the greatest nation. I’m checking some facts and explaining the problem with McAvoy’s argument. Why do you think he left out America’s high ranking in higher education?

      • Edon says:

        ‘Most obviously important categories’ – that’s your opinion mate. You put forth higher education as reflector of greatness. I put forth high LGBT rights and low crime rates as reflectors of greatness. Also, believing in angels reflects on a lot of stuff (unintelligent people; uneducated people; etc.). And this can just go on forever, both ways.
        If you are not able to see & consider these categories as defining attributes of ‘greatness’ as well, then, there’s no point in continuing with this discussion.
        “One can easily make a reasonable case for ranking the U.S. No. 1.”
        Nobody will try, and You Are Not trying to make the case that the U.S. is the greatest country, because you can’t.
        No problem in Mcavoy’s conclusion. Absolutely correct. And, if Americans don’t recognize this problem, they will not solve it.

        • Bryan W. White says:

          “(T)hat’s your opinion mate.”

          If it’s all opinion then facts don’t matter, and ultimately any opinion contrary to McAvoy’s is equal to it in principle.

          “I put forth high LGBT rights and low crime rates as reflectors of greatness.”

          And is that your opinion or what? You don’t want to consider the top higher education system as a key factor but religion is important because “(unintelligent people; uneducated people; etc.)”?

          “Nobody will try.”

          Nonsense.

          http://www.forbes.com/sites/garyshapiro/2012/07/25/is-america-the-greatest-country-in-the-world/
          http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2013/09/still_the_greatest_nation_on_earth.html

          If the contest is purely subjective, then there’s truly no point is contesting the point for or against (making McAvoy’s argument incoherent). Establish a reasonable set of criteria and there’s a case to be made for America–even if you make LGBT rights and low crime rates two of your top criteria.

          • Edon says:

            I don’t think u understood the previous comment.
            In the first paragraph (by adding ON PURPOSE the categories that i personally find important) i was trying to remind you that it is YOU who starts with something like that – something like ‘Most obviously important categories’. It’s not me.
            It is You who is offering your own perspective on what are ‘most obviously important categories’.

            Through out the whole text above, from your own perspective, you conclude what is important criteria and what should be taken in
            consideration, and what not. And that is faulty.
            (Faulty, to some point. I’m not planning to go into perspectivism in here. Though, i could make a case of my perspective being more valuable than yours. But im not gonna go into that.)
            Small summary – you are the one that pinpoints categories that YOU consider important as criterias for defining ‘greatness’.

            When it comes to
            “Establish a reasonable set of criteria and there’s a case to be made for America–even if you make LGBT rights and low crime rates two of your top criteria.” –
            that’s the only thing that made me laugh today. Then again, it was Monday, and people can really be moody on Mondays.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            “It is You who is offering your own perspective on what are ‘most obviously important categories’.”

            Again, I explained to you that it is not intended as a complete list. It’s simply a few examples. Which ones do you think should not be included in a comprehensive list of the most important categories?

            “you conclude what is important criteria and what should be taken in consideration, and what not.”

            I make no specific conclusions about what should not be included (though I think it would be silly, for example, to declare that the nation with the Washington Monument is automatically the best). I simply offered some examples of clearly important categories.

            “And that is faulty.”

            Try to explain what’s faulty about it without committing a logical fallacy.

            Just a reminder: You can post comments to our Facebook page without waiting on approval. Cheers.

  4. Fred Paul says:

    Ok… let me get this straight, You do a fact check and find that maybe the US is not 26th but 22nd. And maybe not 7th but 40th. And so on and so on. Then you take a sweeping general statement with no backup data and state that since the US is in the top, say, 10% of all categories, then the US is number 1? That’s like saying since the US won so many metals overall in the 2014 Winter Olympics, it should be placed 3rd and not 4th ahead of Canada, who by the way won more gold than the US. This is poppycock.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      @Fred Paul

      “Ok… let me get this straight”

      That might take some doing, based on the rest of your comment.

      “Then you take a sweeping general statement with no backup data”

      What sweeping statement are you talking about?

      “and state that since the US is in the top, say, 10% of all categories, then the US is number 1?”

      No. I don’t make any argument that the U.S. is No. 1. I simply sketch out what that type of argument would look like and state that it wouldn’t be hard to make the case. And it would be silly to use “all categories” since some categories are more important than others. Arguing the importance of categories is just another part of the argument, and that’s part of the weakness of Will McAvoy’s speech.

      “This is poppycock.”

      Hopefully it’ll make more sense to you if you pay closer attention next time you read it.

  5. Arseny says:

    It’s interesting how you put the higher education among the most important criteria while at the same time you forgot to mention both the sad current state of the high school education (should I simply say: it’s terrible?) and the amount of foreign students in US universities (especially in grad schools). It’s a little bit strange that “the best country in the world” fails to educate its own citizens and hence has to import most of its scientific workforce.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      I don’t find it that interesting, since I’ve made no effort to identify the most important criteria and likewise made no effort to list all the important criteria. The point is that one doesn’t measure whether a nation is the greatest according to one particular criterion (such as high school education), nor by a cherry-picked set such as the one Will McAvoy used in his television show speech. I hope that point sinks in with readers.

      • Arseny says:

        I got your point, thank you very much. It seems like you didn’t get my point though. First of all, I’d like to emphasize the fact that Will McAvoy’s set wasn’t as “cherry-picked” as you’re depicting it. I am not trying to either paint US all black or to prove that it’s “the best country in the world”. I am saying that it’s really hard to pick a criterion which would clearly indicate that US is *that good* as most of such criteria come with certain caveats.

        There are no objectively greatest nations in the world, period. “Not bad” is the best you could get in that department. Logic tells you just that and anyone who would try to convince you otherwise is either a fool or a liar. It’s easy to answer the question on “best country in the world” emotionally though and I wonder why everybody is missing that simple fact. When you love someone you do not measure his or her strong or weak points but you rather accept both. it doesn’t mean that you ignore the downsides though and Clive Lewis explained it much better than I could ever try in his “The Four Loves”. One could call US nation (or any other nation) “the best” and remain true if instead of using measurable criteria one simply says “cause I love it”. Now if instead of trying to mathematically measure the exact correctness of his words (which is, in my humble opinion, stupid) you actually think about the (possible) reason behind McAvoy’s heated speech – that his beloved country isn’t as good as it used to be, definitely has got a lot of problems which are masked and neglected while those who’re supposed to deal with them are drowned in the petty rivalries – then you see that his speech is quite coherent and makes a lot of sense.

        That requires assumption that he actually loves US, of course. Unfortunately, thanks to the relatively recent outbursts of idiotic pseudo-patriotism, such simple things as love for your own country are now seen as something almost shameful (if only of the fear that one could be counted among those “patriots” should he say something like “I love US” sincerely).

        • Bryan W. White says:

          “I got your point”

          If you got my point, it’s hard to see why you would accuse me of leaving out something like HS education from a list of the most important stats for a greatest nation list. It was never my point to provide such a list.

          “There are no objectively greatest nations in the world, period”

          If there’s agreement on the criteria, then it follows that there’s an objectively greatest nation according to those criteria. McAvoy’s speech, of course, presupposes that certain rankings disqualify the U.S. from being the greatest nation. But if you’re right that there’s no such thing then McAvoy’s entire argument is absurd (you could agree with his conclusion, but not the premises he uses to reach it).

          The fact is that people usually have something concrete in mind when thinking about the concept of a greatest nation. It’s not preposterous to have a set of criteria that represent an accepted measurement. Were that not the case, then hardly anybody would take McAvoy’s speech seriously at all. The traffic I get from this post suggests many people take it seriously.

          “his beloved country isn’t as good as it used to be”

          If there’s no greatest nation in any objective sense, then it makes no sense for a nation to be objectively worse than it once was. As soon as you suggest the U.S. could be objectively worse (on balance), it logically implies that a nation can objectively be the best, greatest, whatever. Your argument is incoherent.

          You should make up your mind whether a nation can objectively be greatest/great/bad/worst and start over.

          • Arseny says:

            >> You should make up your mind whether a nation can objectively be greatest/great/bad/worst and start over.

            I don’t think so. Do you understand the difference between “best” and “better”? The simplest example would be: there is no single greatest integer number, yet that does not prevent us from comparing prices and quantities. It is the Sorority Girl’s question that absurd – McAvoy’s answer simply explains that. That’s exactly why he says:” So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I dunno what the f… you’re talkin’ about.”.

            Sure, you could come up with a certain ranking. Sure, in any single ranking there is a leader (given that ranking is consistent). Now, naming the different rankings McAvoy is only trying to say that “the best of the best” is naturally assumed to be first in *all* those positive rankings; US is not. I went a step further saying that *realistically* it is impossible to find a nation that is. That’s, by the way, why it doesn’t matter how accurate his numbers are: 22nd or 27th – as long as it’s not #1 his argument is coherent.
            End of part One.

            Part Two: and then he switches topic. It’s no longer about being (or not being) “the best”. He simply addresses some of the current problems comparing what he sees now with how (in his opinion) it used to be. There’s no problem in comparing two states with a finite, limited amount of properties. He says: we used to be informed; now we’re not. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election; now we do, etc… Because of all this he concludes that the *current* US is worse than US that *existed before* (in his opinion) and that he liked. Now this has nothing to do with other countries as he no longer compares either past or current US to them. It’s about the situation getting worse instead of getting better. He’s bothered by this and by the fact that those real problems are not addressed in the political campaign. I’d go on and use my imagination now, guessing that he calls the current generation “the worst, period, generation, period, ever, period” exactly because they (supposedly) prefer the comfort of the traditional lies (like US being obviously the best, no questions asked; we’re fine and no need to worry about anything; etc). In Part Two it doesn’t matter whether US *ever was* the superbest number one before – it is not now and that’s a good reason to worry.
            End of Part Two;
            End of Story.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            “The simplest example would be: there is no single greatest integer number”

            That’s a great example if we have an infinite number of nations on earth.

            “McAvoy is only trying to say that “the best of the best” is naturally assumed to be first in *all* those positive rankings;”

            That’s silly. Stupidity can’t be so common that people expect one (albeit greatest) nation to lead in every positive category. Granted, that view may help explain why McAvoy thinks a No. 4 ranking means the U.S. can’t be the best, but contrary examples occur all the time. The best tennis player won’t always have the best serve. The top football team won’t always have the best offense. Such examples abound to the point that it makes your proposed rehabilitation of McAvoy’s argument absurd.

            “He says: we used to be informed; now we’re not. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election; now we do, etc… ”

            I elected not to fact check those aspects of McAvoy’s speech since others had already done so. He engages in a great deal of fantasy to make his point.

            Bottom line: Yes, in considering a finite number of nations one can be the best even if it ranks near the bottom in some desirable categories. That’s the fundamental flaw in McAvoy’s argument that there’s no evidence the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth. Other parts of his argument have other flaws, and I have no inclination to use this discussion thread to minutely address those other flaws. If you wish to expand beyond the original topic, then I’ll ask that you take further comments to our Facebook page.

          • Arseny says:

            “That’s a great example if we have an infinite number of nations on earth…. Yes, in considering a finite number of nations one can be the best even if it ranks near the bottom in some desirable categories”

            Simply put: no, unless you invent your own measurement. Forgive me for a small mathematical discourse, but have you ever heard of Variational Analysis? That’s the part of math which deals with optimization (see, for example, Pareto Frontier or Pareto Efficiency). For a finite amount of points with more than one property (call it a coordinate) there is a natural rule of comparison. For simplicity consider two points in two dimensions: A=(a,b), C=(c,d). Then A>C only if both a>c and b>d (in that case A is clearly a better choice). In mixed cases where, say a>c but b<d or vice versa you have to resort to additional methods of measurement (like considering different coordinates being more or less important) and you cannot clearly say A is greater than C. Now, the importance of a one particular ranking will vary for different persons which means that next we either have to solve the problem of a person's importance (and comparing people is not a simple idea) …or to give up completely saying "Every man to his own taste". Even the argument about the amount of people migrating to US is not exactly valid as such a decision may involve certain non-social and non-political parts. Say, the climate here is milder than in most of Canada or Sweden which may attract people – but it has nothing to do with nation's greatness.

            Your strange idea of bringing sport into this dialogue is… well, strange. You're losing a point here. Speaking of each and every serve of a tennis player in terms of a nation would be equivalent to comparing the exact property of each and every member of the population in each scale. McAvoy speaks of *average* numbers. Analogue of *average* in sport would be the overall score (say, over a game or a season) and that's exactly how we determine winners. No contradiction here.

            I am not going to discuss your ideas of stupidity, a simple quote here will do:
            "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Dr. Einstein.

            Let's focus on the flaws of your replies for now, no need to split the topic. Also I neither have nor plan to create a facebook account so I'd rather continue our discussion here.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            “Simply put: no”

            Again, you’ve argued incoherently. We’re dealing with a number of potential ways of doing the measurement, and if we simply use the one you offered as an example (all rankings No. 1 for a nation to be the best), what I wrote is clearly true. So your simply put “no” is simply incorrect.

            “You’re losing a point here. Speaking of each and every serve”

            I’m not speaking of each and every serve. I’m talking about serves collectively during a discrete period of time.

            “Let’s focus on the flaws of your replies for now”

            Sure. But “strange” isn’t a flaw unless you attach a coherent description of what you’re talking about and further argue cogently that it’s a flaw. You’ve contradicted yourself more than once already (finding ways an entity can be the best while also denying it).

            If you can’t restrict your comments to the topic of the fact check, it’s not my problem that you don’t have a Facebook account. My preference is not to use time I can apply to fact checking to run down rabbit trails in thread topics. I’m certain you understand.

          • Arseny says:

            Side note: while being around I have checked a few of your other “fact checks” and the strong smell of red herring is still in my nostrils. Also, facts are useless unless you’re able to understand and apply them properly (many of my students have learned it in a hard way).
            End of Side note.

            Now, to the flaws of your answers:
            I hate to have to hold people accountable for their own words, but… Quotes:

            “…Yes, in considering a finite number of nations one can be the best ***even if it ranks near the bottom*** in some desirable categories..” (emphasis mine).

            “if we simply use the one you offered as an example (all rankings No. 1 for a nation to be the best), what I wrote is clearly true”

            Now, good sir, you either explain me how at the same time one may rank at the bottom and hold all rankings No. 1 or retract your statement. I’d also appreciate if you stick to the examples and arguments voiced above (that’s what makes a reasoning coherent) instead of creating new ones each and every time.

            In your statements two ideas are mixed again: the idea of “best of the best” nation (that I have already separated from the main line for you before) and *your* idea of being the No. 1 without being top in all categories. Former may exist theoretically according to the definition I gave above, McAvoy’s and my claims are that this cannot be achieved in *reality* and is not achieved by any nation in the real world; I have explained why already. Latter… Well, I provided the mathematical references.

            As for your sportive discourse, It doesn’t matter how many serves over what period of time is made, there are only two ways of accounting it:
            a) You add them up somehow and turn it into a single normalized score – then it becomes a ranking in itself and I don’t care about the details of the serves the
            same way I do not ask how other rankings were obtained;
            b) You do not “glue” them together, retaining all the information about each and every move – then it’s equivalent to comparing nations person by person as I described above.

            You either did not not follow the reasoning or didn’t make yourself clear enough.

            As for your opinion on “You’ve contradicted yourself more than once already (finding ways an entity can be the best while also denying it)” – I am afraid it’s you who’s contradicting himself (as stated above) and only sees contradiction in my words due to the superficial reading of my replies. Try to read carefully, that accounts for the minimal respect you’ve got to demonstrate towards your opponent for a dialogue to be meaningful. Oh, and next time you’re accusing me of incoherence please do so using the exact quotes, not *your* understanding.

            I understand that you have more than one dialogue to keep up to but please take your time and make sure you follow the conversation. In my opinion it’s better to complete one analytic article rather than to write a bunch of semi-coherent and incomplete ones. That’s, of course, assuming you’re interested in analysis and not in generating traffic for your blog…

          • Bryan W. White says:

            I’m done playing with you. You’ll have one last chance to explain away your contradiction after I explain (it) to you more clearly in the context of addressing your latest comment.

            “I hate to have to hold people accountable for their own words, but… Quotes:”

            It’s a pity you found yourself forced to take a quotation out of context.

            It’s dead easy to illustrate how one nation can be the best despite ranking at the bottom in more than one desirable category. I think you know this is true, which is why you drew the other statement out of context in the attempt to manufacture a contradiction on my part. The second quotation is a counterexample to your claim that it is not possible for one nation to be the best except subjectively. Just prior to my statement I had argued the absurdity of requiring No. 1 rankings in all (desirable categories–ed.) for one nation to qualify as the best. Your juxtaposition of the two quotations for purposes of your argument is the rhetorical equivalent of asserting 2+2=5. There’s no reason for me to retract, and good reason for you to feel embarrassment.

            This is the key to the argument: On the one hand you allow the legitimacy of comparing one nation to itself and finding one iteration better than the other. On the other hand, you deny the legitimacy of comparing about 200 nations to each other to find one better than than the rest (one that’s better than the rest is the best, and we can substitute greater/greatest if we wish). Those positions of yours do not sit well with each other. If a nation can be greater than itself at a prior time, then in principle it may be greater than another nation in the present. And another nation after that, and so on.

            If your “best of the best” concept applies to McAvoy’s argument we shouldn’t expect to see McAvoy avow the U.S. used to be the greatest. Was the U.S. ever No. 1 in every important category? If you think that’s the case I leave it to you to make the argument while avoiding your own criticisms based on the math of comparisons.

            My argument does not require that finding one nation the greatest is inevitably true in principle. It simply requires that a strong argument for the U.S. is possible using any reasonable method of ranking nations relative to each other.

            You get the one chance to resolve the inconsistency in your argument. Good luck. Stay focused.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            “facts are useless unless you’re able to understand and apply them properly”

            I’ve cleverly hidden a “Report an Error” icon on each page of the site that features content. If you’re able to find it, feel free to point out one or more failures to properly understand and apply facts. Use the form provided. I’d love to start a feature like a “criticism of the week,” but so far the criticisms all seem to want me to buy Nike shoes or imitation Rolex watches.

  6. Mark Hagebak says:

    Let me just say I support Bryan white and his arguments. However, Bryan and Arseny would be wise to start their own sites to provide point counter point. Was great to hear two people debate, and not resort to name calling. BRAVO to both of you. And thanks.

  7. Richard says:

    We see that McAvoy’s numbers have an imperfect relationship with reality, and in evaluating their rhetorical value we tip our hat to Lamont Colucci, whose op-ed for U.S. News & World Report helped blaze the trail we follow:

    This television tirade would be of no matter had it stayed in the dystopic universe that is Hollywood, but alas, the [I]nternet has pushed the statement across borders and time. The temptation to go line by line and deconstruct this outburst will be resisted, and would do little but add credence to the inanity. It is, naturally, what is not said that is more important, more enlightening, and more reasonable.

    Colucci warns of a trap we’ve mentioned before: It’s a common rhetorical trick to use a true fact to fallaciously support an argument.

    What’s McAvoy’s argument? That the United States is not the greatest nation in the world. He tries to support that argument with a set of rankings that place the U.S. somewhere other than No. 1. But is that a reasonable way to disqualify a country from being considered the greatest among its peers?

    It’s wrongheaded.

    ===========

    The above are quote(s) from your article.

    My problem: You yourself, as well as Lamont Colucci, point out that a rhetorical argument is being made using a “fact” to support the argument. You and Lamont find fault with the facts, thus find the rhetorical point also to be at fault.

    Question: Is it required that the “facts” be 100% true for the rhetorical point to also be true; or, can the “facts” be true only in part, and still have the rhetorical point be true?

    You are trying to state the reverse, that since his facts are faulty, his rhetorical argument must also be thrown out.

    My Second problem:

    Putting aside the facts in the entirety, even putting aside the rhetorical point we can’t ignore the rest of what he said in the clip. And it are those things that I find compelling. When combined with the “facts” no matter how faulty, and his point that if we do not recognize that we have a problem, we can not fix it.

    So, what else did he say:

    It’s not the greatest country in the world, it used to be, and it can be again.

    He calls out the liberal on the panel: “If liberals are so ****ing smart, why do they lo()se so god dammed always?”

    He calls out the GOP person for implying that the US is the only country in the world that has freedom. Much like the GOP in today’s news who go around saying the US is the great country the world has ever known and then wonder why so many people want to immigrate here.

    He points out that his generation is without a doubt the worst generation. in. history. ever. Can we argue with that? Sure. They are a generation that cares more about what goes on in Duck dynasty, or who got voted off the island, or which freaking bachelor got picked than they do about real issues or getting involved, or serving. particularly the young men who’d rather sit on their asses and play WoW or some other game rather than going to college and are still living at home at 30! Does that sound like the greatest generation ever?

    We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons.We passed laws, we struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not the poor. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths are. and we never beat our chests. We built great things. We made ungodly technological advances. We explored the universe. Cured diseases. We cultivated the worlds greatest artists. We reached for the stars.We acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easily. We were able to do all these things, be all these things, because we were informed.

    The above are things he said beyond “facts” and beyond the rhetorical point. Can they be argued? Sure. Do we still cultivate artist? Sure.Cure diseases? Sure. But, we have an entire state, Texas, that is trying to get Darwin removed from it’s text books.and replaced with ID. We have other states like MS and AL that are following suit. We are slashing educational budgets at all levels of government. Our funding for basic research is going the way of the dodo bird. We are leaving our poor to fend for themselves and telling them its all their fault, that I got mine, you get yours. Or, more accurately, I got mine, screw you. We seem to have a permanent fear stick stuck up our asses and we are willing to sacrifice our liberties in the name of that fear. We have a whole segment of our population that on the one hand decries religious Sharia law; yet, wants at the same time to institute the same religious law only they call it “Christian” law. When was the last time we sent a man to space other than to ISS? When was the last time we built something great, other than rebuilding the WTT? I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

    So, while you and Mr. Lamont can argue the “facts” and conclude that the rhetorical point based on those false “facts” is equally at fault; I do not. His overarching point? Still spot on.

    [edited to reformat quotations, censor a term many find offensive, and patch some typos]

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Richard,

      My problem: You yourself, as well as Lamont Colucci, point out that a rhetorical argument is being made using a “fact” to support the argument. You and Lamont find fault with the facts, thus find the rhetorical point also to be at fault.

      No, that’s not my point and I’m confident in saying it wasn’t LaMont’s either. In McAvoy’s case even if all his facts were true (they aren’t) his argument would still fail.

      Question: Is it required that the “facts” be 100% true for the rhetorical point to also be true; or, can the “facts” be true only in part, and still have the rhetorical point be true?

      A conclusion can be true while the argument behind it completely fails to support the conclusion. So McAvoy could completely flub his argument and his rhetorical point may be true regardless. We looked at a specific part of McAvoy’s argument, the part he used to conclude the U.S. isn’t No. 1 and concluded that his argument is faulty. We didn’t argue his conclusion was false. But we suggested it wouldn’t be tough to make a strong argument that his conclusion is false.

      Putting aside the facts in the entirety, even putting aside the rhetorical point we can’t ignore the rest of what he said in the clip.

      Of course we can ignore the rest of what he said. We were fact checking just one part of the McAvoy speech. The remainder of the speech doesn’t include anything that significantly alters the context of the statement we examined. McAvoy made a bad argument that the U.S. isn’t No. 1, and it’s fair game to point that out. The failure of that part of his argument does alter the picture for the rest of his argument, of course.

      His overarching point? Still spot on.

      If you think his overarching point included the notion that there’s no evidence the United States is the greatest nation on earth, then your argument on that point is no better than McAvoy’s. I’d ask you to consider what we wrote about how one might argue which nation is the greatest. That’s the point of the fact check. Thanks for commenting!

      • Richard says:

        Ahh, but thank you! You see, if both you and Lamont had restricted yourself to merely fact checking, I would have had no case. But, you did not, you engaged in commentary. With your fact checking, I have no argument. Facts, after all, are facts.

  8. Richard says:

    Would you argue that what is happening in Texas and the attempt to abolish evolution from textbooks makes us a great country? Not to mention AL, MS, AZ and other red states?

    Would you argue that cutting basic science funding to dodo bird levels makes the US a great country? Would you argue that have the science committee in the house made up of anti-science people make for a great country?

    Would you argue that a population made up of folks more concerned with who got voted off the Island rather than in substantive issues makes for a great country?

    Would you argue that waging war on the poor rather than poverty makes for a great country?

    Would you argue that our rush to do away with our liberties due to the permanent stick of fear stuck up our ass makes for a great country?

    In literary terms, there is a concept, I am sure you are familiar with it, called subtext.

    If, the facts that McAvoy had used were 100% true, would you agree with his subtext? No.

    I can only assume then that you think cutting funding for basic research makes for a great country, etc, etc.

    If you do not agree with that, or with the prior statement, then, what do you agree with? Why, the facts of course.

    Except, facts are never black and white, they are always about context. Does 2 + 2 always equal 4? No. It is about context.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Did you answer my question, Richard? If you’ve told me what part of my commentary you dispute, I don’t find it clear in what you wrote above (please clarify if you believe you’ve addressed my question).

      I’m interested in the facts, and I’m interested if you dispute something I wrote in the fact check. I’m not interested in rabbit trails. If you want to talk rabbit trails to it to our Facebook page and knock yourself out. We expect you to stay on the topic of the fact check when your comments follow a fact check.

      • Richard says:

        lol…seriously?

        You, and Lamont state:

        What’s McAvoy’s argument? That the United States is not the greatest nation in the world. He tries to support that argument with a set of rankings that place the U.S. somewhere other than No. 1. But is that a reasonable way to disqualify a country from being considered the greatest among its peers?

        It’s wrongheaded.

        =====

        The above by the way, is commentary. It’s one thing to disagree with the facts; but, you threw the baby out with the bathwater. You stated as FACT, that it is wrongheaded. As if YOUR facts were more important than McAvoy’s facts, merely because some of his were not 100% accurate.

        Let us strip ALL facts from McAvoy’s clip. Is his conclusion invalid?

        Pick whatever KPI’s you feel relevant. I say KPI’s ABC make for a great country. You say, KPI XYZ make for a great country. We measure. I say, see!!! Our country didn’t measure up on ABC, but we totally rocked on DEF! You say, quite contrare, we rocked on XYZ, but screwed the pooch on LMN. So are we a great country, or not?

        McAvoy mentioned, as part of the subtext, divorced from the hard facts he quoted in the first part:

        We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons.We passed laws, we struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not the poor. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths are. and we never beat our chests. We built great things. We made ungodly technological advances. We explored the universe. Cured diseases. We cultivated the worlds greatest artists. We reached for the stars.We acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easily. We were able to do all these things, be all these things, because we were informed.

        Are any of them wrong? Are they measure of a great country?

        I stated, as part of my argument:

        The above are things he said beyond “facts” and beyond the rhetorical point. Can they be argued? Sure. Do we still cultivate artist? Sure.Cure diseases? Sure. But, we have an entire state, Texas, that is trying to get Darwin removed from it’s text books.and replaced with ID. We have other states like MS and AL that are following suit. We are slashing educational budgets at all levels of government. Our funding for basic research is going the way of the dodo bird. We are leaving our poor to fend for themselves and telling them its all their fault, that I got mine, you get yours. Or, more accurately, I got mine, screw you. We seem to have a permanent fear stick stuck up our asses and we are willing to sacrifice our liberties in the name of that fear. We have a whole segment of our population that on the one hand decries religious Sharia law; yet, wants at the same time to institute the same religious law only they call it “Christian” law. When was the last time we sent a man to space other than to ISS? When was the last time we built something great, other than rebuilding the WTT? I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

        Are any of them factually incorrect? Are they measures of a great country?

        But, but! We have the worlds largest economy!! That makes us best. But, but! We have the best higher education system (for now) so that makes us best! Never mind that the children we are now educating will not believe in Darwin, and those are the future of our higher education system.

        I will finish with this. You state: “I’m interested in the facts…I’m not interested in rabbit trails” If you are only concerned with facts, then leave aside commentary; both in your original article and in any subsequent comments in the comment section. If you do not, then one can only assume that contrary to your stated preference, that you are in fact, interested in rabbit trails.

        Facts, as I have stated, are NEVER black and white, even within the realm of pure mathematics. Well, except for the speed of light, and even that is up for debate. If you ignore the context, you ignore everything. And you, are ignoring everything McAvoy said except the facts; while at the same time, drawing conclusions (It’s wrongheaded) about the clip in it’s entirety.

        • Bryan W. White says:

          Richard,

          It’s one thing to disagree with the facts; but, you threw the baby out with the bathwater. You stated as FACT, that it is wrongheaded. As if YOUR facts were more important than McAvoy’s facts, merely because some of his were not 100% accurate.

          Incorrect. For review, we did not rule on the conclusion. We ruled on the argument.

          Let us strip ALL facts from McAvoy’s clip. Is his conclusion invalid?

          Conclusions are neither valid or invalid. They are either true or not true, and either follow from an argument (valid) or do not follow from an argument (invalid). Arguments are valid or invalid, and McAvoy’s argument is invalid.

          I will finish with this. You state: “I’m interested in the facts…I’m not interested in rabbit trails”

          What a clever edit. Are we supposed to ignore the fact that the full quotation makes nonsense of what you wrote just after?

          Facts, as I have stated, are NEVER black and white, even within the realm of pure mathematics.

          If you’re correct that facts are never black and white, wouldn’t that imply that some facts are black or white and contradict your claim? Or are you not stating that facts are never black and white as a matter of fact? And if you’re not stating that facts are never black and white as a matter of fact, then why should I care what your opinion is on the matter?

          We’re not ignoring everything McAvoy said except for his list of facts. We evaluated those facts since I expected people were interested. We evaluated how McAvoy’s rhetoric made use of those claims in support of his proposition that there’s no evidence the United States is the greatest nation on earth. His argument was invalid.
          Contrary to your claim, we don’t drawn any conclusions about the whole of the clip. For example, part of McAvoy’s argument amounts to a claim that the United States was once a greater nation than it is now. We made no attempt to address that portion of the argument.

          • Richard says:

            Ahh, my AP English teacher would look at me with THAT look and chastise me for using the word never. Rather, let us say “rarely, if ever, are facts black and white.”

            Point to you sir.

            And how clever of you. Since you have now proved that his facts were in fact, not facts, you can rest comfortable in stating that the rest is false too. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

            How clever of you to also, in seeming, restrict yourself to an argument over “facts” while at the same time concluding that his conclusions hold no weight.

            You state: “We’re not ignoring everything McAvoy said except for his list of facts. We evaluated those facts since I expected people were interested. We evaluated how McAvoy’s rhetoric made use of those claims in support of his proposition that there’s no evidence the United States is the greatest nation on earth. His argument was invalid..”

            You are correct in your assertion that his “facts” were in error. His argument however, you have done nothing to disprove.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            Richard,

            Your previous post I removed and reprinted in full, featured at Facebook. Please try to respect our policy of keeping comments reasonably restricted to the subject matter of the original article.

            Since you have now proved that his facts were in fact, not facts, you can rest comfortable in stating that the rest is false too. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

            I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. You argue that facts are not black and white. I don’t. And I can argue my position on facts without ending up with a self-contradiction. Our position is that the flaws in McAvoy’s argument make it irrelevant whether his facts are true. They could even be gray, if there existed such a thing as a gray fact.

            You are correct in your assertion that his “facts” were in error. His argument however, you have done nothing to disprove.

            Some of McAvoy’s facts were in error. Regardless of that, his argument was invalid. It’s important to understand the irrelevance of McAvoy’s claims of fact as they relate to his argument that no evidence exists to support the claim the United States is the greatest nation.

  9. Another point that is important to take into consideration is how the underlying data was put together. I ran across this site because I was looking for the details of the stat quoted that we are 178th in Infant Mortality. A pediatrician friend of mine pointed out something that really made me stop and question ALL cited stats… You need to realize that there is a big difference in how the USA vs. the rest of the world record these stats. I don’t have the specifics, but apparently most other nations to not include premmies in their stats, etc.while the USA does.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Hi, Alfredo. The sources we researched indicated that the relatively poor U.S. ranking had mostly to do with factors such as drug use and poor diet. We did include a section near the end (“Bad data?”) where we point out that these types of rankings often come from apples-oranges comparisons. So you’re making a great point, but it’s not one that we neglected to cover.

      Of course, as we also note, the 178 ranking in infant mortality came from a list presented in reverse order. The lower the ranking on that list, the lower the infant mortality rate.

  10. unionmomsays says:

    I am using the Newsroom speech for my final speech analysis project for university. The facts he gave are correct for the data available at the time the speech was written. Things have changed up a bit since then. Like commented above some of the rankings given were taken out of actual context since they were listed in reverse order. I have all the stats from research I have done on each topic and they weren’t that far off, even with the updated numbers to include 2013 and 2014.

    He was correct in that we spend the most in military spending. Our population has a higher ratio than other countries who believe angels are real. More Americans believe in angels than they do in global warming. And we still have the highest incarcerated population per capita.

    Yes, I know this was a speech taken from facts and written for a fictional character, but there are still people in this country of mine that believe Jeb Bartlett from West Wing was actually President.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Hi, unionmomsays.

      If you think the United States has more people who believe in angels by percentage than any other country then you need to read our fact check more closely. It also wouldn’t hurt, particularly in light of you doing a speech analysis project, to consider the relevance of military spending to a claim there’s no evidence the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is ranking No. 1 a disqualifier? Truly?

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you drop by again and augment your thoughts.

  11. Bob Thomson says:

    This is messed up! Did you actually listen to what the “Will” character was trying to say? His “made for TV” speech should not take us to a place where we debate the validity of the criteria he refers to, nor is it about being perfect in the way we choose criteria against which to measure ourselves against others or to measure ourselves period. It is more about an assertion that all is not perfect (as some “angels” might think) and that we have work to do. And, that we are at risk of unknowingly slipping further away from whatever perfection looks like. We have lost our center and with it, our common sense.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      “Did you actually listen to what the “Will” character was trying to say?”

      Bob, as I pointed out in the article, I focused on the speech segment from “The Newsroom” because of the way people have subsequently used it. Did you pay attention to that part of the article?

        • Bryan W. White says:

          With apologies, Bob, but we can’t help but find it amusing that you object to us ignoring what you perceive as McAvoy’s point while you’re ignoring the point we said we were making.

          • Bob Thomson says:

            I get it. My mistake, I got caught up in the real issue, not the one at play.

          • Bryan W. White says:

            Bob, the facts and proper reasoning on those facts always counts as a real issue, even if you don’t see it as the most important issue. I hope our article helps guide you past the mistakes of “Wil McAvoy” as you wrestle with the real issue. Cheers.

  12. Tyler Fayard says:

    After reading through this thread, I have come to the conclusion that you rely purely on double talk and circular logic in an attempt to validate your ‘fact checking’.

  13. Bryan, you’re little blog post here lacks the emotional appeal of a television drama, the likes of which form the basis of my world view; your attempt to discredit it is, therefore, false.

    But seriously, thanks for the time in putting this together and teaching us a little bit about the dangers of cherry picking. It’s frustrating how people latch on to this clip.

  14. Pingback: “The most dishonest 3 1/2 minutes of television, ever.” | Flopping Aces

  15. matt7285 says:

    Hi Bryan, thank you for posting a fact check on the video. Yeah, maybe the script don’t hit the facts. And yeah, a bit of literary license was taken. But can I share what I got out of this. Alot of your facts, in comparison to the clip, came in pretty close. I say this alot, there is a difference between facts and truth. A big difference. And truth is, despite the facts, America is in trouble. I think this is what the point of the clip was about. Getting away from the bickering between each other, fighting over trivial issues, and to quit walking around with our heads in the clouds and being real again.

    America isn’t great when its citizens are questioning our Law Enforcement Agencies. It isn’t great when divorce is high, that drugs are out of control, and when homeless veterans live on the streets. When our southern borders is a leaking facet of drugs into our nation, backed by trained military soldiers. It isn’t great when children are afraid to go to school, or are being molded to deviate from social norms, and often face genderization breakdowns. We are no longer even number one in the world economy anymore.

    I know, you are not disagreeing with the statement, “America isn’t great anymore”. but I don’t think the clip was about facts. I think it was about losing our identity as Americans. Which we have. I think the video has a clear message and when people view it and are changed because of it, it’s because they, you, and me; we all understand, we have lost our identity as a people. We don’t know who we are anymore.

    Jeff Bridges, on the video, said this. “In order to solve a problem, you have to recognize it first.” What do I know about that, alot. I got lost once, disorientated while on a hike. The first thing I did was make myself accept that. Then I knew how to fix it. I took my compass and set a single course and followed it. It wasn’t long before I was found again. I made it look easy. This video, does that. It makes it clear we have become lost as a nation. And as a nation, it’s time to get our bearings and set a course back to where we were as a great nation.

    -Matt.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Matt,

      I think your speech is better than the one from “The Newsroom.”

      Every nation has problems, and some are worse than others. Is the United States on the wrong track in some ways? Probably. But depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a completely different answer as to what’s going wrong. If the speech strikes that chord with you, that’s fine. But I explain in the article why I addressed the speech. It’s bad reasoning.

      Thanks for reading and for posting a thoughtful response.

  16. Elsp says:

    I’m glad you went out and fact checked this. Having watched the show, I was curious as to how much was actually true. However, you did say you hadn’t seen the show (as of a few years ago, at least), so I’d like to put some context with this scene. I know someone else already mentioned this, but I’d like to elaborate a little more on why the argument might seem incoherent at first glance.

    Prior to the outburst: He’s on meds. In later episodes, it’s hinted that he’s also been depressed for quite some time. When he looks out into the audience, he keeps thinking he’s seeing an ex-girlfriend he loved who is now getting frustrated with him because he’s not speaking up to counter-argue the two people around him, who are basically just playing the crowd and aren’t saying anything people haven’t heard before. Before the question even gets asked, he’s already in a bad mental state.

    The outburst: One major problem is that he suddenly just jumps into the argument. He begins by dismissing the claims of the other two responders, and then he launches into his own tirade to prove his point because he’s frustrated and he’s been frustrated for years. A great deal of his response is an emotional reaction and is off the cuff – which, considering how long the speech is and how developed it is from an impromptu lecture, is rather impressive. There aren’t many people out there who could formulate an argument like that so coherently without any prep time whatsoever. Could he have done it better? Maybe. But it’s still remarkable that he managed it so well.

    So that’s that part, the scene that everyone sees on YouTube, but I’ll bet most of them never watched the show through to the end, or at least to the end of the season where this is finally resolved.

    After the speech, his new executive producer keeps pushing him to find the facts and not present the story in the most sensational way but the most accurate way. He tells her this is impossible because Americans are stupid, and she tells him that the thing about America is that it has said “over and over and over that we can do better.” She manages to convince him and he gives the public the benefit of the doubt, deciding to give them the facts. Over the rest of the season, the news team keeps getting struck at from all sorts of media outlets about the outburst and the sudden change from sensational news to accurate news. People are saying he’s lost it, and various efforts are made to discredit him. By the end, an article is written calling him a “greater fool,” a term which their economist defines as “someone who will buy long and sell short…with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed.”

    I know that seems like a digression, but that’s where this season comes full circle, and this is what actually makes that first speech important. She concludes with, “This whole country was made by greater fools.” And over the course of this last crazy year for the news team, McAvoy has made some changes over what aspects of the country are the most important. The college student shows up for an internship and says she wants to be a greater fool, so McAvoy tells her to ask him “her idiot question” once more. She does. He doesn’t rant at her, because he’s already done that. He doesn’t shout statistics at her, because he’s been going that this whole time. And he certainly doesn’t say “It’s not.”

    He says, “You do.”

    And frankly, to me, that made much more of an impact than a long-winded speech about all of America’s failings, because McAvoy’s saying that in spite of all of America’s short-comings, it still has the potential to become greater because of the people in it and their tenacity and their promise. That’s the conclusion of the season, and that’s why that first scene had to be so rambling and furious, for this comparison at the end when he’s changed and sees that there’s a hope for the American public.

    I wish people didn’t just stop at that scene and say, “Yep, that’s it, that’s the show.” Because it’s not. The show isn’t one extended whine about how crappy the situation in America is. It’s about the country’s potential to pull itself out of the situation it’s dug itself into – but for that to happen, people have to be informed. Is America the greatest? I’ll be the first to admit I’m not wise enough to decide. But does it have the potential? That’s the question that really makes a difference.

    This was longer than was originally intended, and I hope it didn’t come across as a criticism. I noticed no one was really commenting on why the argument only focused on the negative aspects or why it might have seemed a little incoherent. There was a point to this part of the show, and it did get that point across, but it was also intended to set the stage for a complete reversal of the protagonist’s view of the country. I hope this might have shed some light on that situation.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Elsp,

      Thanks for reading and adding your thoughtful comments.

      Edit to add: One thing I should mention in reply to one of your observations. You wrote: “There aren’t many people out there who could formulate an argument like that so coherently without any prep time whatsoever. Could he have done it better? Maybe. But it’s still remarkable that he managed it so well.”

      It’s not quite as impressive when you remember it was scripted that way. The writers didn’t have to come up with McAvoy’s speech on the spur of the moment.

  17. FIRST OF ALL HE LEFT OUT MANYI MPORTANT FACTS. 1. THE GENACIDE COMMITED ON THE NATIVE AMERICAN 2. ALL TREATIES WERE BROKEN WITH THEM. 3. THE MEXICAN WAR BETWEEN THE U S AND THEM TREATY WAS BROKEN. 4. THEN SLAVERY FOR 100 YEARS THEN CONTINUED DISCRIMINATION AS OF TODAY. 5 FOUR ELIGAL WARS .6.WE ARE 25TH IN THE WORLD ON THE INTERNET , SOUTH KOREA IS NO 1. 7 THERE IS NOTHING FREE IN THE UNITED STATES? ( YOU ARE A SLAVE ). 8. ALL ( EMPHESES ADDED ) CHURCHES ARE A CORPERATION ( DEFANITION–BLACKES LAW DICTIONARY A FICTISIOUES ENTATIE ). GREED RUNS OUR COUNTRY IF YOU GET THE CHANCE SEE THE MOVIE WHITE LIKE ME.

    • Bryan W. White says:

      Do I publish Frank Solchaga’s comment against my better judgment?

      This one’s a no-win. It’s all in caps, which for most people tends to discredit the source. It doesn’t really address the topic (the fact check), instead taking a tangential editorial position on the fictional speech.

      I don’t think the message is from a conservative trying to make liberals look silly. But it’s possible I’m wrong.

      Frank, assuming you’re sincere, take your time and read the article carefully along with the posted comments and answers. If you still have a disagreement with us after that, please post another comment expressing your revised views. On the next comment consider using something closer to standard punctuation.

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