How to read the New York Times: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin edition

In what’s surely going to be a talked about editorial given recent conjecture about Scott Walker’s potential for a presidential run, Professor Larry Jacobs penned this gem which was published in yesterday’s New York Times: Right vs. Left in the Midwest.

Reading the New York Times is no easy task for those capable of higher order thoughts. However, this perfect storm of the Times’ liberal bias and Larry Jacobs’ incoherence actually provides a teachable moment. Like all New York Times articles, Jacobs’ article contains just the right amount of truth that it cannot be labeled an outright lie. But, like most Times articles, the most pertinent facts are brought to light in an almost non-sequitur way so as to not refute the entire premise of the article. Let me posit this lesson. Reading the Times is akin to playing Where’s Waldo. (For instance, try reading this article about how the tea party killed JFK and try and look for the mention of Oswald’s communist ties). Look really hard for the only relevant fact, and the meaning of the article will completely change.

Here’s the relevant fact about comparing Minnesota to Wisconsin, which Jacobs obfuscates:


the legislatures of both states were controlled by Republicans from January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2013.

This should come as a shock to no one who lives in either Minnesota or Wisconsin, but Jacobs was writing for the New York Times, so he felt comfortable burying this fact a bit. You’ll find Waldo, if you look closely enough, where Jacobs writes: “once Mr. Dayton teamed up with a Democratic Legislature in 2012…” Actually, the DFL legislature did not even convene until February of 2013, not 2012. Moreover, most of the laws that were enacted are only beginning to take effect, let alone have any measurable consequence

So what does it matter? The whole point of Jacobs’ article is that Minnesota and Wisconsin are perfect little laboratories to measure the consequences of completely opposite policies. The only problem is that they are not. What’s worse is that the consequences he cites are so cherry-picked, that Politifact, renowned in conservative circles for being vehemently left-leaning, actually pre-empted Jacobs’ drivel a couple of months ago. Politifact called it a half-truth to state that Minnesota is faring better than Wisconsin in important areas. But, you see, that does not matter to the likes of Jacobs or the Times. Walker must be taken down – sound reasoning and intellectually honest analysis is irrelevant.

The truth is that it is way too soon to see what differences, if any, exist between liberal and conservative rule. Mark Dayton spent much of his term battling a Republican majority, which, like its federal counterpart, shut the government down. Being as generous as I can, he has had about nine months to enact his policies. Similarly, Scott Walker spent the majority of his term battling a recall effort which ended up with his party losing control of one chamber of the legislature.

The verdict? Jacobs may be right that Minnesota and Wisconsin are states to watch when it comes to seeing the difference between liberal and conservative policies. But before he starts predicting that the Minnesota Liberals will mop the floor with Wisconsin Capitalists in this year’s political Superbowl, he should at least let the players lace their cleats.

Cross-posted at Minnesota Young Republicans