This question: Did Bernie Sanders never "earn a steady paycheck" before 40?

Makes for a nice NHQ fodder, due to the topic.

Except the "claim" it cites is 100% strawman.

The question's "claim" - which is diligently "debunked" by an answer, being a convinient made up strawman - is Did Bernie Sanders never “earn a paycheck” before 40

There is a meme ... didn't "earn a paycheck" before the age of 40.

What truth is there to this claim? Did Bernie Sanders support himself before the age of 40?

However, a 3-second check of the 4 links provided to "prove" notability shows that none of the sources actually make that claim!

The exact claim - which wasn't mentioned in either the question or the answer - is that he didn't earn a steady paycheck.

I can get onboard with stating that this claim is too vague to be proven or disproven since "steady" is not a precise term. But that is 100% irrelevant to the question and answer as they stand right now

  • Gateway Pundit shows that the claim was different strait in the headline:

    "Bernie Sanders a Bum Who Didn’t Earn His First Steady Paycheck Until Age 40 Then Wormed His Way Into Politics".

    and the body's first sentence:

    Bernie Sanders was a bum who didn’t earn a steady paycheck until he was 40 years old

  • Fox News link has the same headline:

    Bernie Sanders a Bum Who Didn't Earn His First Steady Paycheck Until Age 40 Then Wormed His Way Into Politics

    Which makes complete sense since the link wasn't to fox news, it was to their news aggregator, which was linking to the above Gateway Pundit link in the first place.

  • American Spectator's headline omits the "steady" term, but just the headline:

    Bernie Sanders Didn’t Make a Paycheck Until He Turned 40

    But the article's body actually cites the same Investor's Business Daily article as everyone else with actual claim:

    Despite a prestigious degree, however, Sanders failed to earn a living, even as an adult. It took him 40 years to collect his first steady paycheck — and it was a government check.

  • Even Crowder is 100% same - loud sensationalist headline, but the body of the article explicitly quotes the same exact correct claim, from the same exact IBD article as the first 3 sources:

    It took him 40 years to collect his first steady paycheck — and it was a government check However, the actual article quotes the original Investor's Business Daily article:

I have seen questions on Skeptics.SE closed instantly before when the claim they made was vastly different from the actual claim in the sources they cited for notability and incorrect.

So, why was this question positing a strawman claim allowed to stand?

  • Nobody flagged it or voted to close so far, independent of whether it should be closed, this is the reason why it isn't closed yet.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Feb 22 '16 at 17:38
  • One thing is debating site policy, another is simply reiterating a potentially trite discussion. This question is just assuming intentions and asking for opinions. Furthermore, there's another meta question debating this post by the same author. As such, I'm voting to close.
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 23 '16 at 21:56

Original asker here, with a candidate answer. Titles / URLs are more visible text than the article body; they are seen first, more frequently, and they may even be all that is seen. Misleading text here has a disproportionate effect and may set the tone even if you do read the whole article.

Next, is "steady" even a vital piece of this picture? I'd argue that it's not. The message is clearly that Sanders is a bum, whatever language they use to dress it up. Why call into question his ability to earn a paycheck otherwise? The implication is clear. "Steady" in this case is feigned euphemism.

Would I agree with the community's decision to edit the question to say "steady"? No. But I could understand and accept it; in any event, a new question on the more modest claims would be a good one. But to close the question? That would be lazy. There is clearly a claim substantially similar to what is being asked, whether it's exact or not. To imagine that the "notability" threshold exists to screen out this sort of minor shortcoming seems to go too far.

  • 1
    It's a common user experience practice to format your links with descriptive text. For example company.com/article/really-cool-title is not as helpful or easy to read as Really Cool Title - Company or an article on really cool topic. Just look at this site. You don't see a bunch of unformatted links. You see real words and sentences that are linked to content that relates to those words and sentences.
    – fredsbend Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 0:03
  • @fredsbend A fair observation generally, but it is not a requirement and doing so obscures the claim which I was asking about in this instance. Also, FWIW - it's not like I scoured the Internet for URLs that lacked "steady". Those were the fest or search results. Three out of four URLs agreed - leaving aside whether "steady" makes any real difference at all, as some users seem to think, anyway.
    – Patrick87
    Feb 23 '16 at 11:31
  • Like I said before, I don't think the text of a url should be taken seriously compared to the actual article. Those come from headlines, which are often written to draw traffic rather than as descriptors of the article content.
    – fredsbend Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 15:24

I think this question was problematic, but it wasn't a "blatant strawman" question, which is why it wasn't closed.

I think the order of events is clear:

  1. Investor's Business Daily published a hatchet opinion piece, referring to "steady paycheck" - a poor term, because it dismisses other legitimate income sources, like being paid for carpentry.

  2. Several churnalism articles were written using the IBD story as their only source. They all seem to have maintained the "steady paycheck" term.

  3. Then the headline writers have gotten involved, and in some cases skimmed the article and made a mess of it. Headlines tend not to be written by the original journalist, and they have a bad reputation of confusing the claims.

  4. I would hazard a guess that the articles that have "correct" headlines but incorrect URLs are because the headline was originally incorrect, the URL was generated from it, and then the headline was corrected.

  5. The question was posted.

  6. An answer was given addressing the misleading nature of the original article.

  7. Only then did someone highlight the discrepancy between the claims.

So, what should be done about it?

Well, if there are (many) people who have read the confused headline (or the URL) and believe it to be true, then it is notable. (It is also a simple answer!)

However, linking to all the sites that get it "right" seems pointless. Maybe we should cull it down to only those that don't?

Ideally, this question would have been quickly put on hold, and we could have cleaned up the disparity, and decided what the notable question was. However, it quickly received a (highly upvoted) answer that addressed not just the "steady" issue but the deeper "paycheck" issue, making it a little moot. We tend to tread much more carefully when questions have reasonable answers, so as not to waste the effort of the answerer.

If this question was politically motivated, I am having a hard time seeing which "side" of US politics looks good in this debacle.

  • 1
    I didn't claim it's NHQ bait (I still don't quite understand what makies a post NHQ, except generating many answers). I claimed that it's more problematic because NHQ made it more visible (and gave it more votes so that now "it's highy upvoted" can be used as an excuse not to do anything).
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 11:47
  • Anyway, thank you for your answer. I think that you are trying to rationalize an approach that is in stark contrast to moderation approaches taken to a vast majority of other questions on the site, but that's fine, humans can write up justification for anything. Do I need to edit my Meta question to give examples of all the questions that were closed on sight when the claim in the question didn't match the original post? Why is there no need to show that people believe the headline to be true despite the headline not matching the article?
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 11:50
  • Re: motivation of the question: I would not assume bad motivation, except that the flaw in the question NOT been pointed the moment it was posted 2 days ago via a comment; and that comment summarily ignored by OP without so much as an attempt to edit the true claim into the question. That came 2 days before I asked this Meta (as a minor indicator of who was meant to be seen as bad, see "Fox News" bit. The link doesn't go to Fox News, as I noted, but to Fox-owned link aggregator - something obvious from the URL. Same technique as used in "fox news won right to lie" thing).
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 11:51
  • BTW, if you don't think this question is in any way different, i'd be happy to propose several incorrect hatchet job Q&As all of which are based on merely a sensationalist headline not matching the actual claim. How many will you reject before you admit this one is just one of them?
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:03
  • Sorry about misunderstanding your NHQ position. Still pondering the other comments.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:08
  • I'm confused by the third comment, sorry. The first complaint I see about the claim mismatching postdates the first answer.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:12
  • @user5341: I've edited it to clarify why this question was treated differently; I hope it seems less of like a rationalisation, but that is a difficult criticism to refute without making it seem more like a rationalisation.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:21
  • I don't know the relative timeline, but I don't see how it's relevant. Just that the comment was posted 2 days ago; plenty of time to fix the question. And had 20 upvotes so it's not like it was an inconsequential lost comment OP likely missed.
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:23
  • OK, so we are back to Mad Scientist's point from comments of "it already had a quick answer". I understand that it's a valid point, but please note that the answer WAS also commented on immediately, pointing out that it didn't address the actual article claims. Also ignored. IMO, the existence of an answer not addressing the actual claim should have zero effect on how the question is treated, especially if it was clearly broadcast to them that they are not addressing the actual claim.
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 12:27
  • @user5341 I made an edit to the question just after commenting, which went to review because I'm under 2k rep. I added fox news, instead of the plain link text, out of ignorance. It said fox, that's what I noticed. If that's incorrect then you should edit it.
    – fredsbend Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 15:19
  • I agree with you however. It seems odd that no one really cares that the question had the wrong claim.
    – fredsbend Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 15:20
  • @user5341 I mean, if the claim was wrong, why not edit it yourself? I don't hover around this site 24 hours a day. Unless I'm recalling incorrectly, by the time I came back to the question, it already had a ton of votes - the answer too - so I accepted it and decided to leave it to the community. If there's a strawman it at least partly stands because you chose not to edit it.
    – Patrick87
    Feb 23 '16 at 20:06
  • @patrick 1. It's generally considered bad form to drastically edit other people's questions retroactively. 2. Editing at this point is irrelevant. Should have been done 2 days ago
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 22:06
  • @user5341: It seems to me the conflict between "considered bad form to drastically edit other people's questions retroactively" and "I don't know the relative timeline, but I don't see how it's relevant" is important here. It became bad form to edit this question very quickly - before anyone even noticed there was a problem. By the time we did, it was too late.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Feb 23 '16 at 23:34
  • @Oddthinking - You have an option I as a user don't have - to delete the answer (thus making any edits non-retroactive, because there's no existing answer to invalidate).
    – user5341
    Feb 23 '16 at 23:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .