Cable News: Where Being Loud Trumps Being Wrong

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

A couple weeks ago on John Stossel’s show, I debated sex crimes with Wendy Murphy, the TV pundit and former assistant district attorney for Middlesex County, Massachusetts (where, like Scott Harshbarger and Martha Coakley, Murphy fought the release of Cheryl Amirault in the bogus Fells Acres sex crimes case). During the debate, Murphy threw out a statistic that only 2 percent of sex offenders are actually on sex offender registries. I’m still not sure where she got that figure. I’m also not sure what it’s supposed to measure, or what conclusions we’re supposed to draw from it. I still haven’t been able to find any study that produces that statistic

Last night I saw another clip from Murphy in a segment from The Daily Show. This time she was discussing birthright citizenship and the “anchor baby” issue. The Daily Show‘s clip was so completely outrageous, I looked up the interview that the clip was pulled from to make sure Murphy wasn’t taken out of context. She wasn’t, but more on that in a bit.

When I found the full interview (watch it here), I saw that Murphy again threw out a statistic that sounded preposterous on its face. At the two minute mark in the immigration debate Murphy says:

In prisons, half—half—the prisoners in California are illegal aliens.

She even pauses for effect. I can find no study, report, or government data to support that assertion. In January, the Sacramento Bee cited California state government data that put the number at 13 percent. This incoherent Fox News scare story (note that the final few graphs negate the entire premise of the article) puts the number at 12.4 percent (that figure is as of 2004, which the article says is the most recent year figures were available).

The only support I can find for Murphy’s claim is this passage from a 2005 Investors Business Daily editorial:

Some estimates show illegals now make up half of California’s prison population, creating a massive criminal subculture that strains state budgets and creates a nightmare for local police forces.

It isn’t clear what “some estimates” means. The claim is unsourced. My guess is that the figure comes from the same number crunchers who gave us Lou Dobbs’ Mexicans-and-leprosy figures. This particular IBD passage was excerpted by Newsmax in 2006, and has since been cut-and-pasted by immigration opponents on message boards all over the Internet. (Murphy’s underlying premise is wrong, too. The evidence increasingly shows that border cities and states have lower crime rates than the rest of the country.)

So where did Murphy get her “half” figure? I’d hate to think an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law would carelessly pull a bogus statistic from Internet message boards, then repeat the figure to a television audience. But then, we’re talking about the same woman who once said that disgraced North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong “deserves to be promoted and celebrated.”

Murphy’s continuing saturation of the cable news airwaves is nauseating. Her punditry career should have ended with the Duke lacrosse case, when she appeared all over cable news to defend Nifong and to damn the falsely accused lacrosse players, first prematurely, then even as it became clear to the rest of the world that they were innocent. (As late as last year Murphy was still griping about the lacrosse case). K.C. Johnson wrote of Murphy at the time, “In addition to the outrageous quotes highlighted above, on at least 18 occasions over the past nine months, Murphy has made demonstrably untrue statements. She also has engaged in a pattern of wholly unfounded speculation and has routinely denigrated due process.” Johnson ably shows his work in that post.

To my knowledge Murphy never apologized for repeatedly slandering the Duke players (she once claimed, with no evidence, that they had “ripped open” the accuser’s vagina). Yet her punditry career took off. She was rewarded with a book contract and dozens more TV appearances. William Anderson noted earlier this year that Murphy was recently invited onto the Today show to vouch for Catoosa County, Georgia’s shameful sex abuse persecution of Tonya Craft. (Craft was acquitted on all counts.)

In a 2007 interview with the American Journalism Review, here’s how Murphy justified going on TV to publicly convict potentially innocent people in spite of the evidence against them:

“Lots of folks who voiced the prosecution position in the beginning [of the Duke case] gave up because they faced a lot of criticism, and that’s never my style.” She notes that she’s invited on cable shows to argue for a particular side. “You have to appreciate my role as a pundit is to draw inferences and make arguments on behalf of the side which I’m assigned,” she says. “So of course it’s going to sound like I’m arguing in favor of ‘guilty.’ That’s the opposite of what the defense pundit is doing, which is arguing that they’re innocent.”

It’s all theater, you see. She’s just playing a part. It’s fine if she slanders some people, ruins some reputations, spouts flat falsehoods, and generally dumbs down the public discourse. Because it’s just entertainment. It’s what pundits do.

The sad thing is, Murphy is mostly right. Cable news is about lining people up on either side and letting them go at it. There’s no room for subtlety. There’s certainly no time for fact-checking a guest’s claims, even after the segment airs. Murphy is pretty, provocative, and confrontational. She’s great TV. That she’s inaccurate, slanderous, and hysterical is beside the point.

Let’s get back to that segment on immigration. Here’s what Murphy had to say about birthright citizenship:

I know we’re talking about babies, and it’s hard to be tough on babies, but let’s remember, we’re talking about illegal aliens coming to this country for the purpose of birthing a child, not because they love the kid, but because they want the child to provide them with the benefits of U.S. citizenship. In other words, that’s not the kind of child who’s going to be raised well and be a productive citizen. The child is barely loved. It’s more like a thing and a commodity than a human being.

At some point you have to wonder, is it even possible to be too shameless for cable news?

Digg it |  reddit | |  Fark

51 Responses to “Cable News: Where Being Loud Trumps Being Wrong”

  1. #1 |  Waste93 | 

    I’ve heard the statistic also. Though when I heard it I think they said half of those in federal prison. Wonder if they dropped the federal part to make it sound more dramatic.

  2. #2 |  Aresen | 

    At some point you have to wonder, is it even possible to be too shameless for cable news?


    I’d hate to think an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law would carelessly pull a bogus statistic from Internet message boards

    She, and lots of other ‘professors’, would (assuming they didn’t pull them out of their asses). (cf. Krugmann, Paul)

  3. #3 |  Ben | 

    Does this make you less likely to appear on Stossel again because of the pit bull style debate cable news shows use? Does it matter if she is the opponent? (I could see that go two ways “Yes I’d loooove to argue against the opponent who spouts baseless statistics” or “No, I won’t debate with someone who pulls numbers out of their…”)

  4. #4 |  Mario | 

    Cable shows are to real news what the WWE is to real wrestling. It’s just entertainment, folks. Only, just as there are people who believe professional wrestling is real, there are people who believe that they’re informed by watching the “debates” on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc.

  5. #5 |  Bob | 

    New Cable Reality show! “Bullshit talks!” on the show, media pundits compete to interject the most bullshit into a series of fake news stories. Anyone using bullshit that can be disproved by an average viewer after he’s been given a computer connected to the internet and 20 minutes of sobering up time is forced to undergo a weekly challenge phase that kicks one pundit off the show! Only completely unfounded, unverifiable bullshit is allowed to pass without challenge.

    Any pundit that actually says something that’s true is immediately fired from the show in disgrace.

    Then, every week, people watching the show are interviewed to see if they think it’s a real news show or a Reality Show. If they think it’s a real news show, they receive the Cable News “Excellence in Viewing” award.

    Fuck, I’d probably watch that.

  6. #6 |  J sub D | 

    And it’s not even good entertainment. Here’s some good debate entertainment –

    Jane Curtin: Safe abortions have always been available to the rich, Dan. You simply want to deny them to the poor, and if you succeed, poor woman will be forced to get them anyway. They’ll be forced into the alleys with hangers, plungers and vacuum cleaners, risking death or mutilation. But you’d like that, wouldn’t you, Dan, you sadistic, elitist, sexist, racist, anti-humanist pig!

    Dan Aykroyd: Jane, you ignorant, misguided slut! Once again, you missed the point entirely. [ enraged ] Why should I pay hard-earned dollars so welfare tarts can have sex anytime they want, without regards to consequences? Haven’t these bimbos heard of abstinence? I, myself, haven’t had sex for two years – and I’m rich! Why should I foot the bill for killing unborn infants, anyway? I’ll pay for something practical like sterilization – but abortions? Never! With one exception – if I had been around when your mother was having you, not only would I have paid for the abortion, but I would have performed it myself!

  7. #7 |  qwints | 

    John Stewart did an excellent job of deconstructing television ‘debate’ during has classic Crossfire appearance. Unfortunately, unlike those who believe professional wrestling is real, true believers in cable news are likely to hurt more than just themselves.

  8. #8 |  InMD | 

    The really terrifying part is what would probably be found if we researched the claims of every single pundit on these stations. I’d wager that the gross distortions, conflicts of interest, and flat out falsities would make this preposterous woman look like a breath of fresh air.

  9. #9 |  ClubMedSux | 

    At some point you have to wonder, is it even possible to be too shameless for cable news?

    As long as Nancy Grace is on TV the answer is pretty clear.

  10. #10 |  Tom | 

    When I saw you two debate, I thought she was a biatch. She was smug and arrogant. Good to see her proven wrong.

  11. #11 |  Mattocracy | 

    Wendy Murphy obviously has no conscience. People with a conscience actually show some compassion and care about their integrity as well as that of others. People without a conscience either become serial killers, cops, politicians, or political pundits. You can’t reason with these people. You can only defeat them.

  12. #12 |  flukebucket | 

    After a while it all gets mind numbing. You get up one morning and home sales are better than they have been since Woodrow Wilson. A couple of days later a new report is out that shows home sales are almost certainly guaranteeing the worst depression since Hoover. And you don’t know if either statement is true unless you take a couple of days off work to do some investigative journalism.

    24 hour news has done more to destroy this country than Al Qaeda or the Taliban ever will.

    Fuck it. Just another day in the Garden of Allah

  13. #13 |  dsmallwood | 

    It’s all theater, you see. She’s just playing a part . . . Because it’s just entertainment …

    I would be willing to accept that if she didn’t come on air flashing some credentials. when Bill Maher says some S***, we know he’s just a former actor. but she cloaks herself in her credentials. she can’t have it both ways.


  14. #14 |  Kristen | 


    A basic knowledge of HTML tags will get you by. Here’s a good starting point:

  15. #15 |  PogueMahone | 

    I realize that when TDS and Colbert Report cuts statements from TV pundits mid-sentence or in mid-argument that maybe the full context of what they are being ignored in order to make for a good joke – but I still trust anything they do over cable news punditry.
    But just because they might ignore the full argument, doesn’t mean they discount it in their mockery. When I read a few years ago that most young people get news from TDS and Colbert, I thought… good. It’s more reliable than cable TV news.

    It’s all theater, you see. She’s just playing a part.

    Maybe Murphy should just play the part. Maybe she should apply for a “correspondence” position for either TDS or Colbert. She could play the part of a racist, ignorant, man-hating bitch Republican void of fact or reason. After all, she’s been practicing it for years. She’s got quite the stellar resume.


  16. #16 |  ClassAction | 

    What’s crazy is that Stewart didn’t play the rest of her clip! Calling babies of illegal immigrants “things” and “commodities” is far more reprehensible than just the part he actually quoted!

  17. #17 |  Dakota | 

    I don’t say this often but…..”What a Bitch”.

    And that screen cap makes her look like Marshall Applewhite:

  18. #18 |  dingdongdugong | 

    Nancy Grace getting a tv show was a contributing factor to me getting rid of cable tv.

  19. #19 |  Marty | 

    when her sex scandal comes around, I’ll be interested in the details…

  20. #20 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Great another cupid stunt like Nancy Grace.

  21. #21 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    If you can sleep at night, you can make a lot of money doing political theater. No one ever went broke by “Tell ’em what they want to hear.”

  22. #22 |  Andrew S. | 

    #20 | Steve Verdon | August 12th, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Great another cupid stunt like Nancy Grace.

    She’s a Nancy Grace carbon copy. She’s also a regular on Nancy’s show (and is probably Nancy’s favorite regular guest)

    OT: Couple of weeks back I was somewhere where, through no choice of my own, I had the privilege of listening to a portion of Nancy Grace’s abysmal show. They were talking about a case (didn’t catch the beginning) of where the parents of a young child had been torturing the kid by chaining him up. Bad stuff. The police officer she had on talking about it mentioned they were on bail, and Nancy starts frothing at the mouth. She had four other guests on at the time. She asks the first whether it’s right that they get bail. Explained that bail is not punishment, yadda yadda yadda, and that they’re not a danger to the community and it’s a requirement that they be given bail. She asks the second person the same question — this time louder than the first. Second person gives her the same answer. She asks the third person, even louder. She gets the same answer. Finally, she gets to the fourth person. By this point she’s practically screaming. That one gave her the answer she wanted to hear (they’re horrible people and should burn in jail without trial!), she calmed down a bit, talked about how she was right, and quickly went to commercial.

    How do people WATCH that stuff? Why is she on the air? Why was she not completely humiliated as a human being after all the questionable things she did when she was a prosecutor?

  23. #23 |  Jack | 

    Wendy Murphy’s favorite song:

  24. #24 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Wendy Murphy is just the latest proof (as if more were needed) that you don’t need a brain to be on cable. Or, paraphrasing the Tom Tom Club, “Who needs to think when your mouth just roars?”

  25. #25 |  D | 

    This makes perfect sense. Everybody knows 78% of all statistics are made up.

  26. #26 |  B | 

    Come on, Radley.

    She’s not *that* pretty.

  27. #27 |  Henry Bowman | 

    It’s remarkable that she is able to read the minds and emotions of illegals aliens who have babies. Perhaps she should change her name to Rasputin or something similar.

  28. #28 |  Ben | 

    I went to NESL and hate that my school has associated itself with this bullshit merchant. I never had a class with her, but judging by her manner of argument, I’m sure if I had, I would have spent a long semester rolling my eyes.

  29. #29 |  StrongStyle81 | 

    Real quick off topic thing – I’ve been an on/off wrestling fan since Hogan took on Andre. My highest interest period was during the Monday Night Wars. I have never, EVER met another wrestling fan who thought wrestling was real. There probably were back in the 70’s and earlier when the business still protected itself against the “it’s not real” thing. These days, the WWE bends over backwards to let the fans know its just entertainment and not real. WWE doesn’t even call it professional wrestling anymore, they call it sports entertainment. The only thing Vince McMahon can further do to let his audience know what they are seeing is entertainment is stamp a “THIS IS NOT REAL” graphic on their television shows. Unlike….

    Fox News, that has the audacity to proclaim that it is an informative news source that has time and time again been proven a weak facade. Fox News provides entertaining propaganda. Wendy Murphy is the perfect example of this. Anyone who followed the Duke lacrosse case knew that this woman was either an idiot or full of shit. She was literally the last person on the planet who thought those lacrosse players were guilty. The fact that after that fiasco that cable news still puts this woman on TV just shows that they have a complete lack of respect and an utter disregard for truth and integrity. Unlike…

    Professional wrestlers who have an absolute love for the truth of what they do. I would invite people to watch shoot interviews of people like Terry Funk, Harley Race and Raven(who has a genius level IQ) and they’ll get more truth in half an hour about a given subject(even if it is just wrestling) than ten hours of cable news and you might actually laugh at more.

    This comment wasn’t written because I felt a need to defend wrestling because I felt one of my entertainment choices slighted. I just thought it was interesting that it was brought up twice in the comments. And it makes for an interesting comparison with the state of the mainstream news media in regards to cable news. One blatantly distorts the truth(Wendy Murphy/Fox News) while the other subtly implies it(wrestling.)

    By the way, my chosen online handle StrongStyle, is a style of Japanese professional wrestling as practiced by NOAH Pro Wrestling and New Japan.

    Bonus: This has nothing to do with anything, so feel free to ignore it. Terry Funk was wrestling heel(bad guy) in a gym in a small town. He beat his opponent and did some trash talking to the fans as he walking back to locker room area. This is back in the 70’s. A fan stabbed Terry Funk in the neck, but all Terry felt was a small, sharp pain. He thought it was he was hit in the back of the neck with a dart that a fan threw. So he walked up to another wrestler and pointed to his neck saying, “you see this? This is tough.” He then walked into the locker room. When he looked in the mirror the Funkster nearly passed out from the shock of seeing a knife sticking out of his neck.

  30. #30 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “It’s all theater, you see.”

    When you write the truth, Radley, it really hits home.

    If you don’t like the play, don’t go to the show.

  31. #31 |  Cornellian | 

    “I’d hate to think an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law would carelessly pull a bogus statistic from Internet message boards”

    New England School of Law is about one notch above a “get your degree over the internet” school and an adjunct means they let her teach a course there because they couldn’t find a real professor who wanted to do it.

  32. #32 |  Radley Balko | 

    If you don’t like the play, don’t go to the show.

    I don’t know what this means.

    Are you saying I shouldn’t be writing about this stuff, or going on TV to argue it?

    Or that I shouldn’t watch cable news?

    If it’s the latter, I really don’t. If it’s the former, where would you go to leave comments telling everyone it’s all hopeless and they should stop trying?

  33. #33 |  BadExampleMan | 

    #2 OT, but did you just equate this clownish harpy and a Nobel Prize-winning economist? Really?

    Well, I eagerly await your long list of Professor Krugman’s totally bogus statistics.

  34. #34 |  Kevin Carson | 

    Somewhere an ex-husband wakes up humming.

  35. #35 |  CHRISC | 

    Seeing Murphy’s appearances before, I have learnedto turn them off so I don’t get sick in my cheerios. But she is a former prosecutor, and I always wonder if some vicious sick people aren’t drawn to that profession the same way some bad cops gravitate to SWAT. She certainly has profited at the expense of other people, both victims and the accused. I think the only place you will find the source of her statistics is the bathroom, cuz she pulls them out from someplace in there….

  36. #36 |  Cynical in CA | 


    Of all the things I comment on here, this is what you choose to respond to, Radley? A one-off throw-away observation of how cable news is strictly entertainment (pandering, more like it), which should be obvious to anyone with a brain?

    I thought we had an agreement — that I’d amuse myself, and occasionally others, with my narcissistic quasi-rants, and you’d pretend I didn’t exist. Guess I was wrong.

    Anyhoo, you have as much chance of influencing Fox News’ programming decisions as I, or anyone else. We’ll see how much longevity your target has in this instance, I’m guessing she rates pretty well given Fox’s audience.

    For the record, it was the former. Please, please, please, don’t stop writing about this stuff. I’d have to find a new host organism and all that, much too inconvenient. And I’d have to stop referring to you in my discussions with others about these very interesting subjects and helping build your web traffic.

    And, I don’t mean to infer that you’re obtuse, Radley, but my theme is not hopelessness — it’s the hopelessness of electoral politics and democracy in general — it’s that your avenue of choice is hopeless. There is plenty of hope for those that eschew the State and seek non-violent solutions. Having had the displeasure of reading me these last couple of years, I would have thought that might have gotten through to you by now.

    I might also take this opportunity to remind you that in this one little corner of the cyberuniverse, you are the master and may exile me at your whim forever and ever. What’s stopping you?

  37. #37 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Correction above: “former” should be “latter.” But really it doesn’t matter to me whether you write about cable news or watch it — it’s a free country.

    Another point of clarification, my original post was a sincere compliment — concise statements of truth are things of beauty.

  38. #38 |  Daniel S. | 

    Since you cited an Investor’s Business Daily editorial as the only source you could find for the 50% of prisoners statistic, I just wanted to remind everyone that IBD is the newspaper that published an editorial claiming that that the National Health Service would have let Stephen Hawking die to save money. You know, because that is what “socialists” do. Apparently, they were confused by his computer’s lack of a British accent and thus assumed he must be an American.

  39. #39 |  josephineMO7 | 

    I have to say she is part right.. I, many years ago before I knew better, sat in a wic office listening to South American woman talk about their kids just the way she was saying.. Now you have to understand the office I went to also pushed the depo shot hard. These woman were more than willing to get them saying they only needed the one kid. If you talked to the men, usually outside, they would mention their kids in Mexico or other countries that they hadn’t seen. They left their wives and children in S.A to be impoverished and starving to come over here and have the one baby that would get them citizenship.. They talked like they had hit the jack pot. How hard it was to get over here and how much they got from the government.. Fact are if we ended welfare and opened the borders, these people would leave and others like them would never come.. I bet we would get a good bit coming over for real work though.. Which I am all for. But to pretend that some people are coming over here, from many countries, to have babies so they can live off the system, meaning our tax dollars, isn’t doing anyone any favors. The baby is a paycheck and if you subsidize something you get more of it..

    And yes I do realize that American woman get knocked up on purpose to get a paycheck from Daddy for the same reasons.. Because they can and the government helps them do it..

  40. #40 |  Frank | 

    Wendy Murphy is a shrieking nut. No matter what the circumstances or evidence,the accused (particularly if it’s a man) is allways guilty.

  41. #41 |  tb | 

    Murphy threw out a statistic that only 2 percent of sex offenders are actually on sex offender registries. I’m still not sure where she got that figure.

    Rectally sourced, I’m sure.

    I wonder if the opposite is true: that only 2% of those on sex offender registries are actually sex offenders.

    I suspect my version is closer to correct than hers.

  42. #42 |  tb | 

    Murphy threw out a statistic that only 2 percent of sex offenders are actually on sex offender registries.

    If true, doesn’t this make the registries – at best – useless?

    It creates a false sense of security – just like the TSA.

  43. #43 |  StevefromOhio | 


    Well, duh. If they didn’t commit a crime why would they be charged with one?

    Turn on your TV, prole, and stop thinking. It’s dangerous.

  44. #44 |  Cable News Switcheroo | The Agitator | 

    […] York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield riffs on my post about Wendy Murphy yesterday and tells this amusing tale from the cable TV trenches: Way back when MSNBC used to do 6 […]

  45. #45 |  George Arndt | 

    It’s just strawman after strawman on cable

  46. #46 |  Duncan20903 | 

    When Oswald shot Kennedy, he was insane
    But still we watch the re-runs again and again
    We all sit glued while the killer takes aim
    “Hey Mom, there goes a piece of the president’s brain!”

    -The Kinks

  47. #47 |  bud | 

    “Murphy has made demonstrably untrue statements…”

    Let me illustrate, grasshopper, why this should be no surprise.

    Two old jokes:

    How do you know a politician is lying?
    His lips are moving.

    Lawyer: the larval form of politician.

  48. #48 |  On Cable News | The Agitator | 

    […] then there’s what you might call the Wendy Murphy Problem, which is that in the world of cable news, things move so fast, the soundbites are so short, the […]

  49. #49 |  On Cable News | The Agitator | 

    […] then there’s what you might call the Wendy Murphy Problem, which is that in the world of cable news, things move so fast, the soundbites are so short, the […]

  50. #50 |  Morning Links | The Agitator | 

    […] prosecutor, frequent fabricator, and serial slanderer Wendy Murphy, best known for going on cable news and making shit up . . . apparently teaches journalism seminars at […]

  51. #51 |  Why the Mainstream Media Never Seems to Learn Any Lessons of History | The Agitator | 

    […] involving alleged child molestation and rape, one often sees Wendy Murphy interviewed, and, as Radley has pointed out, Murphy has a history of telling whoppers. She is not an expert in any sense of the word, but because she is inflammatory, reporters will […]