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While you watched a tennis match, debt grew by $1.7 billion

Posted by Richard on June 25, 2010

Even non-tennis-fans like me are aware of and amazed by the Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which took 11 hours and 5 minutes (Isner won; I got it wrong when I first posted). Shortly after it ended, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida tweeted, "Think Wimbledon tickets are expensive? Our National Debt has gone up by $1,729,000,000 during the Isner v. Mahut match."

An interesting factoid. If true. The folks at the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact.com decided to fact-check his ass. They determined that not only was he right, he arrived at the number using the most conservative methodology (well, he is a conservative). 

PolitiFact.com initially assumed (quite reasonably, IMHO) that "during the Isner v. Mahut match" meant the time period from when it started until it ended — about two days. Depending on whether they used CBO numbers or OMB numbers, they came up with figures four to six times larger than Buchanan's: 

Why so different? We contacted Buchanan's office and an aide clarified that what they'd actually meant in the tweet was how much the debt had risen during the 11-hour, 5-minute match itself. (The match was suspended for darkness twice and there were delays on the third day to give extra rest time.)

So, using our first method, the 11-hour debt increase works out to $1.718 billion, while using the second, it's about $2.4 billion. Of these two, the first is spot-on.

Since the size of the federal debt is a moving target, and since economists periodically re-evaluate its size, we'll grant Buchanan leeway here. While we think the wording of his tweet suggests the full, 48-hour period, his 11-hour number strikes us as a reasonable estimate. So we rate his statement True. 

Not just true, but conservatively true. 🙂 

But what really gave me a laugh was the USA Today story about Buchanan's estimate. Although they quoted Buchanan's tweet, and thus had the correct number ($1,729,000,000), they described it in the headline as "$1.7T" — "T" as in trillion. That's off by a factor of 1000.

They've since corrected it, but a commenter, urbanrealtor, noted that they weren't exactly open and above-board in their handling of the gaffe: 

I like how when they fixed the error (originally this article said 1.7 Trillion) they deleted all the comments making fun of the mistake. 

They shouldn't have tried to cover their embarrassment by deleting comments (and wording their correction so vaguely). But I can understand their mistake. For one thing, in my experience, most journalists are extremely math-challenged. For another, in this Age of Obama, it's natural for all his MSM sycophants to assume that everything is in the trillions. [rimshot]

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