Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cavuto's Paranoid Census Rant

I just caught the tail-end of a short segment about the U.S. census on Nutjob Cavuto's show. Being the fair-minded soul that he is, the entire segment consisted of Cavuto asking Meghan Clyne "why do they need to know this stuff (things like the estimated worth of homes, number of cars per household, time people leave for work, etc)?" Given that Ms. Clyne's Census credentials seem to be limited to carping on about how awful it is in the NY Post, it's not surprising that most of her responses were along the lines of "Who knows?" Except, of course, when she went on a rant about how "The data will probably be used to justify leftist causes and big government programs." Like what, the bus?

What I loved is that instead of ACTUALLY trying to find out why the census was asking so many questions, say, maybe, by asking someone from the CENSUS bureau (it's a whole bureau, I'm sure they've got someone in P.R.) Cavuto just took potshots for five minutes. There was not a single "question" that wasn't phrased negatively: "Now, the census... it didn't used to be this invasive, did it?"

Apparently Fox has been beating the Census-is-evil drum for a little while now. I can potentially understand people's argument about too much government invasiveness, but this weird combination of half-hearted annoyed shrug and crazed paranoid "What are you going to do with my data?" Cavuto speculated -- with zero evidence, of course--that the Census Bureau was going to start sending filed to the IRS to trap people who seemed like they might be cheating on their taxes. Cavuto said this was totally likely, since "they're both under the Treasury Department." First of all, I'm pretty sure that's super-illegal, not to mention against the self-imposed privacy guidelines the Census promises to follow when it collects your data. Second, of course, if Neil had bothered to do a simple Google search (or say, read a news article-- you guys can read NEWS at Fox News, right Neil? Or is there a filter on over there?), he'd know that the Census Bureau is under the Commerce Department. Whoops. Oh well. Continue the crazy strawman!

The best part of Cavuto's rant against the super-intrusive Census was that he wasn't actually talking about the real Census-- which is only 10 questions this year, a significant decrease from previous ones-- he was talking about a supplemental survey that is sent to every 40th American household, or about 3 million Americans. Not insignificant, but hardly Big Brother beating down your door. Also, I'm assuming these surveys, unlike the actual Census, are probably optional? Funny thing, though, most of the time, Neil kept raging about the actual Census, not bothering to differentiate the two, even though Clyne, to her (limited) credit, actually mentioned a few times, "Well at least they didn't put these on the real Census." Hmm... Nothing like keeping your viewers informed, right?

Personally, I have a far different take on the Census- as a genealogist, I love the census, because it's a treasure-trove of information about ancestors and other relatives. Cavuto might claim that asking "How many times have you been married?" But in my experience, sometimes those random questions are how you find really remarkable tidbits of family history. It doesn't alleviate the concern about privacy rights, but it does go a little further as far as justifying "Why do they need to know this stuff?"

Oh yeah, another thing, Neil. If people don't want to give real answers... they'll just lie. Trust me, my relatives did it for decades. Somehow everytime the census-taker came around, my great-grandmother would still stay the same age. Either she had a Fountain of Youth in the back of her tenement, or there was some "creative math" going on.

Hat-tip for help finding Clyne's entertaining background and essay:

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