In Viral Clip, MSNBC's Brian Williams, 'NYT' Editorial Board Member Get Math on Bloomberg Completely Wrong

A factually incorrect tweet from journalist Mekita Rivas got more credit than it deserved on Thursday, when it was read on the air by MSNBC's Brian Williams.

The tweet criticized Michael Bloomberg's spending on his now-suspended presidential campaign, saying that the $500 million in campaign-ad spending could've instead been given to the 327 million people living in the United States, guaranteeing each person $1 million. Williams featured the tweet on his show, The 11th Hour, and he and his guest, New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay, took it at face value.

MSNBC's Brian Williams and NYT Editorial Board member Mara Gay do the math and conclude that Journalist Mekita Rivas is right, with the $500 million Bloomberg spent on ads he could have given $1 million to every American.

— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) March 6, 2020

Of course, the math in Rivas' tweet makes no sense. Bloomberg's campaign would've only been able to give each American about $1.50, not $1 million.

"When I read it tonight on social media, it kind of all became clear," Williams said during Thursday's segment. "It's an incredible way of putting it."

Gay agreed with Williams. "It's an incredible way of putting it," she said. "It's true."

Later in the broadcast, during another segment, Williams apologized for the error. "While I have you both and our audience paying attention, turns out Mara and I got the same grades at math. I'm speaking of the tweet we both misinterpreted. He could give each American $1," he said. "Again, I didn't have it in high school. I don't have it tonight. I stand corrected. Sorry about that. The tweet is wrong."

The official Twitter account for The 11th Hour also sent out an apology and correction.

Tonight on the air we quoted a tweet that relied on bad math. We corrected the error after the next commercial break and have removed it from later editions of tonight’s program. We apologize for the error.

— 11th Hour (@11thHour) March 6, 2020

Rivas' Twitter account, meanwhile, is currently private, but many people have been sharing screenshots of her original tweet online. She updated her bio with a response to critics: "I know, I'm bad at math."

Gay joked about the error on Twitter. "Buying a calculator, brb," she wrote.

Buying a calculator, brb 🙈

— Mara Gay (@MaraGay) March 6, 2020
Brian Williams
Moderator Brian Williams watches a video which pays tribute to late moderator Tim Russert during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios June 22, 2008 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

Many people on Twitter have criticized Williams and Gay for their error. Journalist Michael Tracey wrote how much money Bloomberg would actually need to have in order to give each person a million dollars. Daily Wire reporter Ryan Saavedra wrote that the actual amount Bloomberg's ad spending would measure out to would be $1.53 per person.

Mara Gay of the New York Times and Brian Williams of MSNBC claimed tonight that Mike Bloomberg could have given every American one million dollars and still had money left over afterwards. I didn't realize Mike Bloomberg had $327 trillion dollars 😂

— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) March 6, 2020

MSNBC’s Brian Williams reads a tweet: "Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. U.S. Population, 327 million. He could have given each American $1 million"

NYT Editorial Board Member Mara Gay: “It’s an incredible way of putting it. It’s true. It’s disturbing”

It's $1.53 per person

— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) March 6, 2020

Another Twitter user noted that the show's production staff is as at fault for the mistake as Williams and Gay, and characterized the criticisms of Gay as sexist and racist.

#BrianWilliams, @MaraGay & @MSNBC producers are responsible for this error which is egregious, sloppy journalism. I see @Twitter mostly attacking her not Williams which smacks of the usual racism/sexism but that's not my point.

— Julia Carreon (@juliaccarreon) March 6, 2020

Some Twitter users approached the gaffe with humor. The Babylon Bee writer Frank J. Fleming suggested giving Williams a $5 bill and asking for two $10 bills back as an easy way to get rich quick. Another person referenced Williams passing comment, "Don't tell us if you're ahead of us on the math."

One way to get rich is to keep asking Brian Williams to give you two tens for a five.

— Frank J. Fleming (@IMAO_) March 6, 2020

Don’t tell Brian Williams if you are ahead of him on the math. Please don’t.

— Rastakhiz (@sedaye_iran) March 6, 2020

Still, some people defended the two for the simple mistake. Time editor Anand Giridharadas made sure to share a column Gay published on Friday about Southern Democrats helping former Vice President Joe Biden become the frontrunner in the Democratic primary.

No wonder @MaraGay was tired.

A magnificent column based on days of deep reporting across the South.

"Through Southern eyes, this election is not about policy or personality. It's about something much darker."

— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) March 6, 2020