24 March 2010

Fact check the future! Journalism #fail in the health care debate

The Associated Press is running a story entitled "FACT CHECK: Spinning the new health care law." From the article:
The tumultuous health care debate that brought you death panels and socialism has spun off a catalog of popular myths that will keep growing as President Barack Obama and all sides battle toward the midterm elections this fall.
At a White House signing ceremony Tuesday, Obama ventured the hope that Americans on all sides will judge the legislation for what it actually says and does. "When I sign this bill," he declared, "all of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform."
Wishful thinking, Mr. President.
Facts are stubborn, the saying goes. But myths about the legislation are likely to persist as well. And a lot of people don't agree on which is which.
"People have taken away from the debate a number of beliefs about the bill that are very difficult to shake based on objective reports," said Robert Blendon, a Harvard public health professor who follows opinion trends. "There is enough skepticism out there that questions about how it's going to help the country are likely to continue."
Here's a look at some of the myths and realities, from both sides of the issue...
Ok, I'm skeptical (this is the MSM after all), but so far, so good. The opening suggests that someone will actually examine the legislation and compare what people have said about the bill, to what the bill actually says...right? Wrong. Let me quote three of the six myths stated in this article:
  • Health care overhaul is going to lower your health insurance premiums.
  • The Democratic bill will lead to government health care rationing.
  • The legislation will save Medicare from bankruptcy.
Now, the point of this blog post is decidedly not to examine each of these myths, because that is precisely what the article does. Furthermore, I'm not going to examine whether or not I agree with some of the myths (if you haven't figured it out yet, this blog post isn't really about health care). Perhaps you already understand why I picked these myths...

How can you possibly "fact check" any of these statements? The accuracy of these statements will be determined by events that occur in the future. They haven't even happened yet. Is it a fact that health care reform has lowered (or raised) my health insurance premiums? What information could I possibly use to fact-check this statement? Estimates of what might happen in the future are estimates for a reason; they're not facts. And that sort of eliminates the entire point of this exercise, does it not? How is this considered serious journalism?

One of the other myths ("Obama has put the nation on a slippery slope toward socialism") is a subjective, philosophical question to which there is, realistically, no true factual answer. The others ("You will be forced to pay for other people's abortions" and "The American people have already rejected Obamacare) are probably debatable myths; but consider that if only 1/3 of the article is even debatable as being relevant, we have already failed.
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