Part 2—What Jay Carney said: If it wasn’t for facts which are bungled, misleading or false, would we have any facts at all?
Sometimes, it seems we wouldn’t. Bogus facts have come to play a leading role in our pitiful discourse, especially as the discourse has become more tribal.
Tribal groups like to generate “facts” which seem to support preferred policy goals. They’re too lazy to argue the genuine merits of their proposals. So they gin up a few helpful “facts.”
It seems that something like this occurred on February 2, when former journalist Jay Carney dispensed the following highlighted “facts.” Carney, now the Obama press sec, was discussing the administration’s original proposal concerning contraception coverage:
CARNEY (2/2/12): In some of the commentary about it, there's been some misstatements about what it actually does. No individual will be required to use or prescribe contraception. This rule does not force anyone with a religious objection, such as a Catholic doctor, to prescribe or provide contraception. It merely requires that insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives to patients who want them, which is the recommendation of the non-partisan Institute of Medicine.At one time, Carney was a journalist. This may explain why he was comfortable offering those highlighted statements. At any rate, the highlighted part of Carney’s statement launched a thousand factual claims. It seems that many of these claims have turned out to be false or misleading.
And it's important to note that doctors prescribe contraception for medical and health reasons, including helping to reduce the risk of some cancers.
It's also important to know, because I think this has not been clear in some of the commentary, that the policy maintains the religious-employer exemption. Churches are not required, they're exempt. Other houses of worship are not required, they're exempt, to cover contraception.
So it's also important to note that as we developed this policy and found what we believe is the appropriate balance, that 28 states, more than half—28 states in the country have laws with contraception-coverage mandates. Over half of Americans already live in those 28 states. Several of those states, like North Carolina, New York and California, have identical religious-employer exemptions. Some states, like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all—no exemption for churches or other houses of worship.
If it weren’t for misleading facts, would we have facts at all?
Let’s be clear: The highlighted part of Carney’s statement can be defended as technically accurate. According to all the reporting we’ve seen, 28 states actually do “have laws with contraception-coverage mandates.” Over half of us rubes do live in those states. Some of those states do have religious-employer exemptions which are, at least on the surface, identical to the exemptions found in the original Obama proposal—the proposal Carney was discussing that day. According to the Washington Post, some states do have “no exemption at all—no exemption for churches or other houses of worship.”
At least on the surface.
As far as we know, every part of Carney’s statement can be defended as technically accurate. Unfortunately, the statement also seems to have been misleading in various ways. The Washington Post discussed some of these factual problems in a recent news report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/21/12); a few days earlier, the New York Times had called attention to one apparent problem (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/12). But supporters of the Obama proposal quickly began repeating Carney’s factual claims, in a wide variety of ways. We rubes were told, again and again, the 28 states already make the kinds of demands encompassed within the Obama proposal. This alleged fact allegedly showed that the bishops’ objections to Obama’s proposal were hypocritical or bogus, we rubes were frequently told.
None of this has a thing to do with the actual merits of Obama’s proposal, whether in its original form or in the amended version. But you know how our discourse works! Supporters of various proposals are often too lazy, or too tribalized, to argue the actual merits. Instead, they look for shortcuts. They may be especially drawn to shortcuts which help us see that The Other Tribe is really a big gang of hypocrites! Unlike us! We’re OK!
In this case, supporters of Obama’s proposal were quick to help the proposal along with some bungled or misleading facts. The widespread claims about those 28 states track to Carney’s statement.
Within our discourse, where do facts come from? In this instance, Carney’s misleading factual statements launched a thousand ships. But a second statement, released the next day, was quite widely ignored. That statement came from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a group which tormented our earliest years, making Sunday the most horrible day of the week; their statement seems to have identified some of the flaws with Carney’s claims. In this part of their rebuttal, the bishops frisked one part of Carney’s statement:
U. S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS (2/3/12):However a person may judge the merits of Obama’s original or amended proposal, that highlighted statement seems to be accurate (and relevant). But this rebuttal launched very few ships. Everyone heard about 28 states. Few people heard about self-insurance, or about the ways the proposed federal mandate would exceed the reach of the laws found in most (perhaps all) of those states.
Claim: "Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these states, like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions. Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all."
Response: This misleads by ignoring important facts, and some of it is simply false. All the state mandates, even those without religious exemptions, may be avoided by self-insuring prescription drug coverage, by dropping that particular coverage altogether, or by taking refuge in a federal law that pre-empts any state mandates (ERISA).None of these havens is available under the federal mandate. It is also false to claim that North Carolina has an identical exemption...
Over and over, people were told about 28 states. It was only this week that the Washington Post did a first news report about the laws in those states. The New York Times still hasn’t bothered.
But then, what else is new? When it comes to the coverage of domestic politics, the Times is a long-running joke.
In the end, none of this speaks to the actual merits of the Obama proposal, however one may judge those merits. It does speak to the dishonest ways we generate “facts” in our culture. Indeed, bogus facts have played the key role in our debates down through the years:
In similar ways, we the people got conned into thinking that “no one was talking about Medicare cuts” back in the mid-1990s. In that case, the misleading facts were aggressively pimped by Newt Gingrich and his minions. These misleading “facts” were then widely advanced by the lost souls of our mainstream “press corps.”
(Bill Clinton got branded a LIAR in the process, although he was telling the truth. You see, conservative power was gaining force in DC—and our “journalists” wanted to serve.)
In similar ways, Fox News viewers are currently being told that “gas prices have doubled under Obama.” As with Carney’s claim about the 28 states, that claim is technically accurate—and it’s grossly misleading.
Where do facts come from in our world? Often, they come right out of partisan asses! Cable hustlers then shout them along, justifying swollen salaries. We the rubes begin to believe that we’ve heard the actual facts. We don’t understand that we’re being misled by folk who may not be real honest.
In this way, the dumbness spreads. So does the tribal division. At one time, this was an artifact of the right.
Our side has been catching up fast.
Tomorrow: Facts are dead—long live legends!