THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2020
How accurate were her statements?: Covid statistics are hard! So is the logic involved in any attempt to discuss the pandemic.
As we'll note this afternoon, discussing Covid is hard! In that respect, the mainstream press corps' attempts at this discussion resemble many other past attempts.
The corps' attempts at Covid discussion resembles their endless past attempts to discuss the nature of the Social Security trust fund. (In recent years, this topic, and this failed discussion, have basically disappeared.) They resemble the upper-end press corps' endlessly failed attempt to solve this endless riddle from the mid-1990s:
Was Newt Gingrich proposing Medicare cuts? Or was he simply slowing the rate at which the program would grow?
The corps' attempts at Covid discussion resemble their crazy, deeply destructive attempts to paraphrase an array of insignificant statements by Candidate Gore, the planet's biggest liar. (We ended up in Iraq.)
Also, the current attempts resemble the press corps' inability to explain the basic patterns on display in national test scores; to report or explain the astounding statistics about our massive health care spending; to report the statistics concerning the amount of lead exposure in Flint, and around the country, over the past thirty or forty years; and many failed topics more.
For our failing nation's failed elites, all discussion is hard! Except that in which they hide in the bushes outside Gary Hart's house, or in which they ask Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was really the best sex she'd ever had. Or in which they claim, on page one of the New York Times, that Candidate Hillary Clinton was sooo unfair to Gennifer Flowers!
These upper-end journalists today! They've often gone to the finest schools, but how much good has it done?
This brings us to Governor Noem's recent attempt to push back against all the guff to which the people of South Dakota had been unfairly exposed.
Governor Noem held a press event on November 18. Below, for the third and final time, you see the actual words she spoke that day. But what had she actually said?
NOEM (11/18/20): Across the country and around the globe, cases [of Covid-19] are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states.
Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in the state of South Dakota, and that is not true.
Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true.
There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states.
Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.
Several of the governor's claims in that passage are rather fuzzy. That makes them hard to paraphrase.
What had the governor actually said? Quickly, let's do the best we can:
The governor had long refused to order a mask mandate for her state. Although her statement was rather fuzzy, she seemed to say that this decision had played no role in South Dakota's rising number of Covid cases.
The governor had also refused to order a "lockdown." Again, she seemed to say that this had played no role in her state's increased number of cases.
How could the governor possibly know that these claims were accurate? Her logic, such as it may have been, may have been lodged in her next statement—in the accurate statement in which she noted that cases were also on the rise in almost every state which did have a mask mandate.
It's true! Mask mandates—even the widespread wearing of masks—can't necessarily, all by themselves, stop a state's cases from rising. If the governor was saying that cases would have increased in South Dakota even if there had been a mandate, then that statement was probably accurate.
Is that what the governor was saying? Given the fuzziness of her statements, it was hard to tell.
Now we come to the part of the governor's statement which is fairly straightforward. It also seems to be (basically) false. We refer to this aggrieved statement:
"Some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false."
Had "some in the media" really said "that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now?" (Worst in the word at what? Worst in cases? Worst in deaths? Worst in increases in cases or deaths? For the record, the governor didn't say.)
Had "some in the media" really said that South Dakota was "worst in the world?" The governor cited no examples, but given the massive sprawl of "the media," it's always possible that someone, somewhere, may have said something like that.
Any such claim would be "absolutely false," the aggrieved governor said. In fairness, it's entirely possible that her angry statement could be scored as correct.
But when we checked, we didn't find some in the media saying her state was worst. Instead, we found that many in the media had, in fact, been making statements like these, as found in USA Today four days before Noem's presser:
SHANNON (11/14/20): South Dakota welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to a massive motorcycle rally this summer, declined to cancel the state fair and still doesn't require masks. Now its hospitals are filling up and the state's COVID-19 death rate is among the worst in the world.
The situation is similarly dire in North Dakota...
North Dakota's COVID-19 death rates per capita in the past week are similar to those in the hardest-hit countries in the world right now–Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovenia–according to New York Times data. That data as of Saturday also places South Dakota's per capita deaths among the world's highest rates.
According to USA Today's Joel Shannon, South Dakota's "death rate" at that time was among the worst in the world. On November 17, a similar statement appeared in The Hill, Zack Budryk reporting (headline included):
BUDRYK (11/17/20): North Dakota records world's highest COVID-19 mortality rate
North Dakota’s coronavirus mortality rate is the highest of any U.S. state or country, according to an analysis of data from last week conducted by the Federation of American Scientists.
The analysis, first reported by HuffPost, shows that North Dakota has a rate of 18.2 deaths per 1 million people. South Dakota, meanwhile, has 17.4 deaths per million, the third-worst rate in the world. The states have a total population of under 2 million.
Actually, North Dakota was worst in the world, according to Budryk's report (and according to the HuffPost). More specifically, North Dakota had the worst mortality rate in the world—"a rate of 18.2 deaths per 1 million people." South Dakota was only third worst!
As he continued, Budryk posted the relevant data from the American Federation of Scientists. The chart explained what Budryk hadn't—South Dakota was experiencing 17.4 Covid deaths per million people on a weekly basis.
As noted, only North Dakota had a worse weekly death rate among the fifty states. Around the world, only one country had a worse rate than South Dakota. That one country was Czechia—the Czech Republic.
How bad was South Dakota's death rate? Gaze upon some other figures from the FAS chart:
Weekly deaths from Covid-19 per million population:
North Dakota: 18.2
Czech Republic: 18.0
South Dakota: 17.4
United States overall: 3.3
Southern states: 3.4
Northeastern states: 2.2Western states: 2.0
South Dakotans were dying at more than four times the rate of people from such lunkhead states as Arkansas, Georgia and Texas.
South Dakotans were dying at well over five times the rate of people nationwide. South Dakotans were dying at roughly eight times the rate of people in the once hard-hit Northeast. They were dying at more than eight times the rate of people in the west.
That's what "some in the media" had been saying as Governor Noem staged her presser. Some in the media had even said that mask mandates, and the actual wearing of masks, had helped reduce the death rates in those other states.
South Dakota wasn't the worst in the world, this highly appealing governor convincingly said. How did the press corps respond to such guff?
Please return tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Joyeux Noem!