Pinnochios

It’s hardly news that the Washington Post isn’t a fan of Bernie Sanders. Case in point — a recent fact-check of the Vermont senator admitted he was right but awarded him three “Pinnochios” out of four anyway.

This comes from a review of Sanders’ claim that medical bills cause 500,000 bankruptcies a year. As part of their reporting on how Pinnochios-worthy this statistic was, they spoke to David U. Himmelstein, lead on a study into the subject published in March in the American Journal of Public Health. The Post asked Himmelstein if Sanders was citing his study. Himmelstein said yes.

“37 percent of filers said medical bills ‘very much’ contributed to their bankruptcy. Even if you use that restricted definition, then Sanders’s statement is accurate — or an underestimate,” Himmelstein told the Post. “There are about 700,000 bankruptcy filings each year. Many filings are joint husband/wife filings, and based on our past research, we estimate that on average 2.71 persons reside in each debtor’s household. So the total number of persons who undergo bankruptcy is about 1.9 million annually. 37 percent of 1.9 million is a bit over 700,000. Even if you only count the husband and wife in a filing, the number suffering a bankruptcy to which medical bills ‘very much’ contributed is about 500,000.”

The Post‘s Pinnochios, however, come from accusing Sanders of “cherry-picking” information, citing another study by economist Raymond Kluender that placed the number at a drastically lower 30,000. They also suggested that including people for whom medical debt was a contribution factor to bankruptcy but not the primary cause of bankruptcy was dishonest. That should be a gripe with Himmelstein’s study, but it was a gripe they leveled at Sanders.

Besides, if the newspaper were to give Pinnochios to anyone for citing that number, it should give itself three Pinnochios before Sanders or Himmelstein, as the Post‘s Paige Winfield Cunningham reported on the 530,000 medical bankruptcies figure in a February story about Medicaid expansion under attack in Utah.

The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has a very personal beef with Sanders. Not surprising, considering Sanders introduced a piece of legislation literally called the Stop BEZOS (Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies) Act last year. But this has reflected in the Post‘s reporting on Sanders from a deluge of anti-Sanders op-eds to slamming the calling out of that pattern as a Trumpian conspiracy theory.

But given the Post‘s claims that Sanders’ statistic was “cherry-picking,” the most transparent and hypocritical attack on Sanders has been quoting him out of context in an attempt to damage him. The Post admitted to cherry-picking of its own to paint Sanders as an opponent of bussing as a tool of integration while ignoring the essential part of the quote that bussing wasn’t working right because “the federal government doesn’t give a shit about black people” — the Post reporter admitted to intentionally not mentioning that part of the quote.

Cherry-picking is the intentional presentation of only supportive evidence, while withholding evidence that may undermine the argument being presented. Literally it is exactly what the Post engaged in in that interview.

For its disingenuous coverage of Sanders, Grit Post‘s fact checkers give the Washington Post three gimmicky symbols of dishonesty and faltering journalistic integrity out of four.

(Featured image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

 

Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *