Reporters Should Get Their “PolitiFacts” Straight on Obamacare

Mike Gonzalez /

Does calling a reporter a “fact checker” make him or her more even-handed? Hardly.

PolitiFact is a case in point. It is a website of the Tampa Bay Times, manned by journalists and editors. It purports to rule from on high on the veracity of political statements, assigning “Truth-O-Meter” ratings that range from True to “Pants on Fire.” It is all very droll, or painfully sophomoric, depending on where you stand politically. Studies by George Mason University and the University of Minnesota have concluded that PolitiFact is a biased outfit that is much harsher on conservatives than on liberals.

Last week, PolitiFact decided to rate statements on defunding Obamacare made by Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint at town hall meetings across the country. Well, these are not ratings made last week—PolitiFact just wrote on how it had rated these statements in the past. A bit of a summer rerun.

I checked with one of our top health care experts, Chris Jacobs, and this is what he told me on PolitiFact’s “ratings”: “The claims about ‘debunked’ statements being made on the Defund Obamacare Town Hall tour ignore the actual facts behind those statements.” Chris makes the following points:

Chris tells me, furthermore, that the piece de resistance of the fact-checkers’ ready, fire, aim mentality comes from the statement—made in April 2013, and reiterated last week—calling claims that Medicaid does not improve patients’ outcomes “half true.”

“There’s only one problem with that assertion,” says Chris, “and it comes from The New York Times’ May 2013 coverage of an experiment in Oregon that compared health outcomes of Medicaid patients to the uninsured.”

Here’s what the Times wrote:

[The study] found that those who gained Medicaid coverage spent more on health care, making more visits to doctors and trips to the hospital. But the study suggests that Medicaid coverage did not make those adults much healthier, at least within the two-year time frame of the research, judging by their blood pressure, blood sugar and other measures. [emphasis added]

To sum up: A PolitiFact reporter made “conclusions” about the health of Medicaid patients compared to the uninsured in April 2013, then presented these assumptions as the truth from Mount Olympus. A few weeks after that, a much-watched study led The New York Times (among other press outlets) to report that Medicaid did not improve the health of the uninsured. Yet before issuing her ruling on the accuracy of statements made on the Heritage Action Town Hall tour last week, the Politifact reporter neither re-examined nor updated her conclusions to reflect the latest research.

It has always been a reporter’s job to check people’s statements and present the facts. Merely switching titles and renaming journalists “fact checkers” does not add to anyone’s credibility, as the facts of this case show.