Bluestem kvetches a lot about media venues that cheerfully reprint nonsense uttered by speakers (or, ever worse, imagine that politicians are taking positions opposite of those they actually hold). Thus, it's good to see a small town paper joining the recent moves by Sunday morning shows to fact check guests' statements.
Props to the Owatonna People's Press and staff writer Claire Kennedy to looking into a claim made by Doug Loon, a speaker from Midwest Office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who stopped by a recent "Coffee with the U.S. Chamber" in Steele County.
Kennedy's analysis, Doctors' exodus: Fact or fiction?, checked out one of Loon's claims:
When Doug Loon met with members of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism on Friday morning, he threw out an ominous statistic: A survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 46 percent of physicians would leave their profession in the wake of the recently passed health care reform legislation.
There’s just one problem. That statement is false.
No such survey was ever published or undertaken by the prestigious medical journal.
“NEJM did not publish the physician survey you referenced,” Jennifer Zeis, a spokesperson for the journal said in an e-mail. “The source of the survey is The Medicus Firm.” . . .
. . .Detractors of the legislation have said one potential impact was an outflow of doctors. To support this claim, critics have referenced the Medicus survey as the work of the NEJM.Subsequent to his presentation to the Owatonna chamber, Loon was asked for the publication of the New England Journal of Medicine survey he referenced. He said he wasn’t sure when it was published, but thought it was “a few weeks ago.”
In fact, the Medicus survey was not published by the journal, but can be found in “Recruiting Physicians Today,” a free advertiser newsletter published by the Worldwide Advertising Sales and Marketing Department. That department is in the publishing division of the Massachusetts Medical Society. The only connection between the newsletter and the New England Journal of Medicine is that the latter is also published by the Massachusetts Medical Society.
A disclaimer on the journal’s Web site makes it clear that the opinions expressed in the Medicus survey do not represent the opinions of the New England Journal of Medicine. . .
To her credit, Kennedy delves deeper into the survey, as well as reporting on Loon's visit. Go read the entire article at the OPP.
The OPP keeps it local, but while reading Kennedy's article, I had the sense that I'd heard that one before. Could it have been uttered by Minnesota's most famous loon? What are the odds?
Mr. Google confirmed my hunch: the first hit in a keyword search for "Bachmann" "doctors" "New England Journal of Medicine" took me to Polifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site kept by the St. Petersburg Times. On late March, it looked at a statement made on Face the Nation: Bachmann claims New England Journal of Medicine survey found 30 percent of doctors would quit if health reform bill passed. The fact check concludes:
But on top of getting the source wrong, we think Bachmann sensationalizes the Medicus results, saying that "30 percent of American physicians would leave the profession" if the health care bill passed. The survey language was that they would "try to leave" or "try to retire early" if it passed. There's a difference. Altogether, we rate her claim False.
The Polifact analysis is a good companion to the OPP article. Loon not only echoed Bachmann's false claim, but inflated the figure. One wonders how many other places and time folks like Loon ventured to small towns and made similar bogus claims about the horrors of health care.
While some Americans want newspapers just to report on events and not fact check, the ability and freedom to scrutinize claims remains one of the strongest arguments for free speech and a free press. While morons I like to forget like Bachmann say the darnest things, I agree with John Milton that Truth will most often beat Falsehood in a free and open fight.
Images: "St. Paul, MN, USA - August 15, 2006: The Vote For Business Bandwagon bus forms a perfect backdrop during a stop at the Machine Shed in Lake Elmo, a suburb of St. Paul. Speaking is U.S. Chamber Congressional Affairs regional vice president Doug Loon and State Senator Michele Bachmann. Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce"( photo copyright U.S. Chamber of Commerce, used with permission) above; Polifact's Truth-o-Meter (below)
Note: Doug Loon is the spouse of Minnesota state representative district 42B Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie).