The Corner


I have little use for Factcheckers, though I have plenty of use for facts and I believe in checking them. The problem with the Factcheckers is that they seem to think they have an authority they did not earn to tell other journalists what the facts are. That’s bad enough, but they almost invariably end up objecting not to untruths but to truths they don’t like. That often makes them combatants, hiding behind their self-appointed status as referees.

(It’s a bit like the apocalyptic space-cult from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” They believe a volcano-mouthed alien god named Zorp will come to earth and destroy all but a chosen few. The cult’s one brilliant insight was to call themselves “reasonabalists” because they knew no one would want to sound like they were against “reasonableness.” The factcheckers hide behind a similar marketing scheme.)

That’s not to say some factcheckers aren’t better than others (I think the Washington Post generally does a better job than most, but I have my complaints there, too). And, of course, some are worse than others. 

Which brings me to Politifact, generally regarded as the lamest and most hackish of the genre.  

Politifact’s Lou Jacobson found a statement of mine merely “half true” because “it leaves out important details.”

Here is what I wrote:

“As my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson notes, ‘Everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy and the like.’ Even though such remedies have been given elevated legitimacy under the Affordable Care Act.”

“It turns out,” Jacobson writes in what he seems to think is a generous concession, “there’s a solid core of truth to the claim,  but also some important caveats.” 

As best I can tell, those caveats amount to the fact that Jacobson doesn’t like the fact that my statement was entirely true. So he meanders along pointing out things I didn’t mention (because there was no need to) as a way to lessen the blow of the point I was making.  Indeed, much of his thousand word article provides the sort of evidence I would offer to back up my claim had I known he wanted it (He never called me, but he did in fact email me a week ago through a public email address I don’t check regularly and that clogs up rapidly. I missed it. Jacobson reached out to Kevin by tweeting at him — which elicited a fairly classic response). Jacobson writes in support of my claim:

All told, the institute is spending $4.1 million for studies involving alternative medicine, or about 3.5 percent of its funding to date on this type of study. Findings from this research could become significant, since many alternative medicine therapies have not yet faced rigorous scientific testing — a key prerequisite for getting insurance companies to pay for them.

Potentially the most far-reaching provision, however, is Section 2706. Alternative-medicine advocates say this section stipulates that as long as an alternative-medicine practitioner is fully licensed by a state, insurance companies must reimburse them just as they do medical doctors. (Literally, the section says that “a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable state law.”)

Put all of these elements together and Goldberg has a point.

So far so good. But what about those caveats Jacobson believes are so very relevant. Well:

For starters, the first four provisions cited above are heavier on symbolism than practical impact. They involve things like pilot programs, advisory committees and optional extensions of definitions to include alternative-medicine practitioners. The research being conducted could ultimately make a difference, but it’s still a small portion of the institute’s portfolio.

It seems to me Jacobson needs help understanding what “symbolism” means. Funding pilot programs and advisory committees isn’t merely symbolic. Second, even if these provisions were simply symbolic, that doesn’t contradict my claim that the law “elevated” alternative medicine. And note: the point of my article — and Kevin’s — was that the press makes too big a fuss about Republicans and evolution given that it is entirely a symbolic issue. If symbolism doesn’t matter for liberals it shouldn’t for conservatives either. 

Jacobson also scolds me for not mentioning the fact that ObamaCare’s elevation of alternative medicine has created so much excitement in the industry that HHS has had to issue a guidance telling the industry to calm down.  How the fact that the industry agreed with me is proof that I was wrong is beyond me. 

The most important reason my claim is only half-true, according to Jacobson, is that the law hasn’t been a “boon” for alternative-medicine practitioners ”yet.” Yet? If Republicans passed a law funding a creationist pilot program, but the seed money hadn’t led to a boon to Creationists everywhere “yet” how would Politifact respond, I wonder.

So, to sum up, Jacobson writes:

Goldberg wrote that homeopathy, acupuncture and aromatherapy “have been given elevated legitimacy under the Affordable Care Act.”

The law does provide a leg up for alternative therapies…

Stop right there, because we’re done. 

I wrote that the law “elevated” alternative medicine. Indefatigable truth-seeker Jacobson found that the law gave a “leg up” to alternative medicine. But my statement is only “half-true” because…why?

I leave it to philosophers, casuists, lexicographers and anyone else out there to explain to me the deep and meaningful distinctions between “leg up” and “elevate.” They are literally synonyms. Once they’ve done that, maybe they can explain the difference between Politifact and partisan hacks. Because those sound synonymous to my ear as well.


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