“The ad certainly leaves the impression (Andrea) Kodad had to give up her plan. Given the circumstances, her tale of woe from November seems rather out of date.”
—Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post Fact Checker, in a column from May 7, 2014
The Washington Post Fact Checker fails to offer charitable interpretation to an Obamacare attack ad, with predictable consequences.
Part of Glenn Kessler’s May 7, 2014 Washington Post Fact Checker column dealt with an anti-Obamacare ad by incumbent congressman Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
My name is Andrea Kodad. When I first saw the letter telling us that our old policy was going away, I was very, very concerned. I knew immediately that this was going to be a financial struggle for our family. My monthly expenses were going to go up, minimum, by $300 a month. Obamacare is not good for my family. I’m grateful for what Congressman Terry is doing to fight Obamacare.
Though Kessler did not contest the premium increase reported in the ad, he judged that it was worthy of three “Pinocchios.” In Kessler’s rating system that means the ad has “Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.” Kessler offered his summary of the ad’s problem:
Kodad — who declares “Obamacare is not good for my family” — extended her plan and thus is not paying the higher rate. There is no “financial struggle.” She did not respond to a query left at her employer.
Kessler said the ad clearly gives the impression Kodad had to give up her plan.
Analyzing the Rhetoric
Kessler’s fact check nearly inspired us to coin the term “parsetanship,” given the partisan parsing he gives the Terry ad.
We trust that Kessler does his best to maintain neutrality, but his result defies justification. Let’s review Kodad’s words line by line.
“My name is Andrea Kodad.”
So far, so good?
“When I first saw the letter telling us that our old policy was going away, I was very, very concerned.”
Kessler doesn’t contest her receipt of the cancellation notice. We trust he believes she was concerned when she got the letter. The next two sentences go together.
“I knew immediately that this was going to be a financial struggle for our family. My monthly expenses were going to go up, minimum, by $300 a month.”
This is where the parsing starts. Kodad perceives a financial challenge stemming from the cancellation. The loss of her policy, she said, would cost a minimum of $300 per month. Kodad doesn’t say she lost her policy, nor does she mention that she was able to keep her policy for two more years thanks to the administration waiving the part of the law that led to the cancellation of her policy.
“Obamacare is not good for my family.”
Again, Kodad does not say she lost her policy and does not mention that she kept her policy. She simply states Obamacare isn’t good for her family. Her next line expressing gratitude to Rep. Terry seems uncontroversial.
The third section is the crux of the matter. Kessler thinks that if Kodad didn’t lose her policy then the message of the ad is contradictory. Kessler says the ad clearly sends the message that Kodad lost her policy, past tense. We say Kessler’s imagining things, for Kodad uses tense consistent with the facts. And since her use of tense is consistent with the facts, there is no contradiction. But Kessler’s making a much bigger error than simply reading into the ambiguity of the ad.
Obamacare did not spare Kodad’s insurance policy.
We’ll repeat that for emphasis.
Obamacare did not spare Kodad’s insurance policy.
Kodad may be able to keep her policy up to two years because the administration created some exemptions to the law. Exemptions from the law are not the law, particularly when granted with no justification in the law itself. Kodad figures to lose her policy after the two years elapse, and the loss will likely increase her monthly costs by something like $300 per month.
Kessler acts like Kodad’s concerns are forgotten with the two-year reprieve. We simply reply that Kodad’s concerns remain the same, but with a two-year delay added. It changes the message of the ad very little if Kodad keeps her policy for two years via an exception to the law. She doesn’t want to lose her policy, and she doesn’t want her monthly costs to rise whether this year or two years from now. She’s justified in blaming the law for the threat to the policy she wants to keep, and she has no reason to thank the law for letting her keep her policy two more years than expected.
“The ad certainly leaves the impression (Andrea) Kodad had to give up her plan.“
In fact checking, impressions are irrelevant unless founded on good reasoning. Kessler doesn’t share the details behind his declaration that Kodad “certainly” communicated she had lost her plan. We do not see the contradiction Kessler detects and we doubt it exists. It may be true Kessler received the impression Kodad had to give up her plan, but without a plausible and likely explanation backing that interpretation, Kessler’s claim is a red herring fallacy. We judge that Kodad used language consistent with keeping her plan for two years, owing to the administration’s waiver.
“Given the circumstances, her tale of woe from November seems rather out of date.”
If Kodad’s story is consistent with the facts then it cannot be out of date. Let Kessler pinpoint the contradiction in the ad if he can. Kessler’s approach relies on ignoring facts that support Kodad’s consistency on the ongoing threat to her insurance policy, such as the temporary nature of the reprieve granted by the Obama administration. That makes Kessler guilty of a fallacy of one-sidedness.
Kessler, Glenn. “New Obamacare Attacks: A Roundup.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 07 May 2014. Web. 11 May 2014.
“About The Fact Checker.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 11 May 2014.
Luhby, Tami. “You Can Keep Your Old Health Plan Til 2016.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 05 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 May 2014.
Conover, Chris. “Obamacare’s Lawless Rollout Cements Case Against Single Payer Health Care.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 May 2014.