PolitiFact Lie of The Year: Exaggerations about Ebola

Conservatives used Ebola as one means of spreading fear, helping them in the 2014 midterm elections. PoltiFact has now made exaggerations about Ebola their 2014 Lie of the Year. This includes both conservative hysteria which greatly exaggerated the threat faced in a developed nation such as the United States and many of the right wing conspiracy theories. I have already discussed many of these false claims, often in the context of debunking right wing attempts to restrict civil liberties while ignoring the science. From PoltiFact:

Thomas Eric Duncan left Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19, for Dallas. Eleven days later, doctors diagnosed Duncan with Ebola.

Eight days after that, he was dead.

Duncan’s case is just one of two Ebola-related fatalities in the United States, and since Duncan traveled to Dallas, more Americans — at least nine, and likely many more — have died from the flu.

Yet fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims — all wrong — distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014…

Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.

“The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

A Georgia congressman claimed there were reports of people carrying diseases including Ebola across the southern border. Pants on Fire. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Americans were told the country would be Ebola-free. False.

When combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic. Governors fought Washington over the federal response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled to explain details about transmission of the virus and its own prevention measures. American universities turned away people from Africa, whether they were near the outbreak or not.

The post went on to discuss the actual medical facts.

Not surprisingly the misinformation came from many of the usual subjects such as Fox and Republicans such as John McCain and Rand Paul. Their conspiracies theories also involved the usual subjects of right wing attacks like Barack Obama and George Soros.

At least one good thing did come about from the Ebola hysteria. Republicans, with the help of the NRA, had blocked the appointment of Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General for months. The Ebola outbreak placed increased attention on this vacancy and he was finally confirmed by the Senate today.

Another Frivolous Suit Against Obamacare Thrown Out Of Court

There have  been a lot of frivolous suits filed by various Republicans lately, ranging from suits to try to block the Affordable Care Act to the House Republicans’ own suit. While we had contradictory rulings in the case making the absurd argument that the ACA did not intend to allow subsidies to those who obtained coverage on the federal as opposed to a state exchange, another ridiculous argument was thrown out of court this week.

The argument was that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because of the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House, and the ACA does include mechanisms to raise revenue to pay for the law. The argument never made much sense but it has attracted increased attention among conservatives since George Will had a column on how the Supreme Court doomed the ACA in its ruling that the government had the power to charge a penalty for noncompliance with the mandate based upon the power to tax.

There are two major errors in this argument. First is that there is precedent for the Senate to take a House bill and then pass it with major changes, and still have this considered to have originated in the House. As the House also passed their own version of health care reform, this was sufficient to meet this criteria. Secondly, the courts have long differentiated between a bill with a primary purpose of levying taxes versus a bill which incidentlaly raises revenue. The Appeals court argued that, “The Supreme Court has held from the early days of this nation that revenue bills are those that levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes which may incidentally create revenue.”

Consider the irony in two of the Republican arguments against the bill. In this case the Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act because it contains provisions to pay for itself. While Democrats have adopted a pay as you go attitude towards new government programs, Republicans prefer to purchase their programs on credit, such as with the Iraq War and George Bush’s Medicare D Program. When it is Republicans spending the money, deficits don’t matter.

In the case of the House law suit, Republicans are suing Obama for delaying implementation of a portion of the law (the mandate on small business) which they have claimed would be harmful and want repealed. Republicans also had no objection to a similar delay by George Bush in enforcing requirements of the Medicare D program.

BP Oil Spill Provides Opportunities For Obama-Bashers Regardless Of Whether Warranted

The BP oil spill is becoming a litmus test for how people think about Obama. The ability to handle such a matteris hardly a key presidential function (unlike a natural disaster such as Katrina which is a direct responsibility of the federal government.) This doesn’t stop Obama’s critics from trying to find ways to blame him, while generally ignoring all that he has actually done so far in response to the crisis and spreading falsehoods.

George Will even admits that Obama is “being unfairly blamed” for the response to the oil spill but also says “it sort of serves him right.” Will simultaneously admitted Obama is doing all he can under impossible circumstances while also trying to use the issue to raise questions of competence.

I have already responded to other attacks from the right coming from Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan in recent posts. The attacks are not limited to the right. There were also recent attacks from James Carville which made him just came across as another sore loser among the Clintonistas.  It’s not the first time the ragin’ cajun mouthed off before thinking.

The Washington Post has reviewed the politics of the issue and fortunately finds that others are being far more rational in their response. Ed Rogers, who worked in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses is more objective about the limitations on the president:

President Obama’s political managers are all being told that the president needs to “do something.” But when he does he becomes more closely associated with the ugly problem and more responsible for the nearly impossible task of stopping the flow and managing a cleanup that will leave most people unsatisfied…

This is a great American tragedy whose political consequences will linger for years. No one will emerge as a hero, savior or indispensable leader. Instead, the revelation of the limits of our technology, leaders, laws and energy options will leave us all frustrated and in a mood to blame everybody involved.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center has some more significant insights:

Until now President Obama has avoided serious political damage from the government’s handling of the spill, but this may be changing. Recent polling finds pluralities or majorities of the public disapproving of the administration’s response or giving it low marks for its handling of the situation. Even among Democrats, ratings of the administration’s performance have been tepid. The spill is unfolding at a time of exceptionally low levels of trust in government, which may make the public even less forgiving.

Still, unlike Hurricane Katrina, where the government had primary responsibility for dealing with the crisis, until now its role has been secondary to that of BP. And the public has been far more critical of BP for its handling of the crisis.

Although the spill may cause Obama political damage in the short run, it could help him in the longer run with key legislative priorities for his administration: the passage of a comprehensive energy bill and efforts to address environmental protection more generally. The spill has spurred an increase in support for environmental protection, which had declined over the past two years as concerns about the economy pushed aside many other public priorities. While polling by Pew Research and other organizations continues to find at least plurality support for offshore oil drilling, the level of support is much lower than before the spill.

Keith Olbermann Responds To Conservative Attacks Comparing MSNBC to Fox

Above is the video of Keith Olbermann’s response to the attempts by the right to create a false equivalency between MSNBC and Fox. I previously commented on this yesterday. Among the points he makes is the absurdity of conservatives seeing a conspiracy in Obama meeting with liberal commentator such as Olbermann considering that Obama has also met with conservative commentators, such as when he met with conservative commentators at George Will’s home in January.

An Economics Question For George Will

During the Roundtable portion of This Week, George Will spoke out against a proposal to tax makers of medical devices:

This is a $1.3 trillion program that leaves 25 million Americans still uninsured and includes, for example, $40 billion tax on the makers of medical devices.

Now, we all know, Arianna, corporations do not pay taxes; they collect taxes. It will be passed on as a cost of doing business to the great American public, which was, the president said, immune from any tax increases.

If we listen to George Will here, raising taxes will harm consumers, but not corporations which can pass on the taxes as a cost of doing business. I guess that to conservatives the rules of economics are different for corporations as opposed to small businesses on this issue. How many times have we heard claims from Republicans that even small increases in the marginal tax rate (which won’t even impact most small businessmen) will seriously hurt small business? How come corporations can so easily pass on an entire tax increase to the public, but small businessmen will go out of business if their taxes are raised?

Washington Post Further Debunks George Will on Climate Change

Are some writers at The Washington Post now making a point to make up for the bogus information on climate change recently published in a column by George Will? Yesterday they published more information which contradicts his claims:

The Arctic sea ice cover continues to shrink and become thinner, according to satellite measurements and other data released yesterday, providing further evidence that the region is warming more rapidly than scientists had expected.

The data on this winter’s ice buildup came on the day that international ministers gathered in Washington to address issues facing Earth’s polar regions, which have been disproportionately affected by global warming. At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council that the Obama administration will press for greater action on climate change and for passage of the Law of the Sea Treaty in order to help regulate expanded human activity in a warmer Arctic, including shipping, fishing and oil exploration.

Clinton said scientists are still struggling to understand the implications of the changes, “but the research made possible within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty has shown us that catastrophic consequences await if we don’t take action soon.”

After further discussion of the data the article even points out that this information contradicts an item on their op-ed page:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

Scientists have begun debating how soon the Arctic will lose its summer ice altogether, with some saying it could happen as early as 2015. White House science adviser John P. Holdren told the crowd at the State Department that the total disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic “may be far, far closer” than scientists thought just a few years ago.

Meier said the gradual loss of ice is already transforming the region. “There’s already impacts, in terms of the climate, in terms of the people,” he said.

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic will not directly raise global sea levels, researchers said, but will contribute to an overall ocean warming that could erode the Greenland ice sheet, which would affect sea levels. The disappearance of the polar ice cap could also affect global ocean circulation patterns, and its melting has already imperiled native species such as the polar bear.

Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, painted a stark picture of the climate change in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. “The ice is melting,” Stoere said. “We should all be worried.”

David Roberts of Gist wrote about the response to Will:

I can’t think of another instance when a news story at a newspaper explicitly called out an op-ed writer in the same paper for lying, by name. It’s pretty extraordinary. I can only imagine that something like this got passed up the editorial food chain, from science editor Nils Bruzelius to national news editor Kevin Merida, and perhaps beyond. (The Post will not talk on record about their editorial process; they “stand behind their reporting” and so forth.) [UPDATE: After I put this post up, science editor Nils Bruzelius gave me a call and was quite collegial and open about the story. It was actually him who had the idea to reference Will, since the, ahem, “data” Will had distributed got so much publicity and was on people’s minds. He said he and the reporters agreed, it was a routine news judgment, nothing about it struck him as unusual, and as far as he knows no one above him questioned or was even aware of it. I don’t know how much of that is feingned innocence—I’ve certainly never heard of a similar case—but it seems there was no big process inside WaPo behind this. Cheers to Bruzelius for the transparency.]

Hard to read it as anything but a rebuke from the news team to Post editor Fred Hiatt and his editorial page’s “multi-layer editing process,” which allowed Will to lie and mislead on climate change three times just in the last few months, even after being corrected, publicly, by multiple sources.

Along the same lines, see this new piece on the Post’s weather blog, by Andrew Freeman: “Will Misleads Readers on Climate Science – Again.”

“George Will’s recent columns demonstrate a very troubling pattern of misrepresentation of climate science. They raise some interesting questions about journalism, specifically concerning the editing process. Editors and fact checkers are there to ensure that publications like the Washington Post don’t print factually incorrect information.”

One common meme of global warming deniers is to claim that recent cooling trends in parts of the world contradict the evidence for climate change. In reality, data such as this shows that if anything the problem is worse than many were saying a few years back.

Two Columns Debunk George Will’s Claims on Climate Change

After coming under tremendous criticism for publishing a column by George Will with inaccurate information on climate change, The Washington Post is redeeming itself by publishing two columns which debunk his false claims. Chris Mooney writes:

Consider a few of Will’s claims from his Feb. 15 column, “Dark Green Doomsayers“: In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth. Just last year, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a peer-reviewed study examining media coverage at the time and the contemporary scientific literature. While some media accounts did hype a cooling scare, others suggested more reasons to be concerned about warming. As for the published science? Reviewing studies between 1965 and 1979, the authors found that “emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.”

Yet there’s a bigger issue: It’s misleading to draw a parallel between “global cooling” concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming — through the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific academies of various nations (including our own), and leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

Will wrote that “according to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” It turns out to be a relatively meaningless comparison, though the Arctic Climate Research Center has clarified that global sea ice extent was “1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979.” Again, though, there’s a bigger issue: Will’s focus on “global” sea ice at two arbitrarily selected points of time is a distraction. Scientists pay heed to long-term trends in sea ice, not snapshots in a noisy system. And while they expect global warming to reduce summer Arctic sea ice, the global picture is a more complicated matter; it’s not as clear what ought to happen in the Southern Hemisphere. But summer Arctic sea ice is indeed trending downward, in line with climatologists’ expectations — according to the Arctic Climate Research Center.

Will also wrote that “according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMO — NASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 — we haven’t had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that “global cooling” sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons — 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El Niño — study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it’s far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s — again, according to the WMO.


Controversy Continues Over George Will’s Column on Climate Change

There continues to be controversy over George Will’s recent column on climate change. As  many bloggers I linked to point out, Will’s scientific claims were not accurate. The Washington Post’s ombudsman has responded to the controversy today.

While I commented briefly and linked to those presenting the evidence that Wills was wrong, I did not get upset over this as many others did. This was an opinion column. It would be nice to live by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” Realistically those who present different opinions will often include facts which we do not believe hold up. This is going to be true in a conservative newspaper such as The Washington Post and certainly will be true from their conservative columnists. It was far more alarming when newspapers such as The Washington Post dropped the ball in their actual reporting in the run up to the Iraq war.

To be shocked that there are inaccuracies in a column by George Will on global warming strikes me as somewhat like Captain Renault saying he is shocked to see gambling going on in Casablanca. Still, while I fully expect this from conservative columnists, once the ombudsman is involved I would expect a stronger statement regarding the inaccuracies in the column (even if giving some acceptance of this in an opinion piece). In this day and age of instant response, inaccurate information of this type should have led to the posting of factual information to counter it.

Climate Progress provides more information on the pertinent facts. Andrew Sullivan points out a major error made by George Will and writes, “You can’t use scientific evidence whose source believes it points to global warming to argue that it points against it – without some clarification, at least.” He also points out why toleration of this will not work:

The blogosphere responded at light speed. And the WaPo then had to pretend that it somehow exists in another more acceptable zone of media – and undertook its investigation and correction process independently of the vulgar – but factually accurate – blogs.

Memo to WaPo: your days of thinking like this are over. If you don’t want to go the way of the Rocky Mountain News, wake up and smell the competition.

Bloggers Pile On George Will Following Global Warming Blunder

One of the common arguments used by global warming deniers is a claim that in the 70’s scientists thought we were facing a period global cooling. If they were wrong then, their logic goes, the scientists must be wrong today (and therefore we should believe conservative writers as opposed to scientists who work in the field). The problem with that argument is that global cooling was a belief which sometimes made the newspapers but was not accepted by most scientists. That is hardly the same as the current scientific consensus on climate change.

Although there is no substance to this argument, it continues to pop up. George Will was the latest to raise it. Many bloggers have debunked him:

Ezra Klein: George Will Embraces Palin-ism

Steve Benen: Bad Will Hunting

Zachary Roth: Where There’s a (George Will) There’s A Way To Deny Global Warming

Nate Silver: George F. Will Takes on Science, Loses Credibility

David Roberts: George Will is an Idiot

While all these liberal bloggers have looked at the facts, and the views of scientists actually working in the field, via Memeorandum we see that once again conservative bloggers are only interested in those who share their biases. Several conservative blogs are excited that an astronaut shares their denial of global warming. They don’t care that he is not an expert in the field any more than they care when they quote meterologists, which is quite different from being a scientist working in climate change. They are only interested in finding people who will agree with their prexisting biases and lack any interest in sorting out the truth.

George Will Thinks John McCain Has Lost His Head

It has become commonplace to see centrist columnists who have been favorable to McCain write columns opposing him since he resorted to a dishonest Rove-style campaign. It is less expected to see McCain come under attack such as this from both George Will and The Wall Street Journal. Will writes that John McCain has lost his head:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential” and demonstrated that McCain “doesn’t understand what’s happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does.”

To read the Journal’s details about the depths of McCain’s shallowness on the subject of Cox’s chairmanship, see “McCain’s Scapegoat” (Sept. 19, Page A22). Then consider McCain’s characteristic accusation that Cox “has betrayed the public’s trust.”

Perhaps an old antagonism is involved in McCain’s fact-free slander. His most conspicuous economic adviser is Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who previously headed the Congressional Budget Office. There he was an impediment to conservatives, including then-Rep. Cox, who, as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, persistently tried and generally failed to enlist CBO support for “dynamic scoring” that would estimate the economic growth effects of proposed tax cuts.

In any case, McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

Will concludes by considering whether he wants McCain to be choosing Supreme Court justices and by comparing McCain to Obama:

On “60 Minutes” Sunday evening, McCain, saying “this may sound a little unusual,” said that he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general of New York who is the son of former governor Mario Cuomo. McCain explained that Cuomo has “respect” and “prestige” and could “lend some bipartisanship.” Conservatives have been warned.

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Will is primarily concerned with McCain’s consideration of Andrew Cuomo. If one wants to question his ability to make sound appointments, Sarah Palin would be a much better example. He is correct in his analysis of Obama. I am far more willing to support someone less experienced such as Obama who shows understanding of the issues and has made the correct call on the big questions such as going into Iraq than someone who has years of experience but otherwise appears unfit to be president such as John McCain. No amount of experience will make someone like John McCain fit to be president.

Many conservatives are expressing similar concerns about McCain. While still backing him, James Joyner also notes McCain’s fundamental lack of support for conservative economic principles:

I’m in the minority in thinking that anointing the Treasury Secretary as the unalloyed czar of the economy is a bad idea. So, that fact that McCain is backing the bailout and the biggest socialization of the American economy since the New Deal — if not in history — is forgivable. That he seems not even to be giving it a second thought, though, is much less so.

Conservatives should not be surprised that Republican leaders will show little concern for their principles. Younger conservatives often seem unaware that one of the greatest intrusions on the free market came under Republican president Richard Nixon who instituted wage and price conrols. Anyone who thinks that a McCain presidency will result in limited government is as delusional as, well, John McCain.