Monday, April 11, 2011

The Lie “Was Not Intended to be a Factual Statement”

One of the themes that I’ve focused on over the years that I’ve been writing this blog is the political lie (see, for example, “When a Lie Becomes an Insult” or “Why Are Politicians So Willing to Tell Outrageous, Easily Disproven Lies?”; poke around on this blog and you’ll find plenty of other examples). Well this week, the reality espoused by the Republican party went yet further down the rabbit hole into the land of make believe, fairy tales, and absolute bullshit.

Watch this video of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) speaking on the floor of the United States Senate last week:


In case you need it, here’s a transcript of Sen. Kyl’s remarks (provided by ThinkProgress):

Everybody goes to clinics, to doctors, to hospitals, so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.

But guess what? That claim that abortions are “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is false. It’s not just false, it’s not even in the ballpark. According to Planned Parenthood, the actual number is not 90% … it’s 3%. Kyl was off by a factor of 30!

Our Clients

Planned Parenthood provides sexual and reproductive health care, education, and information to more than five million women, men, and adolescents worldwide each year.

Three million women and men in the United States annually visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for trusted health care services and information.

Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care clients in the U.S. are age 20 and older.

One in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.

Our Work

Planned Parenthood health centers focus on prevention: 83 percent of our clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood services help prevent more than 612,000 unintended pregnancies each year.

Planned Parenthood provides nearly one million Pap tests and more than 830,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.

Planned Parenthood provides nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.*

(Emphasis in original.)

So when people across the country came forward to point out and denounce Sen. Kyl’s lie, what did Sen. Kyl do? If he cared about accuracy, he could have come forward and simply said, “I made a mistake”. Or he could have found some other somewhat less dubious statistic to use as some kind of backstop for his lie. But no, that’s not what he did. Because remember, as I’ve been saying for years no, to the modern Republican party, facts simply don’t matter. And as evidence of that statement, here’s the statement Sen. Kyl’s office gave to CNN’s TJ Holmes:

HOLMES: We did call [Kyl’s] office trying to ask what he was talking about there. And I just want to give it you verbatim here. It says, “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.”

Did you get that? “His remark was not intended to be a factual statement…”. It was intended as an illustration but not a factual statement? What the hell does that even mean? “I meant to lie so that I could scare people because the facts don’t support my position?” When our policy decisions are based on the recitation of statistics that are “not intended to be … factual statement[s]” then how can those decisions possibly be knowledgably made? Or, ask it this way: What are the ramifications to our form of government and democracy if decisions are made on the basis of knowing lies and not on accurate empirical evidence?

And to follow up on this them, I want to look at how Fox & Friends (a program on FOX News) approached a similar component of the same subject a few days ago:


Once again, in case you need it, here’s a transcript of the relevant part of this discussion (after they finish bashing Sen. Reid)(thanks to Media Matters):

DOOCY: And the thing about it that was audacious was the fact that he [Sen. Harry Reid] was talking about Planned Parenthood being this great provider where women can get blood pressure checks, and pap smears, and breast —

KILMEADE: Which you can get at Walgreens.

DOOCY: — examinations. Exactly right. 

Did you get that? According to FOX News, women can get pap smears and breast examinations at Walgreens. “Exactly right,” they say.

Well, um, no. It isn’t.

“Neither Walgreens, nor its in-store healthcare clinics, Take Care Clinics, offer pap smears or breast exams,” Take Care Clinic spokeswoman Lauren Nestler told Media Matters after being emailed the segment.

So you see, just like Sen. Kyl, the hosts on FOX News just make shit up and report it as “exactly right” without a shred of supporting evidence. But how many viewers of FOX News will ever hear that Walgreens said that FOX News was wrong? How many viewers presume that what FOX News reports is, in fact, true; that anything said on the network has been fact-checked first? How many viewers of FOX News will ever learn that the on air personalities that they watch just make up facts with no attempt at accuracy or journalistic integrity? Probably very, very few. And I know from talking to several people who love FOX News that they refuse to believe that FOX News would lie, even after pointing out examples like this one (or, for example, last week when FOX News reported that a poll found that 65% of Americans believed something when, in fact, the poll found only that 65% of self-identified Republicans held that particular position).

In our modern political system, Republican politicians and FOX News just make shit up and their devoted followers accept those “facts” without question. And political decisions are premised on those same lies.

That is a very dangerous road down which our political discourse is being led.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the “birthers” … but that’s a subject for another day.


*Don’t forget that since the 1970s it has been illegal to use federal funds for abortions.

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