Of all the actual lies they could have chosen, they decided to slap the “lie of the year” label on so-called exaggerations about Ebola — citing a mishmash of opinions, including several that are eminently defensible, given the wildly varying guidance on the subject offered by our betters at the Centers for Disease Control.
Here’s the verdict from the Masters of Factual Accuracy at PolitiFact:
While no singular line about Ebola matched last year’s empty rhetoric about health care, the statements together produced a dangerous and incorrect narrative.
PolitiFact and PunditFact rated 16 separate claims about Ebola as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire on our Truth-O-Meter in 2014. Ten of those claims came in October, as Duncan’s case came to the fore and as voters went to the polls to select a new Congress.
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.
Let me start by simply noting that it is foolish enough for journalists to make ultra-confident pronouncements about something like the spread of Ebola, given how wildly inconsistent the Experts at CDC have been. In a post from November, I surveyed some of the CDC guidance on Ebola and summarized the results as follows:
- CDC says: “There is no evidence indicating that Ebola virus is spread by coughing or sneezing.”
- CDC says: Ebola is spread through droplet spread, which includes sneezes. “Droplet spread diseases include Ebola, plague.” Also: “Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose or mouth of another person.”
- CDC says: “Droplets travel short distances, less than 3 feet.”
- CDC says: “Droplets generally travel shorter distances, less than about 6 feet from a source patient.”
Can’t you feel your faith in federal medical expertise swelling — much like, let’s say, the untreated infected extremity of a U.S. veteran?
But mere foolishness becomes a breathtaking mixture of arrogance and ignorance when a “fact-checking” organization starts labeling defensible opinions as “lies” — based on the sort of hairsplitting and sub-moronic reliance on handpicked expert opinion that we see in today’s PolitiFact piece.
Let’s start with the George Will quote. PolitiFact refers us to this October 2014 classic from their annals of factual excellence:
LIAR!!!!!!! Here’s Will’s supposedly “false” (not “mostly false” or even “kind of false” but just plain “false”) quote:
“Some doctors say Ebola can be transmitted through the air by “a sneeze or some cough.”
Keep in mind: this is proclaimed by the Sultans of Factual Accuracy at PolitiFact to be, not just an inaccuracy, but a LIE — the foremost example of a LIE that one can justly call the LIE OF THE YEAR.
Except it’s true.
As I noted in this October post, the CDC itself (which I think employs a doctor or two) published this poster:
This poster clearly says that Ebola is spread through droplet spread, which includes sneezes. Direct quote: “Droplet spread diseases include Ebola.” What is “droplet spread”? Direct quote: “Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose or mouth of another person.”
What was Will’s quote again? “Some doctors say Ebola can be transmitted through the air by “a sneeze or some cough.” THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT THE CDC SAID.
PolitiFact’s linked post engages in all manner of hand-waving and throat-clearing, and a skill at verbal hairsplitting that would make Bill Clinton turn purple with enraged jealousy. Sample quote:
“It’s important to note that this form of transmission does not constitute ‘airborne,’ ” Gire said. “This is still a form of direct contact.”
See, even though sneeze droplets can be “borne” through the “air” . . . the experts tell us that it is not “airborne.” So when Will says that Ebola can be transmitted through the air through a sneeze, the truth is actually that a sneeze which travels through the air can transmit Ebola. You see the difference, don’t you? If you do, then you can easily see why this is the LIE OF THE YEAR.
Now, let’s move onto the Rand Paul quote. I have actually dealt with this previously, in this post. I noted that the AP ridiculed Paul for the following claim:
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told a group of college students Wednesday the deadly virus Ebola can spread from a person who has the disease to someone standing three feet away and said the White House should be honest about that.
As I noted with careful links to the CDC:
Rand Paul has accurately repeated what the CDC says: namely, the CDC defines “exposure” (albeit “low-risk”) to include being within “three feet” of an Ebola patient for a “prolonged period of time” — whatever that means. I assume it could include riding on an airplane — or, perhaps, the bus?
President Obama, I noted in that post, assured West Africans: “You cannot get [Ebola] through casual contact like sitting next to someone on a bus.” Which utterly contradicted what the CDC was saying. Which was Rand Paul’s point.
But PolitiFact eschewed any analysis of Rand Paul’s factual statements about CDC guidelines. Instead, consistent with their rigid adherence to long-accepted principles of “fact” checking, PolitiFact got up in Rand Paul’s grill over his opinions, calling “mostly false” his opinions that Ebola is “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Here is an excerpt from their genius band of logic:
So far, though, only two individuals — both Texas health care workers that treated an African man who later died from the disease — have contracted the virus on U.S. soil. This despite the fact that infected individuals have come into contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of people while they purportedly had the disease, including close family members.
That seems to dispel, at least anecdotally, the idea that the disease is “incredibly contagious” and “easy to catch,” even from an infected person. But let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Looking at it another way, “at least anecdotally” (and, let’s face it: fact-checkers around the globe universally agree that anecdotal evidence is the Gold Standard for fact-checking), one might anecdotally observe that health-care workers who believed they were taking every precaution and yet inexplicably ended up contracting the disease might come away from that experience saying: gee, it seems like Ebola is easier to catch than I realized!! Why, one might even call it “incredibly contagious” or “easy to catch”!
If one were expressing a defensible opinion, that is.
Or, one could look at some recent statistics. I found these today at the New York Times, which reports: “The number of new cases in Sierra Leone remained above 600 for a fourth straight week.” Moreover: “More than 18,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola since March, according to the World Health Organization, making this the biggest outbreak on record. More than 6,800 people have died.” Yeah, that doesn’t sound very contagious to me.
A portion of the same New York Times piece that says it was updated October 23 says: “Doctors Without Borders has sent 700 doctors and aid workers from around the world to Ebola-stricken countries. Of those, 270 are currently working there. Only three have contracted Ebola: a doctor from Norway, another from France, and now, an American.” See? Only 1 health care worker per 230 contracts the potentially fatal disease!
Whether you find that reassuring or alarming is up to you, I guess . . . but using that as a basis to label an opinion THE LIE OF THE YEAR is a joke.
But then, PolitiFact has always been a joke. I don’t write this post because they are (or should be) taken seriously. It’s just that a target this fat and juicy simply cannot be ignored. It’s not my fault. I am forced to write this post, simply because of how easy it is to ridicule these people.