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September 18, 2009 6:53 AM   Subscribe


 
The insurance of the man in question, a 59-year-old Illinois restaurant owner named Otto Raddatz, did, indeed, get canceled by Fortis Insurance Co. (now Assurant Health) after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma under a commonplace and despicable practice called rescission that would be curtailed by every health care reform bill currently under consideration.

In related news:
"South Carolina’s supreme court has ordered Fortis Insurance to cough up $10 million for wrongly revoking coverage of a 17-year-old college student after he tested positive for HIV."
posted by ericb at 7:16 AM on September 18, 2009


Bush | State the Union Address on January 28, 2003:
"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
posted by ericb at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


The elephant in the living room here is that Administrations have come to rely far too much on reasoning by anecdote. The past several Presidential elections (and subsequent State of the Union addresses) have often featured "Suzy from Ohio" stories. The public would be better served by understanding the broad societal implications of issues and not rely on whether the GOP or the Democrats could find the most compelling personal story. The truthiness of the Raddatz anecdote matters not at all in the healthcare debate.
posted by srt19170 at 7:22 AM on September 18, 2009 [22 favorites]


so...he lied? ~^
posted by sexyrobot at 7:25 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


$10M from a company making $7B in revenue? That's like telling a guy making $50K to cough up $71. Hell, fines for speeding usually start at about $130.
posted by crapmatic at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2009


ericb, just to clarify, I didn't post this as some axe-grindy OBAMA LIED PEOPLE DIDN'T DIED thing. I thought it was an interesting read, and I enjoyed seeing the copious linkage wherein Noah tracks the progress of his accidental misinformation (and its correction) through the internet and beyond. This isn't a case wherein Obama's accidental misstatement needs to be countered or apologized for.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Be sure to read page 1 as well: "Fortis didn't kill Raddatz with its profit-minded search for petty irregularities in Raddatz's policy; it merely attempted (and, thanks to prompt legal intervention, failed) to kill him."
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 7:30 AM on September 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


This isn't a case wherein Obama's accidental misstatement needs to be countered or apologized for.

I know, but let the conversation go wihere it will.

BTW -- the author (Timothy Noah) of the article himself:
"After satisfying myself that Weisman was right, I cursed myself for being the source of misinformation heard 'round the world. It may not be yellowcake, but it's still pretty embarrassing. Then I decided, in the Obama spirit, to turn my blunder into a teachable moment. How do errors find their way into the public discourse?"
posted by ericb at 7:33 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"have come to rely far too much on reasoning by anecdote."

But this wasn't an anecdote. It was a 'fact' reported by a respected journalist, supposedly fact checked by the editor.

As he mentions, the real fact is the insurance company tried to kill off its customer by denying the insurance. It doesn't help that in his title he says 'factual error .. in a White House speech'.

His article explains the main point but the title makes the opposite point by emphasising a 'White House error'.

Maybe he should have titled it "I'm a bad reporter. Don't use me as a reference for anything."
posted by eye of newt at 7:38 AM on September 18, 2009


"have come to rely far too much on reasoning by anecdote."

But this wasn't an anecdote. It was a 'fact' reported by a respected journalist, supposedly fact checked by the editor.


I don't think "anecdote" is inconsistent with a fact reported by a reporter. An anecdote is just a brief story, right? That would include a true story that's been rigorously fact-checked. There's still a valid complaint about policy arguments made by anecdotes. ("Data isn't the plural of anecdote," etc.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The truthiness of the Raddatz anecdote matters not at all in the healthcare debate.

Well, not to be overly pedantic, but I would say the truth of the anecdote doesn't matter but the "truthiness" of it does, if truthiness is an indication of, as you say, the broad societal conditions which make this particular anecdote believable, if untrue. (I don't think I'd go that far)

But there's a reason why administrations use anecdote; it's what people want to hear. You can add this to the long list of things we'd like to train people to be better about to have an informed democracy.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:46 AM on September 18, 2009


With all due respect to the administration, this isn't a "fact from a credible journalist". This is a speech writer using the frigging Slate as a primary source over the actual congressional testimony.

This was anecdotal in the story sense, but it's based on an on-the-record account before Congress. No reason what so ever to take a web publications word for it. Not if you hope to be taken seriously.

All the attention now gets spent on nit picking the storyline presented in the speech instead of debating the issue.
posted by rulethirty at 7:52 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I think he's a stand-up guy. He screwed up, and then he said "hey, I screwed up, here's how it happened, here's what happened because of it, and here's some more background. I'm truly sorry I screwed up, I take full and sole responsibility, and I'll do my best to make sure it will not happen again".

I'm not nearly cynical enough to see this as anything different than damn classy. Good journalism, in fact.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


This is a speech writer using the frigging Slate as a primary source over the actual congressional testimony.

This. Not only that, but of all the horror stories that are out there, they pick one that was actually resolved relatively quickly. Those young, hopeful, inspiring, 26 year old writers may have not been the wisest choice if they're too used to internet-era laziness.
posted by FuManchu at 8:02 AM on September 18, 2009


So, basically, the Republicans are attacking the President for using an example which, although not factual, was accurate as far as he knew it, and ultimately just an example of the kind of failure that occurs all the time and kills about 45,000 Americans every year?!

Okaaay.

This insistance for 100% factual accuracy by the Republicans... where, prithee, was it during the prior eight years?!

Perhaps it was in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat?
posted by markkraft at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


The public would be better served by understanding the broad societal implications of issues and not rely on whether the GOP or the Democrats could find the most compelling personal story.

I agree with this to some extent. There was a sort of ridiculous moment in one of the Obama-McCain debates where they had dueling anecdotes about a conversation with a soldier returning from Iraq that ultimately offered very little about what our policy should be in Iraq. And of course there was (Not) Joe the (Not) Plumber.

But anecdotes can serve a useful purpose in helping the public understand complex policy issues. Health care, in particular, is a very difficult issue to comprehend in the abstract. I'm all for any rhetorical strategies that help people understand what the situation is today and how it would change under the various proposals. It would help, of course, if the examples were accurate, or at least explicitly hypothetical.
posted by brain_drain at 8:07 AM on September 18, 2009


Timothy Noah lied: no people died.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2009


The public would be better served by understanding the broad societal implications of issues and not rely on whether the GOP or the Democrats could find the most compelling personal story.

I disagree most vehemently. Congresspersons are not logic-bots, and neither are their constituents who vote for them and support them. Saying "10% (or whatever) of Americans don't have insurance" doesn't mean much to people. They find justifications, imagine those folks as lazy or lacking discipline. They'll think about their own son, nephew, friend, who doesn't have insurance because he's healthy and thinks he's immortal.

We need to show people Grandma who had to sell her house before she was allowed to have her diabetes medication. Sally who had to have a double-mastectomy, but was denied reconstructive surgery by her insurance company. Bobby who was denied a hip replacement because "high school football injuries" were a pre-existing condition from 20 years ago. Uncle Ben, who bled out in the hospital waiting room because nephew Peter was unable to find his insurance card, and Aunt May, who's no longer insured because she can't find a job.

You can't convince people by showing them the average experience, and make a case by trying to show the marginal benefit for that average. You have to show the worst case, and show that these cases can be prevented. If we judge a society by the difference between the worst of us is treated, and the average, America may well be the worst nation in the world, and this needs to change.
posted by explosion at 8:11 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Republicans lie too!!! Uh, yeah, but two wrongs don't make a right. Obama made a mistake, period. I don't see the point in excusing it or trying to minimize it by saying Republicans do worse stuff. Bush's lie led to lots of people dying; therefore, any lie that doesn't cause people to die is negligible? No, we should have higher standards for the president. A presidential speech to Congress is a major event and should be nothing short of 100% accurate.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:14 AM on September 18, 2009


"have come to rely far too much on reasoning by anecdote."

I don't think they are reasoning based on anecdote. It's not like they're sitting around in the Oval Office saying, do we have any facts about health care? Any numbers? No? Well, anybody got any really good stories?

They're using anecdotes to put a human face on the numbers in speeches to the American public. Maybe just giving them a spreadsheet would be better, but I m increasingly distrustful of people's ability to understand raw data. They need to know how the current health care system actually effects, and hurts, real people.

The issue is, as FuManchu said, that this wasn't the best anecdote, not that there is anything inherently wrong with using anecdotes to dramatize points.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:17 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stop frothing, Jaitcoh.
posted by grubi at 8:24 AM on September 18, 2009


Sorry, Jaltcoh.
posted by grubi at 8:25 AM on September 18, 2009


Does Slate not employ fact checkers, or does Noah (gallantly) just not throw them under the bus?
posted by one_bean at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2009


This is why we can't have nice healthcare.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:35 AM on September 18, 2009


The issue is, as FuManchu said, that this wasn't the best anecdote, not that there is anything inherently wrong with using anecdotes to dramatize points.

Well, some would say this is the problem with using anecdotes to dramatize statistics. The truth or falsity of any particular case is not the issue, but it's easy to become distracted (or to permit others to distract) with the facts of one person when a lot more is at stake.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2009


Obviously, I am biased.

Because the moral of the corrected story as I see it: Hoorah for US healthcare as long as your sister is an attorney!


But Raddatz's operation was not delayed fatally as a result. Raddatz's sister, an attorney, got the Illinois attorney general's office to move quickly on the matter, and even though the state failed in its initial attempt to overturn the rescission, it succeeded in its second.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:51 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Anecdotes are incredibly powerful and useful. If you start throwing raw statistics at people, eyes glaze over and brains tune out. But show someone a person not unlike them having terrible problems and they connect on a much deeper level; they imagine themselves AS that person (if they have any empathy, anyway). Of course, yes, it does help if the anecdote is factual.
posted by jamstigator at 8:52 AM on September 18, 2009


Does Slate not employ fact checkers, or does Noah (gallantly) just not throw them under the bus?

They do not, as Jack Shafer explains.
posted by otio at 8:56 AM on September 18, 2009


I don't think elected representatives should be 100% constrained by logic, humans just don't think logically. Indeed, our courts are specifically meant to provide another more logical layer.

I think the two measures that'll make laws more logical are (a) increasing the power of the courts and (b) deliberative democracy. A deliberative democracy means replacing the presidential veto by jury trials using large 100-500 person juries who listen to advocates selected by any significant legislative group, say maybe 10%, and obviously an advocate for the president's opinion.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:01 AM on September 18, 2009



Republicans lie too!!! Uh, yeah, but two wrongs don't make a right. Obama made a mistake, period. I don't see the point in excusing it or trying to minimize it by saying Republicans do worse stuff. Bush's lie led to lots of people dying; therefore, any lie that doesn't cause people to die is negligible? No, we should have higher standards for the president. A presidential speech to Congress is a major event and should be nothing short of 100% accurate.

The justifying wrongs with previous wrongs thing really really gets to me. The argument against this 'tactic' is a topic all to itself (i.e., where are all the anti-war protests now?)

Both "sides" are, ultimately, conviction-less. But I digress.
posted by rulethirty at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2009


Ira Glass on the power of anecdotes.
posted by ericb at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2009


Wait wait wait.

There's an anecdote.com?!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on September 18, 2009


I'm not nearly cynical enough to see this as anything different than damn classy. Good journalism, in fact.

No, seriously, it's shitty journalism. To skim congressional testimony and presume that somebody died and then report his death as fact is horrible journalism. You may think that his owning up to the problem -- after first having been called out by numerous sources on the web, and then finally being called out by a more mainstream media source by phone -- is "classy," but that really does not excuse the lack of even basic investigative diligence.

If the congressional testimony were a story in the blue, and the Slate story were one of the comments, people would have jumped pretty ugly on Noah for not reading the linked article. Journalists should probably be held to a higher standard than that.
posted by Slap Factory at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2009


The elephant in the living room here is that Administrations have come to rely far too much on reasoning by anecdote.

Um, they don't actually "reason by anecdote". Examples like this used in talking points are not the reasons for the policies themselves. It's simply an appeal to pity used to garner public support. Politicians have been doing this forever. Maybe not so specifically--focusing on a single individual--but it was bound to come to that eventually.
posted by symbollocks at 10:00 AM on September 18, 2009


Any asshole politician or media whore who makes an "apology" should read this to see how it's actually done. To summarize:

1) The president repeated something I wrote.
2) It turned out not to be true.
3) This is how and why I made the mistake.
4) I'm sorry.
posted by klanawa at 10:14 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think singling out individual cases is a good idea, especially when they are in synch with the broad facts. You could say "X number of people lose healthcare through rescission each year" but not everyone is smart enough to work through the implications of that. You have to tell some individual stories in order to explain to people why they should care about the numbers.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2009


So, Joe Wilson was just a little off on his timing!
posted by orme at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2009


I'd just like to say that I really enjoy the term, "factual error." Oh, I know what the writer is saying, but it just sounds so deliciously weaselly.

"Sorry dear, when I told you I was going to take out the trash before I went to bed, well that was just a factual error." Or "When I said I was going to the library but actually went to the strip club with Bubba and the boys, that wasn't a lie, it was a factual error."
posted by lekvar at 11:16 AM on September 18, 2009


So, Joe Wilson was just a little off on his timing!

While funny, he wasn't really all that off in his assertion. Obama didn't necessarily lie, but he didn't particularly tell the truth about the primary bill (who knows if it was knowingly or not).

In fact, later in the week the WH admittedly the legislation would have to changed to prevent illegals. Comes down to checking/enforcing/etc, which the legislation in its current form has no provision for, despite repeated GOP calls for it.

I know calling that out isn't going to make me very popular these days, and Rep. Wilson was clearly acting classless, but just like the subject of this thread -- Obama's speech simply wasn't that well researched. He didn't speak to the actual bill(s), only to the cause, and he used anecdotal evidence -- wrong anecdotal evidence at that. The journalist apologized, and that's great, but it really falls to the speech writer.

Re. illegals, now that the WH has spoken to it, Congressional Dems may fall in line, and most folks will never know it was an issue.. but still. Yikes.
posted by rulethirty at 2:07 PM on September 18, 2009


lekvar: That's a pretty bizarre interpretation. "Factual Error" is a pretty normal, everyday term people use for, well, factual errors. It's not really a euphemism like "badly sourced" In your example, the guy is lying, not making an error.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on September 18, 2009


delmoi, as I said, I understand the usage. The term itself, not this specific instance, just sounds weaselly to me. I was not trying to impugn the author, just pointing out that phrases, absent context, can give different meanings. Sometimes those meanings are wrong, but fun.
posted by lekvar at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2009


...a commonplace and despicable practice called rescission that would be curtailed by every health care reform bill currently under consideration.

In related news:
Insurance company cancels 17 year old girl's policy because she didn't disclose a cough, fatigue, a dizzy spell, and a wrong cholesterol test.
Yet another anecdote that drives home the current "health care insurance" state-of-affairs.
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on September 18, 2009


rulethirty: In fact, later in the week the WH admittedly the legislation would have to changed to prevent illegals.

That isn't what was at issue, though. This is off-topic, but Obama said 'the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally'-- which is true. The Republican assertion that there is no enforcement of this provided in the bill(s) and that, therefore, the bill(s) extend coverage to illegal aliens is not true. The bill in question specifically states that it does not cover illegal aliens, and whether it is physically possible for aliens to break the law or not does not mean that the law does not exist.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2009


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