The Statesman’s lowbrow “Fact-check”

Pratt on TexasI’m still getting a kick out of how intellectually incompetent is a so-called “Fact-Check” story in the Austin American-Statesman by one Madlin Mekelburg. It centers around a claim made by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in a cable news interview.

“We will have more people enter our country illegally than were born in this country in one year,” Patrick said.

In its “Our ruling” summary of the not so factual “Fact check” Mekelburg wrote of Patrick’s claim:

“There is no evidence to support Patrick’s claim. While it is hard to say exactly how many people successfully enter the country illegally while evading detection, it’s safe to say that the real number is significantly smaller than Patrick’s 5 million.

“We rate this claim Pants on Fire.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

The Pants on Fire is as in Liar, Liar Pants on Fire. So Mekelburg and the Statesman call Patrick a liar in print but did you notice that all they offered to back that judgment was an assertion equally without specific “facts” to support it?* Writing “it’s safe to say that the real number is significantly smaller than Patrick’s 5 million” is an assertion based on their opinion.

If Mekelburg cannot produce reliable and specific “facts” to refute Patrick’s claim, backing up the claim the official is wrong, the story should not claim to be a “fact-check.” Instead it should admit that it is only opinion, possibly informed, but only opinion that Patrick factually is wrong.

This and similar Statesman “Fact-check” failures add to the horrible reputation now upon the press. It is lowbrow writing.

* Listing a ton of studies and differing numbers in the story to overwhelm the reader with data is simply a trick used to cover for no specific, definitive number that refutes Patrick’s claim. That is where the “it’s safe to say” hedge plays a role. It is akin to writing a story in which one has ten paragraphs each about previously convicted elected officials in the courthouse and then concludes with “it’s safe to say” that, because all those people were guilty, some other official in the courthouse must be guilty. Sadly this is an often used and quite old technique of rhetoric.

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