Accuracy in Media

In a new piece, Teen Vogue reports that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a very bad man, using misdirection about his policies and straight up lies about his handling of COVID-19.

For example, he’s described as a “far-right demagogue,” which is one of those things that can’t really be true. He just won the Florida governor’s race with 59.4% of the vote. By definition, that means that his views and policies cover the middle ground. Because his voting base covers that middle ground, obviously. People of the far right – or, obviously, the far left – don’t manage to do that. Because it’s one of those definitions, if the center votes for you, then you’re not far-wing of either type.

Because Teen Vogue has already decided that DeSantis is bad they commit the logical fallacy of the ad Hitlerium. You know, DeSantis is actually like Hitler! “…the philosopher Hannah Arendt: In one of her writings about the Holocaust,” and “This week, Time magazine … short-listed DeSantis for its 2022 person of the year award… For example, past recipients…. include Adolf Hitler in 1938.”

Well, yeah, past winners of that include Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Harry Truman (twice).

One of the things that drives this is that Teen Vogue is factually wrong.

After initially putting COVID-19 safeguards into place, by the fall of 2020, DeSantis’s stance on the virus was that “the government, apart from protecting the elderly and making treatments available, should do almost nothing,” according to The New Yorker. Since spring 2020, more than 83,000 Floridians have died from COVID — that’s one in 258 residents. And in spite of DeSantis’s comments about protecting the state’s elderly, Florida has the worst COVID death rate in the country for elders: Three-fourths of the state’s COVID deaths include the elderly.

Of course, that’s not good – we would all prefer that there have been no deaths from covid anywhere. But given the existence of covid how did Florida do? Pretty well actually. In terms of covid deaths per 100,000 people – which is known as the “rate” – it is 31 out of 51 states plus DC. Here a higher number means a lower rate. We know that covid struck the old more than the young, so the age-adjusted rate is also important. Florida also did well here, better than the average across the US.

One factual mistake that Teen Vogue is making here is that they describe “the worst covid death rate in the country for elders”.  Their own source, which they themselves link to, (the Palm Beach Post) doesn’t say the “rate” at all. It says the total number of deaths among the elderly. Well, yes. As the same piece says, FL has more elderly, as a portion of the population, than any other state than Maine. FL also has a large population as compared to other states. We now have a disease that preferentially strikes and kills the elderly. Who is going to have the highest number of deaths from this pandemic? A state with a large population that has more old people in it, obviously.

Which is why we look at rates. How many people who we already know are old died from covid in each state? CDC has those numbers here. The percentage of deaths from covid as compared to all deaths among 75-84 year olds in Florida was 11% or so, among the over 85s, 9%. For the U.S. as a whole, those two numbers are 11.7% and 10%. Yes, agreed, one death is too many but Florida’s response was better than that of the country as a whole.

Better.

Of those of age who died in this period, fewer died of covid in Florida than was true in the country as a whole. That’s better.

Teen Vogue ranks at number 448 in news and media outlets for the US. It gains 5 million visits a month from this position. It also proclaims that its mission is “To educate the influencers of tomorrow.” We can and should all expect better than this, therefore.

Educating means actually, you know, educating. Rather than the employment of logical fallacies about Hitler and then a gross misunderstanding of the pandemic numbers. It’s that second that really needs to be shouted about. Teen Vogue is simply getting the numbers wrong – which is a bit of a problem given that the numbers are at the heart of their argument. Or, to be more forceful, their facts are wrong, not a good sign for journalism.




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