Accuracy in Media

A suggestion for Vice: If you’re going to use a fact check, then do try to read – or if that’s too difficult, at least understand – what the fact check is saying. This is something Vice notably fails to do.

The subject is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and her comments on Covid. This is not a defense of her wider claims, just this specific one in which she is being accused of telling untruths, or at least of “falsely claiming”. The specific line is “on Monday morning, she was at it again, falsely claiming that COVID has a 99% survival rate “

Our point is not that this is correct or not even as it looks about right to us. Nor is it anything to do with other claims about vaccines, ivermectin or the wider subject. Just and only that Vice is saying that’s a “false claim.” Vice backs up the claim with a reference to an AP fact check. Note that they themselves link to this, in which AP says two things relevant to this claim.

Firstly “That means the case fatality ratio — or the portion of known cases that result in death in the country — is 1.8%. In other words, on average, 98.2% of known COVID-19 patients in the U.S. Survive. “ Well, 98.2%, 99%, in usual reported speech we’d allow that sort of slide in numbers. Wouldn’t we? We’d not usually say that someone was “falsely claiming” when they said 99% for 98.2%. 

Secondly, it goes on to say that, “Because the true number of infections is much larger than just the documented cases, the actual survival rate of all COVID-19 infections is even higher than 98.2%.” This is for the obvious reason that we have a pretty good idea of the number of dead people and not so good an idea of those with Covid – asymptomatic cases and all that. 

We absolutely would – perhaps because we’re reasonable people – allow someone to say that “even higher than 98.2%” can be described as “99%.”

Note that we’re not, in fact, saying that the AP fact check is correct here, even as it accords with what is generally said elsewhere. Nor are we defending Marjorie Taylor Greene particularly. What we are saying is that if Vice is going to refer to a fact check, then it might well be useful for them to read – and if possible – understand what their own reference is saying. 

They claim that to say “99%” survival rate is “falsely claiming”. While their own source of proof of this leads to “even higher than 98.2%” is correct. 

Vice is an important media outlet these days – its TV channel reaches 60 million American households; the magazine has a distribution of 900,000; its website gains near 30 million visits a month. Young people do actually get their news here.

We have our worries about fact-checking – if journalists cannot be trusted to check their own facts, why are they employed in the first place? But if they are to be used then the references to them have to be what those fact checks actually say. Otherwise, we’ve all got to go around fact-checking references to fact-checks, don’t we?

Or, of course, Vice could do that itself and actually use the AP fact check to agree that in this instance, on this point, Greene has a point. Rather than accusing her of “falsely claiming”. 




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