Saturday, December 03, 2011

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Rick Scott and "the law of the land"

Context matters -- We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

PolitiFact's reader vote for "Lie of the Year" is underway. Because of many cases like the one we're about to examine, I submitted the above principle of the "Truth-O-Meter" as my write-in suggestion for "Lie of the Year" for 2011.  Go here to add your write-in vote to mine.

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Becky Bowers:  writer, researcher
Aaron Sharockman:  editor


PolitiFact does provide the relevant context of Gov. Scott's remarks.  Let's go there right away:
Randy Schultz, the paper's editorial page editor, noted that Florida had not worked to implement Obama's health care law, then asked: "Will you implement the law if the Supreme Court upholds all or part of it?"

Scott replied: "If it's the law of the land, we'll be ready."

Post editorial writer Rhonda Swan commented that the state has rejected millions in federal grants designed to help the state prepare. So, she asked, how would the governor pay for implementation?

"It's my job, if it's the law of the country, to be ready when it's the law," Scott said. "... When it's the law of the land, we'll implement the law."

"Where will you find the money?" Swan asked.

"It'll be part of our budget," Scott said.

Swan continued to press, finally asking: "Why not take the money that the federal government is offering now so you can be prepared?"

"Because it's not the law of the land," Scott said. "I don't believe it'll ever become the law of the land."
The fact check starts out lost and never finds its way.  It is apparently assumed throughout the story that Scott believes that no part of the PPACA stands as the law of the land regardless of the implementation dates specified in the law.  That is, until PolitiFact stumbles over the likely answer and promptly moves on to other things (bold emphasis added):
(D)oes the governor really mean to argue that he's turning away money to prepare for provisions of the law to go into effect because they haven't yet gone into effect?

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown law professor involved in the Supreme Court challenge to the health care law, offered another interpretation of Scott's statement.

The governor took an oath to support the Constitution. So he might take the stance that the law, "though properly enacted, is contrary to the Constitution and therefore not a valid and binding law," Barnett said.
The answer to the question in bold seems like an abundant and obvious "yes."  Yet PolitiFact can't seem to get the story to deal with the most obvious meaning of Scott's statement.

When PolitiFact gets around to its "Truth-O-Meter" rating of "False," we finally see a hint of the reasoning PolitiFact may have used--but only a hint (bold emphasis added):
The Governor's Office argues the law's not "the law of the land," because several significant provisions haven't yet taken effect. But that misses the point. It's telling that the governor has resisted implementing all parts of the law, not just those slated to take effect later or that have raised constitutional questions.
Scott can argue it's not a good idea, but it's incorrect for him to claim it's not the law. We rate his statement False.
Scott has a good argument that provisions that have yet to take effect are not the law of the land.  If a mandatory seat belt law is passed in 2010 but goes into effect in 2013 I am not violating any law today by not wearing my seat belt.  The law has not taken effect and it is accurate to say that it is not the law of the land in 2011 that I must wear the safety belt.

And though this seems very clearly analogous to Scott's meaning, PolitiFact refuses to see it, even to the point of huffing that Scott "misses the point."  With all due respect to PolitiFact, Scott's allowed to determine his own point.

And then there's this interesting nugget (bold emphasis added):
It's telling that the governor has resisted implementing all parts of the law, not just those slated to take effect later or that have raised constitutional questions.
Like what?

No, seriously:  Like what?

PolitiFact offers no example.

Read the timeline for implementation of the PPACA and try to figure out what aspects of the law Florida must comply with now.  The timeline appears to include no mandatory requirements for the state government of Florida.

I located one aspect of the law that Florida actively resists, a fixed medical loss ratio for insurance companies including Medicaid, but that resistance has not consisted of a simple refusal to implement the law but rather negotiation with federal agencies regarding a phasing in of the requirements.

With no example of Florida blowing off the federal law, the PolitiFact story features a great big hole.  The thin rationale for ignoring Scott's likely meaning could pass for nothing, leaving us with a perfectly reasonable way to understand Scott's meaning:  Florida will only comply with the law when it must.  And that only happens when the PPACA, as Scott put it, is the law of the land.

PolitiFact offers no reasonable evidence to support finding Scott's statement "False" yet finds it "False" anyway.

The grades:

Becky Bowers:  F
Aaron Sharockman:  F

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