Friday, March 23, 2012

PolitiFlub: The unaccountable redefining of "unaccountable"

Few things succinctly illustrate PolitiFact's incompetence than its routine re-imagining of word definitions.

PolitiFact's March 22 item on Mitt Romney's claim that ObamaCare "ends Medicare as we know it" (the parody wasn't obvious to PolitiFact, apparently) included a repeat of PolitiFact's insistence that the Independent Payment Advisory Board is not an "unaccountable" body.

What does "unaccountable" mean?

I'll put the bulk of the evaluation at the end (see "Afters"), but the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary provides the operative definition:
2 unaccountable (to someone/something)  
not having to explain or give reasons for your actions to anyone 
  • Too many government departments are unaccountable to the general public.
PolitiFact confuses the limits on the IPAB's power with accountability:
Is IPAB unaccountable? The answer is: No.

Members are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The board would not issue edicts. It would make recommendations. If Congress does not act on its recommendations within a set time, the recommendations are automatically implemented.

But Congress has other opportunities to intervene. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, the full House and Senate may consider amendments that change or repeal the board's recommendations as long as those changes meet the same fiscal criteria as the board itself uses. Congress is even granted a one-time opportunity to introduce legislation to dismantle IPAB permanently. This would require approval between January 2017 and Aug. 15, 2017, with the support of three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate.

So Congress has multiple ways to intervene. This negates the argument that its actions are "unaccountable."
PolitiFact's supposed negation of Romney's argument relies on making up a new definition of "unaccountable," something along the lines of "able to do whatever you want no matter what anybody says or does."

By the operative definition, however, the IPAB is unaccountable by design, name and definition.  It is the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The word "Independent" does not occur in the name by accident.

The board is specifically designed to work independently of executive branch authority just like the Supreme Court (appointed by, but not under the authority of).  And it is likewise independent in exercising authority within its statutory limits without owing any reason or explanation for its decisions to anyone, including Congress.

In short, the IPAB is unaccountable by name and definition but PolitiFact can't figure it out.


Webster's New World College Dictionary
is the standard for publications using AP style.  PolitiFact publishes based on a variant of AP style.  Here's "unaccountable" as defined by Webster's New World College Dictionary:
Not accountable; not responsible
Not much help, is it?  Perhaps we can fill in the blanks with the definition of "accountable":
Obliged to account for one's acts; responsible
And there it is, approximately as clear as in the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary version.  The IPAB never has to account for its actions.  It was made explicitly independent.  Congressional actions that forestall implementation of IPAB recommendations are irrelevant to the accountability of the IPAB.

What does it say about PolitiFact that it can flub this issue with no less than a writer/researcher, editor and a team of three editors overseeing the final product?

Correction/Update:  Changed "'Medicare are we know it'" to "'Medicare as we know it.'"  The team of three editors that reviews my work prior to publication has been sacked.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please remain on topic and keep coarse language to an absolute minimum. Comments in a language other than English will be assumed off topic.