Status Quo

What's behind the status rating of an article like the one about Jonathan Gruber's remarks.

Published Nov 11, 2014

Although it may not be obvious to our audience, a fair amount of the effort involved in our tackling queries posed by readers lies in determining exactly what they're asking about. When a reader submits to us a text identified as a Wall Street Journal editorial and prefaces his submission with "Is this true?," just what does that reader want to know? Whether the WSJ really published the referenced editorial? Whether the text was actually written by the person to whom it is attributed? Whether the opinions expressed by that author in his editorial are "correct"? Or some combination of these elements?

So when were preparing an article about the recent controversy over a video clip showing Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber's saying the ACA passed only due to the "stupidity" of the American voter and a lack of "transparency," we noted the mail were receiving indicated readers were questioning two aspects of that issue: Whether

Jonathan Gruber had actually spoken the words attributed to him, and whether the longer video from which that clip had been taken had been "pulled" from Internet for political reasons.

Accordingly, we cited examples of both those lines of inquiry in the "Examples:" section of our article, included them in our "Claim:" statement, and rated the result a "Mixture," explaining the video was genuine and Gruber had indeed made the statements attributed to him, but the issue of exactly why the original video had at some point seemingly been pulled off the Internet was unclear (the most common theories being it was an attempt to clamp a lid on the controversy or to hide material that might influence the outcome of a current lawsuit involving the ACA). As we noted, evidence indicated the video in question was indeed temporarily made inaccessible at some point after it was originally posted, but the reasons behind that phenomenon are unknown: there are a number of possible non-political explanations for it; and until more evidence about that aspect of the claim comes to light, it would be inappropriate to assert an assumption as a definitive matter of fact.

As often happens, however, some readers simply glanced at the status line without bothering to peruse the text of the article itself and were quick to decry error and/or bias on our part where neither was evident, to wit:

The Gruber full video is back up at U. Penn. What is wrong with you people? MIXED? What a joke.

The Jonathan Gruber article about Obamacare. A mixture? Are you people daft? It's in his words? You can go to Fox News, Drudgereport, or The Blaze and get the entire 52 second clip. C'mon....DO YOUR JOB!!!!

Of course, our article always included embedded versions of both the full-length video of the PennLDI conference at which Jonathan Gruber made his controversial remarks and the shorter excerpted video clip that highlighted them, so we were hardly unaware of, or pretending to deny, their existence. The reason our article displayed a rating of "Mixture" had nothing to do with any doubts the video existed, was real, or accurately captured Gruber's remarks, but these readers clearly didn't pay attention to any of that.

Then there were those readers whose comments left us wondering whether they were even talking about the same article, as their remarks bore almost no factual relationship to what we actually wrote:

LOL, geez guys, it seems you have really stepped in it re this guy Gruber's comment about "stupid Americans". You actually seem to be DEFENDING him by claiming in someway he didn't actually say what he clearly said. This does NOTHING for your credibility since your water carrying for the Left is once again front and center and all over the web.And now ANOTHER video has surfaced in which he repeats his "stupid American" claim. So what's your excuse for him this time?

Can't wait to see the spin this time.

In the words of comedian Louis CK, "Did you read the thing? It doesn't sound like you read the thing." Our article presented two embedded video clips that captured Gruber speaking the words attributed to him, included a typed-out transcript of the most frequently cited portion of his remarks, and documented when and where he made those comments; nowhere whatsoever did it claim "he didn't actually say what he clearly said" or offer any sort of explanation or interpretation on our part that "defended" Gruber's statements. The only "spin" here appears to be on the part of someone determined to read what he wanted to read, regardless of what the text really said.

Unfortunately, such misreadings also issue from those who should know better. For example, a Bloomberg-published article on the Gruber controversy stated:

The story metastasized when Penn briefly pulled the original video. Jonathan Adler, one of the attorneys in the anti-subsidy cases, was among the people tweeting about the apparent censorship until Penn restored the video. Gruber himself crawled out of view, refusing to comment when reporters asked about his newly discovered argument that the ACA was "designed to dupe a gullible American public." Even waded in, attempting to debunk the conservative theory that an Ivy League school was trying to hide a damaging gaffe that could hurt the legal case for the ACA.

We didn't attempt to "debunk" any theory about whether, or why, someone was trying to "hide" the video of the PennLDI conference; we merely noted statements about the reasons behind the video's temporary unavailability were assumptions and not definitively established fact. And for a very good reason: in our long experience in this business, we've seen plenty of examples of the folly of asserting political motivations for phenomena that turned out to have much simpler, mundane explanations, and of erroneously attempting to read into texts things that agree with one's political leanings rather than what those texts actually say.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as back in 1994.

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