False equivalency

There are many definitions of false equivalence floating around but the one I believe captures my understanding the best is this, from here:

[W]hen when someone falsely equates an act or idea of one as being equally egregious to that of another without also considering the underlying differences which may make the comparison  invalid or unfair.

There have been a number of stories over the last few years pointing out the media’s embrace of this. “Both sides do it” when clearly, both sides don’t. “There are two sides to every story,” when, in fact, sometimes there is only one side.

It was this notion of false equivalency that came to mind when I read this story in Sunday’s Virginian-Pilot about the candidates in the 6th Senate district, incumbent Senator Ralph Northam and challenger Ben Loyola.

When it comes to their businesses, though, both men receive public money.

Yes, they do. But it is a big difference between nearly $30 million in government contracts since 2000, which is what Loyola’s firm has received, and $780,000 in Medicaid reimbursement payments over the same period, which is what Northam has received.

False equivalence.

We don’t know how much profit Loyola’s firm has made as the result of those contracts – the story doesn’t say – but we know that there has to be some; otherwise, Loyola’s firm would be bankrupt. On the other hand, we do know that Medicaid reimbursements are not sufficient to cover the cost of providing care; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a shortage of medical professionals unwilling to accept Medicaid patients.

False equivalence.

According to the story, Loyola has received at least $19 million in contracts for which he did not have to compete. The Daily Press reminds us that he has also signed a “no tax” pledge.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Loyola.

I’ll grant you: the data that is presented provides the reader the information to discern that these two circumstances are not equivalent. But that assumes that they read more than just the headline. Therein lies the problem: in this busy world of ours, scanning the headline and just the first couple of paragraphs would lead one to conclude that they are the same.

The casual reader is, therefore, left with an impression that confirms what s/he already believes: that all politicians are scum.

If I want to read that, I’ll hang out on the blogs more. Personally, I hold newspapers to a higher standard.

If I didn’t know that the Pilot makes choices all the time to present – or not present – a story, particularly one that could be viewed as negative, about one person or candidate,  I’d be a little more lenient on this. But I know better.

False equivalencies don’t belong in my newspaper.


5 thoughts on “False equivalency

  1. This is incredibly well-expressed, and you have gone to the heart of the matter. False equivalencies evaporate in the face of the facts, which you have revealed. Unfortunately, most of us are too busy to dig for the facts. Well done, Vivian.

  2. Vivian,

    It looks like you are upset that a reporter at The Pilot actualy tried to be objective…instead of biased toward Democrats as it usuallly is. For a change, I am supporting the The Pilot. I don’t see the “False Equivalency”.

    Public money is Public Money anyway you look at it, whether it’s defense or entitlements. Most of us know that Ralph Northam’s income is probably 6 figures based on what he does for a living. Ok, does that mean he is not accepting enough Medicaid patients on only $780,000 in Medicaid payments? Based on the normal charges for his kind of work, I can tell you it’s low. It’s a drop in the bucket. FYI–I work for Amerigroup, and I know Medicaid, and I see the claims every day. Does this mean he is turning away Medicaid patients?

    You are talking about contracts for minorities….Ben is Hispanic. So…now you want to say there is something wrong with the system of non-compete contracts because it’s Ben Loyola is following your Democratic system of set asides for minorities? Let’s check out all of the businesses of Democrats here in Norfolk or other area in Hampton Roads that take advantage of the Federal contract set asides mandated by “affirmative action”. Sorry, this hypocrasy argument does not wash.

    More discussion I am sure…..


  3. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not the politicians or Wall Street we need to be blaming for our problems, it’s the media. The Pilot pulls this kind of stuff all the time, as far as I’m concerned, and I know I’m not alone in this, the Pilot has completely abdicated its civic duty as a media outlet. This was pretty much the first real article Julian wrote on the race and it didn’t really even get into any specifics on policy. There should have been an article per week, minimum, about where Northam and Loyola stand on the issues, but obviously the Pilot and Julian Walker don’t think educating their readership is a priority. Whoever runs that paper’s political operation ought to be fired, along with Julian and their entire political reporting staff. I hear a lot of people talk about the need for a third party or more competition between the existing two, but really, all we need is a legitimate newspaper to do its job.

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