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.
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.
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.