A Rhode Island conservative can only be grateful, I suppose, that PolitiFact RI — the long-standing shame of the Providence Journal — managed to get the word “true” somewhere in its rating of the following statement from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity:
Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.
The brief summary under the “Truth-o-meter” reading “Half True” on PolitiFact RI’s main page emphasizes: “Pretty flexible for a despot.” That’s a reference to the most weaselly part of Mark Reynolds’s quote-unquote analysis, which reads as follows:
[CEO Mike] Stenhouse labels the policies in Virginia and Rhode Island as mandates. But Jason L. Schwartz, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Public Health, says you can’t call policies with such liberal exemptions mandates.
At best, this is an example of the frequent PolitiFact tactic of finding somebody whose opinion the writer prefers and treating that as the authoritative fact. One wonders, though, what rating PolitiFact RI would give its own newspaper. On July 29, the day before the Center released its press release with the challenged statement, the Providence Journal ran this headline at the very top of its front page: “Rhode Island to mandate HPV vaccine for 7th graders.” (Note: The online version adds the word “all” before “7th.”) The article itself uses the word “mandatory” five times.
Lesson learned, I guess: Never trust the headlines or reporting of the Providence Journal.
As for the PolitiFact rating, there are three relevant premises:
- Rhode Island is only the second state to require the HPV vaccine for students. Even PolitiFact admits this is true.
- The requirement is a mandate. This is so true that the supposedly objective journalists at PolitiFact RI’s home paper ran it in the most prominent spot on the paper.
- The mandate was implemented without public debate. PolitiFact’s evidence of “public debate” is that the professional activists at the ACLU managed to send in a written objection and post about it on Facebook. Well, then.
The fact that PolitiFact considers the awareness of the ACLU to be “public debate” — as opposed to hearings and a floor debate by the public’s elected representatives — is one of two highly disturbing aspects of Reynolds’s essay. The other is the latitude that it gives to government officials to adjust the truth to suit their needs. Days after the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity helped drum up actual public debate and concern about the HPV mandate, the Dept. of Health came forward to assert that the exemptions are so broad that its mandates should really be considered something more like suggestions.
The Providence Journal should end this fraudulent, government-propaganda feature. It distorts public awareness and undermines the political process.