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September 17, 2010


Why do political and media elites like Julie Rovner tell us what's not in the Health Care bill, but not what is in it?

And, why aren't they covering myths put out by the bill's supporters? E.g., the myth that new bill will not affect people on Medicare Plus. Or the myth that we will all be able to keep our existing insurance with no change.

ISTM that elites like Julie Rovner aren't really trying to explain the Health Care bill. They're trying to sell it.

Citing a report of Christine O'Donnell's appearance on Good Morning America, Brendan wonders, "Is 'un-factual' the next 'refudiate'?" If Brendan was under the impression that "unfactual" is a made-up word, he was suffering from a misperception.

"Unfactual" is in my Random House dictionary, including their online version. (The correct spelling omits the hyphen in the ABC News report, which is of course only ABC News's transcription of O'Donnell's oral comment. How odd that they didn't spell the word right; perhaps the hyphen was their version of the Wall Street Journal's scare quotes.)

It's a word that's also been used by literate people. For example, in March 2010 Richard Bernstein's essay in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune used the word. Bernstein writes the Letter from America column for those publications. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Harvard, he's been a staff member and bureau chief of Time magazine, a bureau chief for the New York Times and the Times's National Cultural Correspondent and book critic. He's also written seven books.

Curious about the source of Brendan's misperception, I undertook an Adamsonian analysis. In other words, eschewing traditional concerns about causality, I catalogued the appearance of the misperception and applied the principle of post hoc propter hoc to speculate on infer which media elites had influenced Brendan.

The ABC News report was published online at 7:50 AM on September 15 (all times are EDT). Although it misspelled "unfactual," it did not otherwise suggest the word was fabricated. At 9:56 AM, Howard Kurtz posted on the Washington Post site a clip of O'Donnell's comments with the headline "O'Donnell calls Rove 'unfactual'"; Kurtz also did not suggest the word was fabricated, and he omitted the incorrect hyphen. (Kurtz's headline did mangle the syntax. O'Donnell used the word correctly, to refer to Rove's statements. That's different from saying that Rove is unfactual. Similarly, you wouldn't say Obama is true, you'd say Obama's statements are true.) By 11:41 AM the Democratic Underground was on the case, and there several commenters did ridicule the word as made up. At 5:58 PM the misperception had reached the Huffington Post, and one commenter got to the heart of the matter: “I guess the coining of the word 'un-factual' is a result of the high level of education attained by Palin and O'D.” (O'Donnell's alma mater was Fairleigh Dickinson University. On another day we can discuss the irony of eliitism practiced by people on the left who believe themselves to be anti-elitist and lower-case "d" democrats.) The misperception that "unfactual" is a fabricated word made its way into the Washington Post at 8:51 PM, in a blog by Dana Milbank.

But let's look again at the timing of this misperception. Brendan's tweet was at 9:07 AM. (The 6:07 AM time on his Twitter compendium post is an artifact of time zone confusion.) That preceded other media accusations that the word was fabricated. Could it be?! Brendan's misperception wasn't caused by the media elites. On the contrary, he seems to have been the media elite who was the source of others' misperception!

Oh Brendan! Say it ain't so!

Note: A version of this comment with extensive citations was rejected by the TypePad software. Sorry.

"1/3 think Obama raised taxes. 50% think stayed the same, 8% think taxes have gone down. "

Must be those influential media elites persuading people again...

Is "un-factual" the next "refudiate"?

No. O'Donnell didn't mangle two words together. She placed "un-" in front of a word to make it's opposite, which happens all the time in spoken English.

O'Donnell also didn't invent the term. Google finds about 104,000 references to it exclusive of the connection with O'Donnell, including definitions in online dictionaries.

Why people are angry in one sentence: "median family incomes in 2009 were 5 percent lower than in 1999"

I would question this assertion. First of all, family income is the wrong statistic. Average family size has been shrinking. Naturally family income tends to go down as families get smaller and contain fewer wage earners. However, per capita income has been rising as family income stays level or decreases.

US per capita income was $18,667 in 1990 and had risen to $39,138 in 2009. Adjusting for a 65% increase in CPI during this period, the real growth in per capita income was 27%. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104652.html#axzz0zpnpE3k5

The above calculation is not quite comparable to median family income. The per capita income is a mean, rather than a median. It's possible the mean may have grown at a somewhat different rate than the median did. The best statistic might be the median per capita income.

Even if per capita income were not rising, I would question the idea that income must always increase. America is a rich country. There's no reason Americans should be angry if we simply remain as rich as we have been.

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