Politico runs Sloppy Hit Piece on Florida’s DeSantis, Can’t do Math


  • Lying headline and lack of evidence plague Politico article
  • Dixon reports that Floridians have “turned on” DeSantis
  • Premature conclusions about DeSantis’ popularity reveal author’s bias
  • Dixon omits context and misrepresents evidence to suggest a large portion of Florida has soured on DeSantis

OUR RATING = Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence

Indicted Outlet: Matt Dixon | Politico | Link | Archive

Politico reporter Matt Dixon attempts to convince readers that DeSantis’ popularity has waned due to his response to coronavirus and mask mandates in public schools. The article headline is “Florida starts turning on DeSantis.” Unfortunately, a startling lack of evidence and unfactual statements only reveal Dixon’s own dislike of DeSantis. 

Given that Florida is a swing state and the ever-changing nature of polling, a small downturn in popularity does not signify much — especially in regards to future presidential electability. 

Major Violations:

  • Misrepresentation
  • Missing Context 
  • Lying Headline
  • Irrelevant
  • Statistics Abuse

Dixon gives a summary of the issues that affect DeSantis’ popularity:

“Covid infection rates continue to climb as the state faces shortages of health care staff, morgue space and even oxygen for patients. About 16,000 people are hospitalized. Child infection rates have shot up. School districts — even in Republican strongholds — have rebelled against DeSantis’ anti-mask mandates. And cruise lines are resisting DeSantis’ vaccine passport ban. Even his recent poll numbers are slipping.” 

We can break these sentences down into five categories in which facts are either missing context or misrepresented. 

1] “Covid infection rates continue to climb…”

Dixon implies that rising covid infection rates in Florida signify a looming danger for DeSantis’ popularity. This is a misrepresentation given previous trends that have occurred and that infection rates do not equal deaths. Dixon writes:

“Nearly 17,000 Covid-19 patients are in hospitals, far above the 2020 peak. And Florida’s nearly 1,500 deaths reported last week was by far the biggest single seven-day increase since the state started reporting Covid-19 data.” 

Covid numbers are almost always misleading because they are constantly changing. Not to mention that Dixon does not cite any sources. According to USA Facts, by August 31, 4 days after this article was written, the seven day average deaths was 135 compared to 263 on August 28. On August 22, it was 38 for the seven day average deaths [1]. 

Furthermore, Dixon’s mention of rising infection rates does not mean concomitant rises in death [2]: 

“…the actual [infection fatality rate]of COVID-19 is 0.15% and the median IFR for people under 70 is 0.05%.”

Dixon, like many other reporters who report on coronavirus, also fails to include recovery rates—this is primarily because no one cares to track those. [3] 

Outbreak patterns have also shown that cases rise rapidly and then slowly decline. So, a downturn in popularity for DeSantis could very easily be followed by an upturn as coronavirus cases also decline. 

2] “Child infection rates have shot up.”

Dixon misrepresents the risks of rising infections in children. Lack of context also allows Dixon to imply a higher risk than is real. Dixon writes:

“Infection rates for kids under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, last week increased to 23 percent, up from an average of 15 percent since March 1.” 

However, infection rates can often be inflated given the CDC method of reporting [4]:

“Hospitalization numbers look worse for COVID-19. But those numbers are inflated as a result of the CDC’s reporting rules. The CDC requires every child admitted to a hospital to be tested for the coronavirus…Dr. Roshni Mathew, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, says experience at her hospital found that 45% of the time, a child who tested positive for the coronavirus was not actually sick with COVID-19.” 

Dixon using the phrase “shot up” seems out of place, then. 

Furthermore, infection rates do not mean severe or fatal consequences to children. In fact, coronavirus presents the same risk to children as the flu [5]: 

“To date, out of more than 74 million children in the United States, there have been about 300 COVID-19 deaths and a few thousand serious illnesses. By comparison, the CDC registered 188 flu-related deaths in children during the 2019-2020 flu season. (This past year, there was essentially no flu season at all.)”

3] “School districts — even in Republican strongholds — have rebelled against DeSantis’ anti-mask mandates.” 

Dixon ignores context to this story — context that would prove his assumptions incorrect. As a result, he ignores them. In reality, only eight school districts have “rebelled” against DeSantis’ executive order [6]: 

In Florida, eight separate school systems are defying Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order allowing parents to opt out of mask requirements.” 

Out of 74 school districts in Florida, eight school districts don’t mean much. Does eight out of 74 mean Florida is “turning on DeSantis” as Dixon claims [7]? Instead, this story only reflects what we already know: Florida is a swing state. As a result, there are always going to be vocal opponents, even if they are small, in a battleground state. 

Dixon’s second piece of evidence of popular disapproval is a recent court case: 

“The most recent defeat came Friday when Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled DeSantis can’t punish school districts for passing mask mandates, as his administration had threatened after instituting emergency rules aimed at banning mask mandates in schools.” 

Calling it a “defeat” makes it seem as though DeSantis is receiving blowback from a large number of people. This is anything but true. 

The opinion of one circuit court judge does not mean DeSantis has lost popular support. One judge issuing an injunction on the basis of a group of parents’ lawsuit does not mean that DeSantis has been “defeated”. 

4] “And cruise lines are resisting DeSantis’ vaccine passport ban.”

Dixon also engages in reporting irrelevant facts that do not bear on DeSantis’ electability or popularity. Cruise lines do not vote. Simple as that. 

5] “Even his recent poll numbers are slipping.” 

Finally, Dixon’s greatest error is to engage in statistics abuse. On the basis of one poll, Floridians have turned on DeSantis. The “hard” evidence:

“A Quinnipiac University poll released this month had DeSantis’ approval rating dipping below 50 percent, with 47 percent approving of his job performance, and 45 percent disapproving. Those numbers dropped to 44-51 when asked about his handling of public schools.” 

Dixon uses this evidence to claim that these “drops” may threaten his electability:

“The governor remains popular with conservatives across the country and in Florida, but his steadfast refusal to implement Covid-related restrictions amid hundreds of virus-related deaths in the state and rising infection numbers has the potential to threaten his electability.”

These kinds of numbers are not abnormal in a swing state. Furthermore, one poll on DeSantis’ popularity is hardly damning evidence. Despite his unpopularity, other polls show that DeSantis would still beat his Democratic competitors [8]:

“A poll by Future Majority conducted among 1,585 likely Florida voters between August 14 and 17 found that DeSantis would defeat both Democrats in the race for governor…The survey showed DeSantis defeating Crist by 49 percent to 45 percent and beating Fried by 49 percent to 44 percent.”

Finally, the headline is quite simply a lie. None of these facts on their own signal a significant loss in  popularity for DeSantis that would jeopardize his electability. But Dixon couches them all side by side, making it difficult for the average reader to doubt it without systematically going through each claim. 

OUR RATING = Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence

Bibliography:

1] https://usafacts.org/visualizations/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/state/florida

2] https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/the-war-on-reality-gutentag

3] https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/florida-coronavirus-cases-hospitalizations-deaths/67-4bbd0c35-6742-4f51-a59a-ea1d101f54ea

4] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/25/997467734/childrens-risk-of-serious-illness-from-covid-19-is-as-low-as-it-is-for-the-flu

5] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/25/997467734/childrens-risk-of-serious-illness-from-covid-19-is-as-low-as-it-is-for-the-flu

6] https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/29/politics/republican-governors-mask-mandates-school-boards/index.html

7] https://www.greatschools.org/schools/districts/Florida/FL.

8] https://www.newsweek.com/ron-desantis-polls-show-mixed-picture-battles-florida-covid-crisis-1622406



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