the national interest

Politico’s Innumeracy Ruining 61 Million Lives

John Harris, left, editor in chief of The Politico, and Jim VandeHei, executive editor of The Politico, speak to advertisers in Arlington, Va., Friday, Jan. 19, 2007. The Politico is a new political newspaper in Washington and also has an online edition at
We were told there would be no math. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Earlier this week, Politico dropped a huge bombshell. The immigration-reform bill, it reported, would be a “bonanza” for Democrats, dropping some 11 million new, overwhelmingly Democratic voters into the electorate. Republicans exploded in outrage. They knew it all along!

The story turned out to be ludicrously wrong. It assumed that every immigrant affected by the bill is Latino, that all of them would apply for citizenship, and the resulting citizens would turn out at a 100 percent rate. (Nate Cohn helpfully cleaned up the math.) Marco Rubio has been forced into damage control to correct the apparent ratification of what many conservatives suspected all along. (Rush Limbaugh: “I mean, everybody knows it! … The amazing thing here is that the Politico even would post this.”)

Last night Politico dropped another huge bombshell. Congress is working on a secret, bipartisan plan to exempt itself and its aides from Obamacare. The story exploded again. Obamacare was so onerous and terrible; Congress has to flee it!  It’s exactly what conservatives feared, before they feared the immigration voter bonanza.

Ezra Klein patiently and way-too-politely explains why this story, too, is nonsense. The explanation is a little complicated, but in essence, Republicans tried to embarrass Democrats by insisting Congress be covered under the law. Democrats eagerly agreed. But the provision to include Congress was written a little sloppily, mainly because the insurance exchanges are designed for small employers, and the federal government is a huge employer. The whole fix may well not happen at all.

In both of these cases, Politico has done serious damage by spreading misinformation that no amount of corrections can fully undo. And also in both cases, the culprit is Politico’s lack of understanding of policy substance. Politico has some smart reporters working for it, but it seems that a news organization based on covering American politics as theater, with a premium on buzzy scoops, may be problematic.

Maybe the solution here is to assume Politico’s journalistic butchery will result in the repeal of Obamacare, the failure of immigration reform, and then add up all the people affected by those things and attribute it to Politico in a splashy, pseudo-precise headline! Yeah.

Politico’s Innumeracy Ruining 61 Million Lives