DFP Debunking of Heinemann’s Medicaid Myths Finally Runs in Paper

That Sioux Falls paper has finally gotten around to running a version of my July 1 response to Rep. Leslie Heinemann’s myth-making on Medicaid expansion. The District 8 Republican peddled his Koch-y misinformation about Medicaid expansion in the July 1 paper. The editorial board rejected my initial submission on the basis of my substantial use of quotes and sources. “Too many quotes,” read the unsigned letter from the Opinion Page staff, “should be letter of one’s own opinion.” The paper also declined to include hyperlinks in the online version of the letter.

That rejection is a bit maddening, since that Sioux Falls paper’s criteria for rejecting a letter include “Cannot verify facts.” Rep. Heinemann’s letter asserted several unsourced “facts”; the whole point of my letter was not to voice my opinion but to demonstrate with evidence that Heinemann’s claims were objectively false. I quoted and cited several sources so that readers could see that, unlike Rep. Heinemann, I wasn’t just making stuff up to justify my policy conclusions.

Besides, journalists use others’ words in exactly that fashion all the time. They interview, quote, and cite eyewitnesses and experts to lend credibility to their writing and to establish that the information they present is not just their own popping off. Why not let readers report such quotes and sources in their own writing?

I nonetheless pared my original 795-word, 10-source blog post to a 349-word, zero-hyperlink essay that at least mentions four sources that readers can Google:

Heinemann points fretfully to faster-than-expected enrollment in states that have expanded Medicaid. He ignores an 11-state study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showing that Medicaid expansion is saving states and hospitals money.

The three states Heinemann cites are all better off fiscally. According to a June 2016, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute brief, Washington state has saved over $100 million. According to a March 2016 Montana Budget and Policy Center brief, Montana saved $3 million in state funds. According to a July 2015 Reno Gazette-Journal article, Nevada will spend another $9 million of its general funds to receive $1.0 billion more in federal match [CAH, letter to the editor, that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.07.21; revised from CAH, “Heinemann Fails Fact-Check on Fiscal Impacts of Medicaid Expansion,” Dakota Free Press, 2016.07.01].

That passage worked much better in the original, with the sources’ own words quoted and cited, and with links where any curious reader could verify and read more of the source text. I’m happy, even twenty days later, to have the space in the Sioux Falls reading market, but that ability to instantly share other texts and help readers see for themselves is a primary advantage of blogs over newspapers.

7 Responses to DFP Debunking of Heinemann’s Medicaid Myths Finally Runs in Paper

  1. Jerry K. Sweeney

    I received a similar response when I commented on a lengthy essay deploring the idea of conscripting women. The paper has a point when they avow letters should involve opinion. They should not be required to expend newsprint on articles from other publications.

    Unfortunately, the line betwixt ‘opinion’ and ‘lies’ went by the board when proposed laws could be summarily dismissed by recourse to what we once euphemistically called ‘scripture’. Belike, it is time the Argus recognize that hyperlinks are not, per se, quotations, but an opportunity to distinguish fact from opinion.

  2. Douglas Wiken

    Years have passed since I tried to get anything into the Argus. It was pre-internet and e-mail. They dinked around demanding one change after another. They finally butchered it to the point that subjects and verbs did not agree. Enough time elapsed that the original issue was probably forgotten and my letter was so butchered it was not then obvious to what it related. I hoped perhaps they had improved significantly.

  3. Jerry, I’m not sure I can draw a line between expending newsprint from other publications and expending newsprint from other individuals not on the payroll. Sure, I don’t want letters to the editor to consist of verbatim, uncited third parties. A citizen shouldn’t be able to say, “Here! Publish these 500 words from the New York Times or Hamlet!” But an individual writer should be able to do what I do here all the time: weave fairly used selections from other sources into her own prose to substantiate her point.

    If that is a step too far for some paper editors, then hyperlinks can serve as a fair compromise. I understand the business argument: the paper wants to keep eyeballs on its website rather than providing links that take people elsewhere. But good grief—it’s the Internet! Everybody goes elsewhere! Nobody looks at just one website, and nobody should. Hyperlinks are potlatch: link generously, and others will link generously back. This blog is not harmed one bit by linking to other sources; quite the contrary, linking is essential to establishing the credibility and utility of this blog.

  4. Douglas, I agree that the length of the process is absurd. Delaying a response for three weeks is nuts. We get better results here in the blogosphere by making every article open to immediate public response. When individuals post inappropriate responses, we bloggers can edit or delete them, but we can also watch the rest of the commentariat point out the flaws and render their judgment. At the expense of occasional tangents, lies, and f/s-bombs (keep it clean, people!), we get more and faster responses that provide more context to the original story and more interaction among readers. That’s a more open and educational process.

  5. Douglas Wiken

    The Argus would also not publish a letter I sent them because I had posted parts of it on Dakota Today. They claimed then they would not publish any LTTE that had been in any other newspaper.

  6. Next time you should post the letter to the editor first Mr. Wiken, then you can call them on their bull puckey.

  7. Douglas, that’s interesting: at no point did the editors complain about my adaptation of my original blog post to their format.