Tuesday, September 09, 2008

About the Anne Kilkenny email

Newsweek has run a debunking article about claims being made in the Anne Kilkenny email, and other "fact" sheets being circulated around the internet about Governor Palin. A few of the salient points:

"Palin did not cut funding for special needs education in Alaska by 62 percent. She didn't cut it at all. In fact, she tripled per-pupil funding over just three years."

"She did not demand that books be banned from the Wasilla library. Some of the books on a widely circulated list were not even in print at the time."

"She was never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a group that wants Alaskans to vote on whether they wish to secede from the United States. She's been registered as a Republican since May 1982."

"Palin never endorsed or supported Pat Buchanan for president. She once wore a Buchanan button as a "courtesy" when he visited Wasilla, but shortly afterward she was appointed to co-chair of the campaign of Steve Forbes in the state."

"Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska's schools. She has said that students should be allowed to "debate both sides" of the evolution question, but she also said creationism "doesn't have to be part of the curriculum.""

I'm proposing that we UU bloggers set a new standard on the internet. Let's all try to fact-check our posts before posting. Most of the ones above, like the DK diaries that caused the initial firestorm needed only a Google to correct. Here's some tip-offs that should alert you to something that needs a fact-check:

"So and so slashed funding for such and such". This is a trick both parties use, at all levels of government. The way it works is to first pass a ridiculously large increase in your pet program; then, when the Mayor or Governor or President does the responsible thing and cuts it back to a reasonable number, you can claim he "slashed the budget". This is easy to debunk- just compare the previous budget to the current one. Virtually any time money is mentioned in a political ad, some such trick has been pulled. For example, both President Clinton and the then newly elected Republican Congress tried to claim credit for a balanced budget. They were both lying. When you look closely, you'll notice that the national debt increased during those years- and if you have a balanced budget, which includes your loan payments, your debt load does not go up.

A corollary to the above is to claim that someone has "cut standards" or "eliminated safeguards". It works the same way; establish some ludicrous regulation, then castigate them for changing it to a realistic number. Since lay people don't know what the reasonable standards should be, it's very effective.

Big numbers being thrown around without explanation or definition. For example, an editorial in the local paper spoke of the thousands of acres being lost to urban sprawl in Indiana every year. Alarmed, I looked it up- there are 640 acres per square mile, and 35,870 square miles of land in Indiana, for a total of 22,956,800 acres. I breathed a little easier. Or when Mitch Snyder, the homeless advocate, claimed that 45 homeless people die per second. That was repeated a number of times in the news before someone actually picked up a pocket calculator and figured out that would mean 1.4 billion dead per year!

Any claim of fact that doesn't reference a publicly available source to cross check.


7 comments:

Tyler said...

Joel -- You refer to Newsweek's rebuttal to the "Anne Kilkenny email". But the points you make (and the Newsweek article makes) have nothing to do with the contents of that email. I'm sure you've received a copy of it. Did you read it?

To rebut, point by point:

1. "...cut funding for special needs..."
Kilkenny's email does not mention special needs funding at all.

2. "...demand that books be banned..."
Kilkenny's email is specific in what happened, and the word "banned" is never used, nor are any specific books mentioned. Her accusation is that Palin tried to have the librarian fired because she refused consider removing books from the library, and that the community successfully defended the librarian.

3. "never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party". This topic isn't even mentioned in Kilkenny's email. As to the nature of the accusation itself. Your statement is true, but her husband was until 2002, and Palin did give an address to the AIP. So it's safe to say that while she wasn't a member, she does not seem to dispute the goals of the organization.

4. "... never supported Pat Buchanan for president..."
Also Buchanan's never mentioned in Kilkenny's email, nor is anything remotely akin to such an accusation.

5. "...teaching creationism in Alaska's schools..."
Again, (this sounds like a broken record here), no mention of either creationism (or Intelligent design) is present in Kilkenny's email.

So my question to you, Joel, is: Did you read Anne Kilkenny's email before you cut and pasted the Newsweek "rebuttal". I'm not surprised when Newsweek does a crappy job of conflating issues, but I expect more of you.

Your title indicates a "fact checking" of the Kilkenny email, but nothing of that email is fact checked. So with that in mind, I'll leave you with your own quote to consider.

"I'm proposing that we UU bloggers set a new standard on the internet. Let's all try to fact-check our posts before posting."

Joel Monka said...

"Did you read Anne Kilkenny's email before you cut and pasted the Newsweek "rebuttal"."

Did you read the first sentence of my post, where I said "... and other "fact" sheets being circulated..." I was clearly referring to more than just the Anne Kilkenny letter. Perhaps you should check more closely before commenting.

"I'm not surprised when Newsweek does a crappy job of conflating issues,..."

At the end of the Newsweek article linked to, they list 16 sources for their information, including newspapers from Anchorage to Boston, and other credible sources from AP to ABC news. Not too crappy a job.

Tyler said...

Yes I did read your first line. You refer to "other fact sheets", but post no links and and specify none. I'm sure there are "fact" sheets about Palin (and McCain and Obama and Biden and Clinton and ... well you get the idea) that are full of distortions and exaggerations. But the only "fact" sheet that you name contains NONE of the allegations that you claim it has.

The title of your post only mentions the Anne Kilkenny email. This is (at best) misleading. At worst it's disingenuous.

I do notice that, while you repeat my question, you chose not to answer it. You certainly make no mention of any item in her letter in either your original post or your rebuttal to my post.

As to the Newsweek article, it has been updated. On page 4 -- Newsweek acknowledges their error.

And yes, there are 16 (unlinked) sources in that article. No I didn't check out their sources. Did you? Really?

Finally, I have one article from a local paper that points out this issue better than I can: The "sliming" of Palin: did FactCheck exaggerate?

Tyler said...

The fact that Newsweek has 16 sources for it's information doesn't necessarily mean that they did a good job in the article. Books by Ann Coulter and Michael Moore have tons of endnotes, and (I hope) we agree that they do not represent good journalism or thorough investigation.

Chalicechick said...

I do imagine Anne Kilkenny as a politically active weirdo with a grudge, who certainly writes from her own point of view.

That said, this was a really weird way to headline the post if the stuff you were debunking wasn't actually in her email.

CC

Joel Monka said...

"But the only "fact" sheet that you name contains NONE of the allegations that you claim it has."

Are you quibbling over the fact that the word used by Ms. Kilkenny was "censorship" rather than "banning books"? That's a rather thin distinction- how does one apply censorship other than banning books? Ms. Kilkenny says, "...she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed." That is two accusations: first, "removing" books, which sounds a whole lot like "banning" them to me. Second, that the firing was a direct result of this. According to USA Today , not only did she not try to ban, censor, or remove (pick your word of choice) books, but the firing had nothing to do with this supposed attempt to ban. "In January 1997, Palin requested that the city's department heads, including (librarian)Emmons, reapply for their positions. Though the censorship issue was not raised, some members of the community rallied behind Emmons and the librarian kept her job until she resigned three years later." Time Magazine also frames the "firing" as part of a city-wide action, not targeted specifically at the librarian.

This is different from the way Kilkenny tells it. So no, I don't think my post is disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

That's only one out of the many issues, and it isn't phrased the same. The points you mention are actually attributed to an entirely different mass email, where the word "banning" in place of "censorship" is used. Either way, to name your entry "About The Anne Kilkenny email" and then cover many accusations that don't appear in it, and only one that is remotely similar to something mentioned by Kilkenny out of the lot is extremely misleading.

I have been trying to find someone who fact checked the Kilkenny email. All I have managed to find are several blogs or articles, like this one, that name these same accusations, but nothing actually from the Kilkenny email. The only site that seems to have considered checking out the claims made by Kilkenny is factcheck.org. It contains a correction which states:

"Correction: In our original story, we incorrectly said that a few of the claims we examine here were included in the e-mail by Kilkenny. Only one of the claims – about the librarian's firing – was similar to an item in that e-mail. We regret the error. "