A Dangerous Journalism FAIL at True North Reports

I don’t usually bother spending any energy chronicling the reportorial misadventures of the Island of Misfit Toys doing business as True North Reports. That’s the conservative “news” outlet funded by Lenore Broughton, the reclusive ultra-right-wing millionaire.

But this one is special. And it’s a threat to our coronavirus response.

TNR’s Mike Bielawski put together a piece alleging that South Dakota has taken the proper course on Covid-19. That would come as a surprise to any credible public health expert — and I don’t include Peter Navarro or Scott Atlas in those ranks.

And it’s entirely based on a mathematical blunder of epic proportions.

Bielawski cites the two states’ similar death tolls — 165 for South Dakota, 58 for Vermont.

The 58 was Vermont’s total death toll as of a couple months ago. Mikey didn’t bother to update it. But the real whopper is the South Dakota figure, which is not total deaths but the death rate per 100,000 residents!

The actual death count in South Dakota is 1,448. That’s far, far worse than Vermont’s. How much worse? Try eight times as bad. According to the Centers for Disease Control, South Dakota’s death rate is 158 per 100,000. Vermont’s is 20.

Again, normally I wouldn’t bother to debunk this kind of nonsense — except the article argues that we should follow South Dakota’s example because Covid isn’t really that bad. That, my friends, is dangerous. And according to the headline, this is one of TNR’s “most read” pieces. So it’s getting traction among the site’s small audience of hard-core conservatives.

After the jump: More whoppers!

Here’s a big fat logic error to go along with Bielawski’s faulty math. He pretends that Covid-19’s only impact is death. He ignores the serious illnesses suffered by many. And he ignores the estimated 10 percent of Covid patients who become “long haulers,” with severe health problems that go on for months or more.

Now let’s look at total Covid cases. Per the CDC, South Dakota is second-worst in the nation with a rate of 11,039 per 100,000 residents. Vermont has the lowest rate among the 50 states at 1,141.

South Dakota has had almost ten times as many Covid illnesses per capita as Vermont.

Tell me again about South Dakota’s sterling pandemic response.

Bielawski cites South Dakota’s much healthier tax picture and lower unemployment rate. But he says nothing about the human tragedy of it all. Or, if you don’t care about suffering, consider the economic impact of all those illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.

He also rolls out a common Covid-truther notion, frequently echoed by Trump administration officials: That Covid is mainly a disease of the elderly, that it shouldn’t be much of a concern for anyone under the age of, say, 60. The truth is that Covid is deadlier for old folks and those with pre-existing conditions, but it’s still a threat to people of any age.

One more before I wrap this up. Bielawski notes that Vermont shut down most public events such as fairs and holiday celebrations, while South Dakota put the pedal to the metal. He specifically cites the Sturgis motorcycle rally as an example of the state’s steadfastness in facing down the pandemic.

What he doesn’t say is that the Sturgis gathering was a public health disaster, leading to an estimated 260,000 Covid illnesses according to a study by the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University.

I could go on, but why bother. Even by TNR’s low standards, this article is a crime against journalism. And to the extent that any readers buy the nonsense on offer, it makes our battle against coronavirus that much harder.

For shame, TNR.

10 thoughts on “A Dangerous Journalism FAIL at True North Reports

  1. H. Jay Eshelman

    Speaking of getting it wrong.

    Re: “The 58 was Vermont’s total death toll as of a couple months ago.”

    You’re right. As was the initial publication date (August 29th I believe) of this TNR article. This article, as it’s title suggests, is simply a recounting of one of TNR’s Most Read pieces.

    P.S. Your link to the Sturgis study doesn’t link properly.

      1. H. Jay Eshelman

        Oh, okay. To disagree with John Walters is to be a nitpicker. So be it.

        Speaking of dangerous, then riddle me this. What are Covid mortality rates for K thru 12 school kids compared to the elderly (over 65 years of age) living in nursing homes?

        And how many Vermonters have died from drug over doses and suicides compared to Covid?

  2. Walter Carpenter

    The Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, is an ardent Trumpster, probably just like TNR. Her state has 1,464 Covid deaths with a population 200,000 or so larger than vt. We’re still below 150, which may not last for long, especially when that new strain gets here, but we’re still below it. Facts are facts, no matter how the TNR tries to alter or rewrite them.

  3. Jan Abbott

    Betty, this good John Walters column, as opposed to the other one I just sent you, shows the length people go to to distort the news.

    BTW, we are appalled by what DaSantis is doing in Florida.



    1. Kathryn Trudell

      You, who live in Vermont, are appalled at what Florida is doing? Why? Do you live there? Do you know what life is like on the ground? Do you know how the citizens feel about it? Do you believe in one size fits all? Do you despise the Guv there because he is not a liberal Republican like Phil Scott? Or are you just virtue-signaling?

  4. H. Jay Eshelman

    Again, Mr. Walters, it seems to be you who has failed to address the initial observation that the premise of your ‘core argument’ is fallacious – because the TNR article you critiqued is set in the context of data as it existed several months ago (back in August), not as it is today, as you implied. I actually corrected the misrepresentation with a citation that shows past and recent data, state by state, so your readers can decide for themselves whether or not anyone’s Covid management is ‘dangerous’ or not.

    And don’t forget the economic and psychological ramifications of the Covid lockdowns mentioned in the TNR article. You still haven’t addressed the impact of lockdowns on school children and increasing drug overdoses and suicides. I don’t mean to ‘nitpick’. But if your commentary is meant to enlighten readers, as opposed to trashing a competing media site, the overview is important.


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