Fact Checking: “inextricably intertwined” software and data

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last week that a county engineer was within his rights under the state’s public records law to charge $2,000 for a copy of public real estate database, according to Court News Ohio.

In a 6-1 per curiam opinion, the court held that Opperman met the requirements of the Ohio Public Records Act by offering to provide Gambill with a copy of the county’s electronic database containing deed information and aerial photos of all property in the county if Gambill paid the estimated $2,000 cost of separating that data from proprietary mapmaking software protected by U.S. patent laws that is “inextricably intertwined” with the data on the engineer’s computer.

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Rackspace: The Open Cloud Company?

I was at SXSW this week surrounded by noisy advertisements for every tech doodad or service imaginable. One of the more ostentatious displays was from the hosting company Rackspace, which had completely taken over a gastropub near the Austin Convention Center, frosting the windows with their logos and stationing hawkers on the street to beckon passersby in to learn about “the open cloud.”

A colleague of mine remarked as we walked by, “That’s a bit misleading. It’s not an ‘open cloud,’ it’s just an ‘open stack’ they are running.” Well well! Do we smell bullshit here?
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The Tell All Memo That Didn’t

The National Rifle Association posted a video an online video prior to the State of the Union regarding gun control. It claimed that a memo from the administration which proved that measures supported by President Obama to reduce gun violence, will eventually result in the federal government confiscating arms that are lawfully owned.



While the document does exist, and the video quotes directly from it, the conclusions it draws are not those that have been supported by the administration: “The ad claims that in order for our proposals to work, we would have to confiscate guns and create a national gun registry,” said an administration official. “That is simply not true.”[1]


The uncovering of an “internal” Justice Department’s memo by the NRA, according to Cox, reveals ideas that were supposedly never meant to get out, but the document is a research on gun violence and did not represent the position of the Department of Justice or the administration. In addition, the Justice Department Official told the website Talking Points Memo that the document is not an official memo nor was it used as part of the gun violence task force that created the White House plan.


The video claims the quotes cited prove that President Obama is out to create a national registry of gun owners and use the power of the federal government to confiscate firearms [2]. Thus, in this video, the NRA is framing Obama’s policy as a veiled attempt at confiscation.

Wayne LaPierra

Now that we have an understanding of the message of video – that the Obama is considering gun confiscation – let’s review the rhetorical tactics used:


–       The video features Chris Cox, the Executive Director the NRA which adds a new face to the NRA’s videos which have been led by Wayne LaPierre since the Newtown, Conn shootings. This allows the NRA to distance itself from its association with Newtown, an event that caused significant discomfort among the general population and within the NRA.





–       By revealing an “Internal” Justice Department Memo, Cox attempts to give Americans little-known insight to the administration’s workings.

–       Cox also uses rhetorical questions that he answers to define the terms and phrases found in the memo for the viewer. He

  • “Requiring gun registration?” is defined as “An illegal abuse of privacy and freedom unprecedented in our history”
  • “Mandatory Gun Buyback?” is defined as “Government confiscation of legal firearms owned by honest citizens”

–       Throughout, Cox also uses charged language to anger the viewer such as, “illegal abuse, government confiscation, honest citizen, prosecuting criminals”

–       Ends by deflecting the issue of gun control to other issues. Cox says, “Get serious about protecting our kids, prosecuting criminals, and fixing our broken mental health system.”


These tactics are used to convey that the memo, shows, without a doubt, that the administration plans to confiscate guns and create a gun registry, which is inaccurate.




In fact, the administration has repeated it’s support for the right of citizens to bear arms. In a Mayor’s meeting in Washington, Biden says, “The first foundational principle is that there is a second amendment. The president and I support the second amendment, and it comes with the right for law-abiding, responsible citizens to own guns – use it for their protection and for recreation.” [3]



Robert Spitzer, chair of the political science department at State University of New York – Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy says that the NRA was factually wrong in the video. “The ad is less hysterical and foreboding than the previous one, but is actually less factually accurate than the one about Obama’s daughters (after all, it was factually true that they have bodyguards),” he said in an email Wednesday. “So, the NRA has traded anger for factual inaccuracy.”[4]




[1] Johnson, Eliana. “DOJ Memo: Assault-Weapons Ban ‘Unlikely to Have an Impact on Gun Violence.’ “ The National Review Online. Feb 18, 2013. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/340941/doj-memo-assault-weapons-ban-unlikely-have-impact-gun-violence-eliana-johnson

[2] McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “LaPierre: They’re Coming for Our Guns No matter What they Say. Talking Points Memo. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/02/wayne-lapierre-fox-news-sunday.php

[3] US Conference of Mayors’s Meeting. Washington DC. Via Youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vvpL692oJNA

[4] McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “Obama Administration Hits Back at Latest NRA Video.” Talking Points Memo. Feb 13, 2013. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/02/nra-ad-obama-administration-response.php

Paul Ryan is Such a Ham

When the House of Representatives released their budget proposal yesterday, there was an almost instantaneous uproar from the news media. Left and right leaning organizations alike chastised the GOP for repackaging a budget that had, for all intents and purposes, been rejected both in congress (twice) and during the last presidential election. An Atlantic Monthly business headline read “Paul Ryan’s Budget Simplified: Save the Rich, Spare the Old, Forget the Poor.” I thought to myself, that’s a bold claim to make, but indeed the media all seemed to have the same general consensus. But, there has to be a method to the somewhat hyperbolized madness surrounding this budget. As often as we damn the congress as being incompetent and bull-headed, they are presumably erudite people with some sort of rationale behind their decisions. So it stands to reason that the GOP continues to submit the same budget three years running because there is some validity in its pages. In order to form a true understanding, I’d have to get answers from the horse’s mouth.

It seemed the best place to begin this search would be the primary source, the budget itself. While it’s nice to read synopses about needlessly verbose documents, I knew that only more opinions would come second hand. The House Republicans had taken the time to construct a user-centric website around their budget. It was a nice gesture, if poorly implemented. This isn’t a design critique, so I’ll spare the details of the failed UX, but suffice to say I finally chose to download the pdf rather than read the embedded document.

More interesting than the budge itself was the promotional video embedded as part of the overall marketing package. After gathering the facts I needed from the document itself, I moved on to see what the horse himself had to say in three minutes and twenty-nine seconds. There were many cut scenes of families, small children and seniors with somber instrumental music quietly playing in the background. Ryan had obviously held several strategy sessions about how best to tug at the heartstrings of his constituency. There were several scenes of people using Apple products to watch segments of his video. Product placement?

Aside from the environmental factors, there were many claims made by the Congressman that raised my eyebrows. His slogan centers around two paths for the future of America. “…The America we know or…debt, doubt and decline” What “the America we know” refers to was never made clear, but it seemed to insinuate a shift to free-market capitalism and drastically smaller government. However, according to the US treasury (admittedly a partisan organization) federal employment is at a historic low in relation to overall workforce. Additionally, it is unclear what time frame “the America we know” supposedly represents. As evidenced by the housing bubble, much of the prosperity we enjoyed in the past was falsely inflated. Is that the America we know?

Ryan goes on to attack the “Democratic Senate” for not proposing a budget and continuing to “spend, but there’s zero accountability.” These claims are true, but they do little to argue the validity of his budget plan, or how the plan will benefit the American people. He claims that “the president’s budget calls for more spending and more debt.” This also proved to be true, and upon further investigation, the president’s budget did seem short-sighted. The CBO projected that under the president’s plan, revenue and economic growth would rise through 2017 but then slow and begin to decline through 2022.

The scene cuts to a group of carpenters working on a project, while Ryan narrates in the background: “Despite $2 trillion dollars in tax increases on hardworking Americans…” The scene and narration paint an ambivalent picture, however. The debt hikes from January mainly target earners over $200,000 for singles, $400,000 for married couples. The average carpenter makes about $46,000 a year. While not naming “middle-income” or “working class” in the scene, Ryan misleads the viewer by portraying disparate imagery.

“Debt skyrockets under his plan, and will put us on par with countries like Greece” he says, while a colorful chart animates and disappears, with a pinpoint for Greece. When pausing the video on the chart however, the intersection of US debt with Greece is in 2050. This assertion is speculative at best. The CBO states in their 2013 budgetary analysis, “Additional business-cycle fluctuations will happen in the future, but it is impossible to know when they will occur and whether they will be large or small.” Again, while the initial claim “Debt skyrockets under his plan” is true (and worrisome) Ryan skews the numbers to enforce his message.

The most egregious claims come when he begins to discuss the healthcare reform plan. It seems as though he throws every marketing tactic at this issue to appeal to seniors (the GOP’s main demographic). He strikes at the fear seniors have of being without adequate healthcare when he claims that “under the presidential health law, Medicare will go bankrupt.” Unfortunately, this is a stretch of the truth at best. In reality, a part of Medicare (Part A, covering hospital visits) will become insolvent (unable to cover 100% of it’s costs) by 2016, but will still be able to pay most costs. Furthermore, in a report by the Congressional Research Service in 1970 projected Part A’s bankruptcy by 1972. 40 years later, the same claims are being made.

He also warns that the Affordable Care Act will “[take] the power away from current seniors, and give that power to a board of 15 unelected bureaucrats. AARP, an unaffiliated non-profit for seniors, says, ” Health care under the ACA will not be government run. “The law builds on and strengthens the existing private insurance system,” says Collins. “Fifty to 60 percent of people will continue to get insurance through an employer, and people who are buying their own insurance will still buy private health plans. The choice of plan is not dictated, and you’ll be able to choose the provider you want — no government bureaucrat involved.” Ryan claims that his plan would “put patients in control of their health care decisions” which is true. Under the Ryan budget, health care would move to a voucher system and seniors would have a fixed amount to spend on healthcare. The ulterior motive of this voucher system is being hotly debated, though.

In Ryan’s budget plan, he assumes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. With a Democratic Senate, this is all but impossible. However, he claims to propose tax reform that’s common sense. Of all the claims made in the video, though, his remarks on tax reform are probably the closest to candid honesty. He does lower the tax rate for everyone, and closes “loop holes” though many speculators believe that will also include deductions for mortgage payments and others deductions for the middle class.

The power of video is undeniable. Whenever an audience has a multi-sensory experience, marketers have the ability to appeal to the users on both blatant and latent levels. Several times throughout the video, Ryan’s vague words can be combined with compelling imagery to send a specific message without committing outright libel. The overuse of fear mongering, name-calling and ambivalent imagery unfortunately discredit his useful claims, like the spending problems with Obama’s plan. In the GOP’s effort to steer people to their line of thinking, they’ve actually succeeded in calling attention to their own sensationalism. I found the answers I wanted after reading between the lines, but–as is usual with American politics–I wish I could have been spared the band-standing.

Calcium Claims

I chose to look at truth claims related to calcium for our assignment this week. I walked through La Verde’s and took photos of any packaging that mentioned the amount of calcium the product contained.

Everything seems to be internally consistent, which doesn’t necessarily imply that any or all of this is true. Further research and chemical testing for calcium is probably necessary… but that’s probably for a different day.

attempting to fact-check the front page of reddit

This week, we were asked to assess the truth claims of a particular text. I decided to try tackling my favorite timesink: reddit.com.

For those who don’t know, Reddit is a website that bills itself as the front page of the internet. Users can vote links up or down, and the top-ranked links at any given time are listed on the homepage in descending order. I wanted to look at reddit/r/all at a random time and explore how accurate the top links were. This task ended up being fairly difficult – I may have monstrously overestimated my ability to assess a diverse array of information — but it was a fun experiment.

To start, I created a new account and unsubscribed it from a few of the main groups that tend to glut the front page, but are difficult or impossible to verify as truth claims: /r/funny (jokes), /r/pics (pictures), /r/WTF (horrifying pictures), /r/AdviceAnimals (memes), /r/AskReddit (discussion threads), and /r/aww (cats). I logged in on a Tuesday afternoon and looked at the top links:

1. Costco Proves Republicans Wrong By Paying a Living Wage and Watching Profits Soar [link] [thread]
description: Politicus USA article linking Costco’s profits to its CEO’s endorsement of a higher minimum wage, and comparing it to Wal-mart
assessment: The article’s numbers seem to hold up, but it definitely cherry-picks its facts. [1] [2] [3] [4] The title also exemplifies Wendell Potter’s ‘Deadly Spin,’ most notably the use of glittering generalities to make a point. As one commenter puts it, As usual, PoliticusUSA is arguing against a point of view that doesn’t exist. They say: ‘Costco is proof that the Republican idea that labor must be stomped on in order for our economy to prosper is wrong.’ THIS IS NOT WHAT REPUBLICANS BELIEVE! Generally speaking, Republicans believe that a more free market will do better than a less free market. Finally, there’s no clear definition in the article of what constitutes a living wage; some argue that $11.50/hour is still too low.

2. TIL that North Korea has less firepower than Thailand, and only slightly more than Ethiopia. [link] [thread]
description: link to a website that ranks countries based on their “Power Index Score”
assessment: The site pulls data from numerous reputable sources, including the U.S. Library of Congress, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and the CIA Worldbook. However, the post ends up being tagged by the /r/TIL moderators as misleading, since the assessment is based on a narrow definition of “firepower” (no accounting for nuclear weapons or military training, as well as some estimations in place of hard data) and leans on a popular misunderstanding of the military power of Thailand and Ethiopia for shock value.

3. Why hasn’t this game resurfaced [link] [thread]
description: OP misses the 90s motorcycle-racing video game Road Rash.
assessment: EA last released a Road Rash game in 2003, when they adapted their 1999 Road Rash: Jailbreak installment for Game Boy. [1] Since then, 9.5 years have passed, which seems like a long time to wait for a new video game.

4. A Collection of Movie Matte Paintings [link] [thread]
description: an album of different background paintings used in famous films
assessment: Verifying this properly would include tracking down the origin of each picture, which I… did not do. Knock me off a couple of points for this one.

5. Not too proud of this… [link] [thread]
description: In a Confession Bear meme, OP admits that he assumes religious people are less intelligent
assessment: This is obviously an opinion post. However, I did dig up at least one study on OP’s side.

7. AMA Request: Neil Gaiman
discussion thread – skipped

8. Penguins Being Penguins
video – adorable, but skipped

9. Guy hacks into Florida State University’s network and redirects all webpage visitors to meatspin.com. [link] [thread]
description: story in the News Herald about the arrest of Benjamin Blouin
assessment: Plenty of other news outlets in the area covered the story, although the Miami New Times gets a bonus point for going the extra mile and describing meatspin to its readers. [1] Most of these news outlets link back to the original News Herald piece, though. The best way to nail this one down would be to solicit the original arrest report from the campus police.

10. NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars [link] [thread]
description: scientists found signs of S, N, H, O, P, and C in a Curiosity rock sample
assessment: I’m not sure how one would go about fact-checking this one. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the only one with access to such samples, so I can’t go to another source for corroboration. Thoughts?

11. Earl Sweatshirt – WHOA [link] [thread]
song – skipped

12. /u/anandam1de describes the negative effects of habitual Methamphetamine use in an clinical but terrifyingly easy to understand way, managing to scare redditors on /r/Drugs. [link] [thread]
The comment in question had been deleted by the time I got to this link.

13. bvman gives some touching advice to a man who is worried about his widow [link] [thread]
advice – skipped

14. TIL Because of its popularity as a midnight movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has the longest theatrical run in history (almost 38 years and counting). [link] [thread]
description: link to the Wikipedia page for ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’
assessment: This fact checks out. [1] [2] [3] ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ started showing in 1975, and can still be seen in theatres around the world. [4]

15. Clogged arteries are seen as the quintessential symptom of an unhealthy modern lifestyle. But the condition was common across the ancient world, even among active hunter-gatherers with no access to junk good, a study of mummies has found. [link] [thread]
description: Nature study finds signs of atherosclerosis in mummies
assessment: The study performed whole body CT scans on 137 mummies from different geographical regions and time periods, and found signs of atherosclerosis in 47 of them, or 34%. In modern day, atherosclerosis is found in well over 60% of people above age 50. The article is correct, although the headline (which fully lifts from the Nature article lede) is a little misleading in that it implies that the numbers are equivalent.


Is “On Bullshit” Bullshit?

Evaluating a philosophical text for truthiness raises an interesting question: Can a philosopher debunk bullshit without employing certain “bullshitting” techniques himself? After Ethan introduced “On Bullshit”, I was optimistic. After all, he told us that “On Bullshit” was written by philosopher Harry Frankfurt. And for as long as philosophy has been around, philosophers have been suspicious of rhetoric, with some, like Plato, calling it “mere flattery” and by itself, immoral. So if Frankfurt can’t do it, who can?

I think that reporters in some sense straddle the aims of both philosophers and rhetoricians -they seek truth but also want to convey truth that in a persuasive way. I wanted to see what I could learn from Frankfurt and Wendell Potter, two masters of their respective crafts, and what I could learn from applying a rhetorician’s toolkit to a philosophical text: How does my reading of Frankfurt’s text change with Potter’s techniques in mind? And what innovations might help reporters and readers sharpen their bullshit detectors?

Quest for Bullshit
I set out to read “On Bullshit” with Wendell Potter’s eight propaganda techniques in mind. Here, in short, Wendell’s eight techniques:

1. Fear
2. Glittering Generalities
3. Testimonials
4. Name-calling
5. Plain folks
6. Euphemisms
7. Bandwagon
8. Transfer

Bullshit Detection & Flagging Process
I wanted to use icons to help me flag rhetorical techniques in the text. This could help visually point out worrisome bullshit spots, and tell other readers to be suspicious of particular passages. I haven’t used icons to mark up my texts before, and I didn’t find a lot of options for doing this in Adobe Acrobat, so instead, I searched for clipart on Creative Commons ClipArt, imported and resized them in the pdf.

‘Bullshit’ Findings
I found Potter’s Technique #8:  “Transfer”, or the approval of a respected institution, right underneath Frankfurt’s name. I wasn’t sure whether to count this or not, since Frankfurt is merely citing his university affiliation. However, it seemed to me that stating “Princeton University” before the first paragraph even begins immediately signals to the reader: “This is a guy from Princeton, so he must know what he’s talking about.” And I think that this could very well influence the reader’s perception of the text. Perhaps she puts down her critical guard and is now quicker to agree with Frankfurt’s claims. Had he written “Burger King Employee”, the text might be perceived very differently. So I placed the appropriate icon.

I decided against counting Frankfurt’s first sentence “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit” as a glittering generalization (Technique # 2), because Frankfurt relativizes “salient features of our culture” with the statement “one of the most”. But as for the second sentence “Everyone knows this”- there’s no evidence for that!! That sentence definitely calls for an icon.

I couldn’t find any more of the eight rhetorical techniques until the end of the page, when suddenly – the Oxford English Dictionary. That definitely counts as a “Transfer” (Technique #8). Frankfurt could have cited Wikipedia or Wiktionary instead. But he appeals to a more “established” authority. So I placed the icon.

In sum, I found a total of five glittering generalities, three testimonials, six euphemisms and five transfers. And I have to say, for an almost 8000 word text, that seems like very little bullshit.

While looking for instances of these eight techniques, I also found that Frankfurt was making a lot of anti-bullshit moves. I decided to see how I could generalize these and then flag them in the text also.

1. Fear — Contextualization/Understanding
2. Glittering Generalities — Specification
3. Testimonials — Experience & Facts
4. Name-calling — Correct name
5. Plain folks — Author’s/Subject’s real background
6. Euphemisms — Telling it as it is
7. Bandwagon — Demographics
8. Transfer — No name flashing

Since finding icons was so time consuming, I reused my old icons and placed an ‘x’ over them to indicate “anti-bullshitting” techniques. I found the first in the title: “On Bullshit”. This is clearly an example of anti-bullshit Technique #6: “Telling it as it is”. I mean, Frankfurt doesn’t label this “A Treatise on Excrement” or “An Explication of Hot Air”. With “On Bullshit”, he isn’t beating around the bush. So I placed the appropriate icon.

Next, instead of blowing his previous generalization “there is so much bullshit” out of proportion, Frankfurt does something else: He points to the need to understand what bullshit is in the first place, stating that “to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.” So rather than relying on Bullshit Technique # 1 and describing an epic oncoming tidal wave of bullshit, Frankfurt is on the right path to helping readers understand what bullshit is in the first place. 

Although I’ll spare you the rest of the analysis, overall, I counted more anti-bullshit moves than bullshit techniques. I’m not sure whether that means that Frankfurt is a great philosopher or bad rhetorician (or both?). But what I did observe was how my own understanding of the text changed when I read with this “bullshit detection quest” in mind. Rereading the text to find places where I could place icons made me stop more often, carry out more internal dialogues about whether and where bullshit was being carried out.

From a cognitive perspective, we learned in class that readers are drawn to “feel good” rhetoric like moths to light. But by placing these icons, I stopped frequently to debunk statement. However, my process of finding, importing and placing icons was timely, clumsy and lonely. In addition, my icons and explanation for why I placed them are in two different spaces. So I began searching and brainstorming for ways to make rhetorical bullshit flagging faster, more orderly and collaborative.

Better Tools
hypothes.is is the closest tool I found for flagging and commenting on bullshit in texts. It’s an overlay on top of content such as news articles, blogs, terms of service, etc. Although the software is still being developed, I’m looking forward to exploring it more. At this stage, it’s text-only and is missing visual features like icons.  I think that visuals could be valuable not only to more quickly flag potential bullshit to other readers, but because they could have a learning function. If readers (especially young readers) can pinpoint specific rhetorical techniques and associate them with an interesting visual while reading, perhaps it would give them a more critical perspective. I imagine that there are even games that could develop out of this.

What comparable or better software for flagging and commenting on rhetorical techniques (in a way that’s embedded in the text) should I look at? I’m sure I’m missing a ton. I’d love to hear ideas about how to make text-embedded rhetorical bullshit flagging quicker, more organized and collaborative.

Israel/Palestine in the Media

Searching for an undisputed fact in the media surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict inevitably leads to defeat. At this point party positions are so entrenched and divergent that not even issues like primary education or access to drinking water–usually considered to be human rights–are left untouched.

And as we discussed, words are easy to manipulate; a strong writer can use her skill to clandestinely persuade a reader to adopt an opinion with little reliance on the facts she presents. Or, facts can be presented and reinterpreted and unintentionally adjusted to better fit a certain narrative. Either way, the potential pitfalls of relying on information that is written and translated and analyzed and summarized, etc. etc, are many. This is apparent with regards to the Israel/Palestine debate to anyone who reads about the issue in Fox and then Haaretz and then Al Jazeera.

Imagery, conversely, can carry a higher degree of credibility with regards to supporting the “fact”. As such, activists in Israel and the Occupied Territories (check out B’tselem, for example) are increasingly relying on photography and film to capture breaches of law perpetrated by the opposite side. But while such testaments to recording the real truth are admirable, I have found that in this context as in any other, imagery can also be manipulated. In particular, lack of context and omission of important relevant information–as opposed to simply presenting wrong or false data–are serious offenders.

As such, for this assignment I will analyze two short clips–one from an Israeli perspective and another from a Palestinian one–to illustrate how lack of image context can radically warp the projection’s significance.


Save Spot: fact-checking Obamacare’s effect on pet care

For our fact-checking assignment, I selected an alarming article that I came across on the Drudge Report today:

Drudge Report headline on March 13th, 2013.

Drudge linked to a CBS Miami story posted on March 11th with the headline, “Obamacare May Bite You At The Vet’s Office” (video with transcript included). Straight off the bat, this story employs two of the rhetorical tricks described by Wendell Potter— the “Fear” and “Plain Folks” tactics. It opens with:

Pet owners listen up: You may want to start saving more money for veterinarian care this year. The reason goes all the way back to Washington and an unintended consequence from medical reform. Dog owner Lori Heiselman was surprised where her veterinarian posted a warning on Facebook. The notice read: “Because medical equipment and supplies will be going up in cost, that extra expense will have to passed on to the customers.” So Lori is already tightening her belt to pay for the increase in her dog’s care. Though she doesn’t like it, she’s willing to pay more for her pets.

To start, the reporter immediately alerts readers to a new threat to their pocketbooks, eliciting worry, if not outright fear, regardless of whether Spot or Fluffy may actually require special veterinary care this year. And we know this is a real problem because average Jane Lori Heiselman received a notification from her veterinarian.

We’re told that this cost hike is the result of a new 2.3 percent federal excise tax on medical devices, which will help fund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, aka. Obamacare). A quick reveals that the good folks at Snopes have looked into this and verified this tax went into effect as of January 1st of this year. It was passed as a provision in the reconciliation bill (HR 4872, subchapter E, section 4191) that was passed with the PPACA. Though the tax is primarily intended for medical devices for humans, it does seem to include devices that are also used for animals.

The CBS report claims that the burden lies on manufacturers to pay the tax, “but a recent survey found more than half plan to pass it along.” The first half of this claim is confirmed by an Internal Revenue Service FAQ. The cost-transfer claim is a use of the “testimonial” tactic of PR– graphics in the video report indicate that the source of this survey is the Emergo Group, a multinational medical equipment consultancy[1]. This large consultancy’s expertise is used to legitimize the implication that the cost of this tax will likely be passed on from manufacturer to veterinarian to customer.

The mix of fear and testimonial continue in quotes from a Dr. Mike Hatcher, who is concerned this may be a “hidden tax” on consumers and may “terribly affect our clients’ ability to have quality care.” Also quoted is an expert from the American Veterinary Medical Association, who throws in a clever euphemism– he frames this tax as a veterinarian medicine subsidy of human health care.

Although the glaring lack of facts describing the exact scope of this problem make this story superficial, it also seems conceivable that higher veterinary bills might be a genuine concern for families who have prior financial constraints and whose pets become sick this year. So is it fair to accuse this report of being spin?

It turns out, the connection between Obamacare and sick puppies surfaced a good nine months ago, in this video released last June by the National Republican Congressional Committee as part of a petition campaign to garner support for the repeal of Obamacare. In December, the excise tax’s effect on pet care was reported in a blog post by the conservative Heritage Foundation and an article by the conservative news site Newsmax. The Heritage post and NRCC video even use similar images of golden retriever puppies– the ultimate Glittering Generality of the good ol’ American Dream.

[1] This study did not seem methodologically biased according to my quick glance, but I’d love the input of anyone with more experience with survey design.