Amy Roberts: Total Eclipse of the Chart
October 6, 2015
About a year ago I decided it was time to set some goals for my life. I thought about a few things I wanted to accomplish and wrote them down and started working toward them. One of goals on that list is to write a book. It doesn’t need to win a Pulitzer, it doesn’t need to be on a best-seller list, it doesn’t even need to be published. I just want to write a book, even if my mom is the only person other than me who reads it.
I’m about halfway done and have gotten to a point in my plot that made me a little uncertain. I know what I wanted to happen to a character, but after a little research, I didn’t know how realistic it was. So I called a friend of mine who is a bona fide author and asked for her input. Here’s what she said:
"Do you believe there are zombies on Mars? No, but there are books about that. You’re writing a piece of fiction. If you need to stretch the truth to make it work, do so. Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story."
I thought her advice was perfect, after all, I’m not writing a piece of nonfiction, or you know, grilling someone during a congressional hearing. Two places where the truth should always be told. Unless of course you’re Jason Chaffetz. Given the Utah congressman’s antics last week, it might be safe to assume he also believes you shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.
Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight panel, spent a day questioning Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. He and other republicans on the committee asked a number of questions, interrupted her responses and overall tried to discredit and defund the health care organization. For his grand finale, Chaffetz showed a chart he claimed proved the number of prevention services provided by Planned Parenthood was sharply declining, while the number of abortions was drastically increasing. He even said the evidence came straight from Planned Parenthood’s annual reports.
He looked pretty darn smug, and it would have been a great "gotcha" moment, had any of it been true. He was quickly proven wrong by Richards, who corrected him, noting chart was from the avid anti-abortion group, Americans United For Life, not Planned Parenthood. In fact, this was written in all capital letters at the bottom of the chart: SOURCE: AMERICANS UNITED FOR LIFE.
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Further, the data had been manipulated. The chart was created with no y-axis, the entire thing was meaningless.
It made for a good story, but it wasn’t factual.
Chaffetz was visibly flustered when Richards corrected him and promised he would get to the bottom of it.
But instead of owning his mistake and admitting he used a bogus chart to make a point, he doubled down on his "evidence" and stood by his stunt, saying in an interview:
"I can understand where people would say the arrows went different directions, but the numbers are accurate. And that’s what we were trying to portray."
Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t say "60% of the time, it happens every time" and cite Ron Burgundy as his source for that fact.
Never mind the number of non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood has barely changed, going from 10.29 million in 2006 to 10.26 million in 2013. And, as Richards explained, the slight decline is a result of "some of the services, like pap smears, dropped in frequency because of changing medical standards about who should be screened and how often."
The arrows on the bogus chart Chaffetz used as evidence appear to show a extreme increase in abortions too. If you weren’t inclined to learn, or state, the actual facts, the arrows might lead you to believe abortions had tripled in the last year. When in fact, Planned Parenthood’s annual report shows they performed 327,166 abortions in 2013 and 327,653 in 2014.
But Chaffetz continues to say he stands by his chart.
He’s also standing by his claim he’s being recruited by other Republicans to enter the race for speaker of the House of Representatives. He announced his official bid for speaker this weekend.
I’d love to see his chart ‘proving’ how many people really want to see him two people away from the presidency.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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