Fuzzy Journalism at WFPL re Conway

So I’m scanning Facebook today and came across the same post many of you saw:

Both Major Candidates For Governor Want To Drug Test Welfare Recipients

It was from Ryland Barton at WFPL, and was a link to his story of the same name.

At first, I was upset. What was Jack Conway doing putting out a position like this? Then I actually read the story. And I realized that what was wrong here was not Jack’s position on the issue, but WFPL’s headline. It was at best misleading, and at worst? Designed to be clickbait.

Let’s take a look.

We already know that the Repub candidate, Matt Bevin, wants to drug-test everyone in sight.

  • He is on record as wanting to drug test welfare recipients.
  • He also wants to drug test Medicaid recipients.
  • He also wants to drug test Medicare recipients. (“Here, Grandma, piss in this cup.”)
  • He ALSO wants to drug test state employees.
  • And, athletes at all Kentucky universities.
    • (Just kidding about that last one.)
    • (But not the others.)

So, when you read a headline that says “BOTH Candidates Want To …” what are you expected to think? Just what I thought — that Jack had decided to match Bevin in the how-many-people-can-we-drug-test race. Considering that programs like that have proven to be a gigantic waste of money all across the country — not to mention stigmatizing the poor — it seemed to be a really bad position for Conway to take. And, if you read the comments on the Facebook post, he got blasted for taking it.

Except … he didn’t adopt Bevin’s position, not at all. The headline was, as I said, misleading.

What Jack Conway said was that drug testing Medicaid and Medicare recipients would be a big waste of money. And as for random testing of welfare recipients? No, he didn’t say that.

What he said was that he wanted social workers to be able to require a drug screen if they suspected a welfare recipient was abusing drugs. Big, big difference. But, if all you saw was the Facebook headline, you’d never know that. You had to click through to the WFPL story, then read down into the story to find that the two candidates are, in fact, taking very different stands on the issue.

Is the headline true? Yes, if you just analyze it against each candidate’s statements. Both candidates have a policy position on testing welfare recipients for drugs.

More importantly, is this good journalism? The answer is a resounding No. Any good copy editor with a sense of journalistic ethics would have rewritten it to take out the false equivalency. “Conway Responds with Welfare Drug Testing Policy of His Own,” for example.

But no — we get the clickbait headline of false equivalence, which is all some people will see. And that does a disservice to the truth.

WFPL, we expect better.

2 thoughts on “Fuzzy Journalism at WFPL re Conway”

    • I think you are right … but that’s not stopping Bevin from talking about it. Candidates often pull the “if I were king” stunt to get votes; never mind that they can’t actually do what they’re talking about.

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