Jun 7, 2015

Misleading AP Story On Overpayments

     Here's the lead sentence from the AP article on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on overpayments in Social Security's Disability Insurance Benefits program "Social Security overpaid nearly half the people receiving disability benefits over the past decade, according to a government watchdog, raising questions about the management of the cash-strapped program."
     This could have been the AP lead sentence "Only 3% of Social Security disability benefits are paid incorrectly and the Social Security Administration is able to recoup 85% of the benefits paid incorrectly." That's also what the OIG report showed. Of course, that wouldn't have been the lead sentence because it's boring. It also wouldn't have been the lead sentence because the AP writer was clued into the OIG report by some Republican operative who heavily emphasized the "nearly half" part even though it's misleading. 
     Let's say there was a study showing that over a 10 year time period 22% of drivers were caught driving drunk at some time. There isn't such a study as far as I know but let's say there was. Would it be fair and reasonable to have the lead sentence on an article about that study that reads "Nearly a quarter of all people who drove over the last ten years were found to be driving drunk, raising questions about law enforcement on our dangerous highways." I would say no. First, 22% isn't nearly a quarter, any more than 44% is nearly half. More important, if 22% of drivers have been caught driving drunk, law enforcement is doing its job in catching people driving drunk. There's no reason to question what law enforcement is doing. For the same reason, there's no reason to question the Social Security Administration's efforts to detect and prevent overpayments. Most important, the hypothetical lead sentence is misleading since it suggests that at any given time that nearly one quarter of drivers are drunk and that's not what the hypothetical study showed. By the same token, the OIG didn't show that at any given time 44% of benefits recipients are being overpaid as the AP story implies. The AP story is misleading.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Misleading news stories start with misleading reports. The Federal "watch dog" leads off the summary of its report with the 44% number which lazy reporters grab. That number isn't an annual number but a cumulative 10+ year number, but who cares? Nobody wants a little number so let's keep adding them up, say for more than ten years, and get a big number. In addition the trusty watch dog who knows full well that the DI program is under scrutiny chooses to downplay the fact that most of the overpayments are SSI related-this isn't clear unless you look at appendix C. It is no secret that the SSI program is notoriously difficult to administer and that overpayments are an inherent part of its statutory structure. Despite knowing this, our trusty watchdog fails to highlight this fact. In this climate failing to point out things like this are inexcusable. So my conclusion is that the misleading news articles directly flow from an intentionally misleading report. If not, then our trusty watchdog is incredibly incompetent. Maybe it's time to get a new dog.

Anonymous said...

I looked up the author of the misleading article, Stephen Ohlemacher, whose articles are referenced on the Conservative News blog http://conservativenews247.com/articles/creator/Stephen-Ohlemacher/. Browsing through them he seemed a not-to-subtle mouthpiece for far right views, couched as "news"

For example, here's one he wrote that laments the plight of the ultra rich, who have to pay more taxes because (get your crying towels ready) they are making so much more money than before that their tax bills are somewhat higher. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/tax-bills-rich-families-approach-30-year-high

fairly well critiqued here:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/03/04/1666771/associated-press-laments-tragic-plight-of-the-very-wealthy/

Anonymous said...

We have over a million cases waiting for CDR's. Almost all of those will be overpayment cases. Benefit continuation is like asking a kid not to steal candy in a blind man's candy store...

Anonymous said...

Almost all CDRs will be overpayment cases? That cannot be correct since many CDRs result in continuation of benefits.

Faith Brady said...

I think the big issue here is that too many people are looking for a handout any way they can, and when they see an opportunity like this they think it is fine because they deserve their fair share. What happened to the days of being honorable and working hard for the money you receive. Scary world we live in today.

Faith Brady @ KHunterLaw