The New York Times was caught misrepresenting data and mischaracterizing the opinion of an expert source in an article purporting to explain the decline in average life expectancy in the United States.
Just Facts found several false claims in an August 31 New York Times article by Roni Caryn Rabin that blames the 2021 drop in U.S longevity on the lack of COVID-19 vaccinations, particularly among whites, and the failure to comply fully with pandemic mandates.
The article quotes Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, blaming whites’ supposed mask resistance and vaccine hesitancy for the falling U.S. life expectancy.
Rabin writes, “‘The white population did worse in 2021 than communities of color, besides Native American and Alaska Natives,’ Dr. Woolf said. ‘I think that’s very telling: It reflects the greater efforts by Black and Hispanics to get vaccinated, to wear masks and take other measures to protect themselves, and the greater tendency in white populations to push back on those behaviors.’”
Sorry, Wrong Numbers
Writing in response in Just Facts, James D. Agresti noted vaccine compliance was greater in the United States throughout much of 2021 than in Europe and the European Union. Agresti also presented statistics showing U.S. whites had higher vaccine compliance than blacks and Hispanics and evidence that masking was less common in Europe than in the United States.
Agresti reports Woolf said the quotes in the New York Times story do not accurately reflect his thoughts.
“When reporters ask me to explain why the US losses were so large, my custom is to say that more research is needed to definitively answer the question and to mention a range of potential contributing factors,” Agresti quotes Wolff as saying. “Among them is how people responded to vaccination and pandemic control measures, but I usually mention a number of other factors and in all cases [try to] use conditional language such as ‘may have.’”
‘Never Corrected Any’
Wolff did not respond when Just Facts asked if he would seek clarification from the Times.
Agresti also emailed the paper about its claims in the article and requested a correction.
“Other than an automated email from the Times acknowledging receipt of my message, I have not heard back from them,” Agresti told Health Care News. “As of 10/4/2022, 4:09 PM, the article has not been corrected.
“I’ve documented dozens of other cases where The New York Times has published demonstrable falsehoods that have the potential to harm or kill people, and they have never corrected any of them,” Agresti said.