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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Too Good to Check?

Slate writer Tim Noah ‘fesses up to, and dissects, his erroneous telling of an anecdote about an Illinois man whose insurance company canceled his coverage while he was in the middle of chemotherapy. Noah’s July 27 column – which said, wrongly, that "the delay in treatment eliminated [the man’s] chances of recovery, and he died" – was the source for President Obama’s careless repetition of the story in his health care address to Congress on Sept. 9.

In an earlier post on this site, we flagged a piece by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet noting Obama’s error. The truth is that Otto Raddatz’s coverage was reinstated within weeks after pressure was brought on the insurance company by the Illinois attorney general, and Raddatz didn’t die until more than three years after all this happened.

Noah says that his misrepresentation was the result of reading a House hearing transcript too quickly and jumping to conclusions. (Noah also writes that, oddly, he didn’t learn of his error, or that he was the source of Obama’s reprise of it, until he was called by a reporter this week.)

The White House isn’t off the hook. It relied on one journalist’s version of events, and Noah hadn’t even spoken to anyone involved. Obama’s speechwriters could have gotten it right had they checked the publicly available congressional testimony that Raddatz’s sister delivered.

But the dramatic tale perfectly supported the president’s message. Looks like a classic example of the kind of story that reporters refer to – jokingly – as "too good to check."