Find a back issue

Byron Harris Called Out by Politifact.com for Sloppy Reporting

I’m a few days late in coming to this, but WFAA Channel 8 reporter Byron Harris has been singled out by Politifact.com for a bit of shoddy workmanship that has had some big consequences. Harris has broadcast a series of stories about unnecessary Medicaid-funded orthodontics performed in Texas. The highest-profile such story involved Dr. Richard Malouf, the dentist who is building a water park in his backyard. A refrain that Harris has hit in these stories goes something like this: “[Texas] now spends as much on braces for poor kids as the other 49 states combined.” Harris’ claim has created its own echo chamber.

Last fall, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), who chairs the House Committee on Public Health, said at the Texas Tribune Festival: “It’s unacceptable that the state of Texas spent more than all 49″ other “states combined, according to many, many reports and even our own data.” Those “many, many reports” and their “own data”? That would be Byron Harris’ reporting and a congressional report published in April 2012. Problem is, the congressional report (which wound up being cited in a Wall Street Journal story) also relied on Harris’ reporting — which was flawed. From Politifact.com:

Harris said that he and a producer contacted the states that, with Texas, comprise the nation’s 10 most populous: California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina. Harris said letters sent to officials in each state inquired into how much the state had spent in 2010 on orthodontic procedures the station had zeroed in on in Texas. ..

Harris said the station did not research spending in the 40 other states, which would have drained too much time. Instead, he said, “we just guessed” at how much the other states spent. He also agreed that such spending in the other 40 states could push the total for all other states over the Texas total. “It could go either way,” he said.

Well, okay, but which way does it go? Harris should have found out before he asserted the “fact.”

P.S.: Do I have an ax to grind with Harris? Why yes. Yes, I do.