Selective stats and curious corrections in the New York Times

By Daisy Hernandez Oct 26, 2006

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on a new program being developed across the country. Hospital officials have figured out that it’s cheaper to provide preventive care to folks who don’t have health insurance than to wait for them to show up in the ER. At one Texas hospital, nurses tag people who show up often in the ER as “frequent fliers” and these men and women get placed in the free preventive care program. Reporter Erik Eckholm noted that Texas has the highest rate of the uninsured people in the country. About a quarter of Texans don’t have health insurance. But he failed to explain that Texas is a majority-minority state. That is, 50 percent of its population is people of color. While Eckhom wrote that a hospital committee decided to give free care to a group of diabetic patients, he failed to note the high number of Latinos in Texas—and they’re prevalence for developing diabetes. This isn’t just about stats in one story in one local paper. This was a front page article in a national newspaper ignoring the racial disparities in health care. It’s this kind of reporting that shapes public policy to the detriment of communities of color. Someone, however, DID notice the unspoken race lens on this story. And this correction ran on-line today: “A front-page article yesterday about hospitals that offer free basic care to the uninsured referred incorrectly to the 47 million uninsured people in the United States. The figure includes noncitizens; they are not all Americans.” Now that’s curious. The editors explicitly avoided race data in the original story but then ran a correction about race? What’s chilling is the suggestion that the word “people” equates to “American.” In New York Times logic, the word “people” doesn’t include undocumented immigrants or even immigrants who have legal status. Last time, I checked though, these folks—which would once have included my mom—ARE people. In these political times, it bodes ill for all communities of color when a national newspaper can dehumanize one group of men and women by calling them “non-people.”