Journalists Behaving Badly

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on April 4, 2024

Tuesday Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino published a column that made an interesting claim. According to Cerabino, an effort to determine how much illegal immigration was costing Florida taxpayers in uncompensated care at hospitals in the state cost more to collect than it did to provide the care itself!

“Governor DeSantis continues to put Floridians first with his commitment to fiscal responsibility and prioritization of the needs and care of citizens first,” [Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Jason] Weida said. “This dashboard highlights the cost of illegal immigration which puts a strain on our health care system and taxpayers here in Florida.”

But it actually showed the opposite. It showed that the care of uncompensated hospital care of undocumented immigrants in Florida didn’t put a strain on Florida’s health care system and was less than 1 percent of all Florida admissions.

Or to put it another way, the cost of these uncompensated hospital visits, put at $566 million statewide by the agency, is less than the cost of the $577 million taxpayers paid to create the anti-immigrant online dashboard and staff its data collection.

Wow! That's quite a claim. Health care is expensive. In just seven months, Florida spent at least $566 million treating illegal immigrants—likely more, since 7 percent of those queried did not disclose their immigration status—yet it cost even more to collect the data then to provide the care?!

Cerabino is not a cub reporter. According to his online biography, he's got more than 30 years of journalism experience—and likely more than 40. Yet, he was apparently so consumed by DeSantis Derangement Syndrome that it never occurred to him to think twice when he somehow came up with a $577 million number for data collection and the creation of a government website. There's no indication or explanation for where Cerabino got the number. The layers and layers of editors that traditional journalism outlets like to tout that assures the public of their credibility also could not be roused from their slumber by such an outrageous number, even considering historical defense procurement scandals.

It's not the crime, it's the cover-up

The error is bad enough. Just over 24 hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, AHCA deputy chief of staff Alecia Collins posted on Twitter a screenshot of what apparently was an email sent to Cerabino notifying him of his error.

Good Afternoon Frank,

I wanted to bring to your attention a correction needed in your story. Your story states: "The cost of these uncompensated hospital visits, put at $566 million statewide by the agency, is less than the cost of the $577 million taxpayers paid to create the anti-immigrant online dashboard."

This is absurdly inaccurate. The cost of creating the immigration dashboard itself is approximately $5,000. Even the entirety of the legislative budget request for data collection was $567,882, which included the Florida Nursing HOme Uniform Reporting System (FNHURS). I think it goes without saying there is a huge difference between $567,882 and $577,000,000. Writing an article like this without fact checking, or at a minimum reaching out to the Agency, is not responsible journalism. I hope you will hold your team to a higher standard.

Please update your story to reflect the most accurate data.

If Collins thought she was finished seeing irresponsible journalism from Cerabino and the Palm Beach Post she was wrong.

Thursday morning, DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern hit Cerabino again on Twitter, pointing out that just over 16 hours since he'd been informed of the error, it was still uncorrected. Fifteen minutes later, there was a change. Now the headline read:

DeSantis blames undocumented immigrants for healthcare costs. Florida study shows something else.

Other than the "Updated" time and date, there's no indication of what changes were made. There's no acknowledgement of error, let alone an apology or explanation.

It wasn't until nearly three hours later that there's an indication of yet another update.

Palm Beach Post Cerabino Update 11:57 a.m.

But there's no Editor's note at the top. Nothing telling us what the headline used to say. Instead, one has to scroll down through the article to find this:

(An earlier version of this column incorrectly put those costs at slightly more than the total cost of uncompensated care for undocumented immigrants. The cost of the state report is actually about a thousand times smaller than the uncompensated care costs.)

Well, when you put it that way, Cerabino doesn't sound quite as big of an innumerate idiot.

This isn't how corrections used to be done. But this is what they look like when you're more concerned with your columnist's ego than with the public trust.


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April 2024



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