For some time, the government of Puerto Rico claimed that only 64 people died after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island last September. However, in the wake of an exhaustive study into excess deaths in the four months after Maria made landfall, the commonwealth’s government has reversed course and now estimates that Maria killed over 2,900 people.
This came as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the sheer devastation on the island. For instance, The New York Times estimated that over 1,000 more people died in the first month after Maria’s landfall than during the same time in 2015 and 2016. The far right’s response to this and any other suggestion that Puerto Rico underestimated the death toll was, in so many words, “FAKE NEWS!”
That conspiracy theory picked up a high-profile supporter on Thursday, when Donald Trump claimed the new death toll was a political stunt engineered by Democrats who were out to get him. Trump’s outrageous suggestion prompted a furious–and bilingual–rebuke from San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. But at least one of Trump’s staunchest supporters had no qualms about backing up Trump–Lou Dobbs.
On Thursday night’s edition of “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” Dobbs let it be known that he was outraged at the bipartisan outrage over Trump’s remarks.
Dobbs claimed that the study, which was conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute at the request of the Puerto Rican government, was based on sketchy science. It relied on subtracting the number of people who theoretically should have died in a normal year from the number of people who died during the same period in 2017 and 2018. He slammed Florida Governor Rick Scott, who is running for Senate, as well as the man running to succeed him, Congressman Ron DeSantis, for breaking from Trump.
To Dobbs’ mind, Trump had every right to call the study fake news because the Milken Insitute’s “numbers aren’t related to facts,” and Puerto Rico saw fit to lend its imprimatur to a study intended to “discredit the Trump administration.”
Trump clearly approved of this. He wasted little time retweeting Dobbs’ screed.
Remember, when you are president, a retweet is an endorsement.
Au contraire, Lou. If you had bothered to read the study, you would have seen that it is very much grounded in facts. For one thing, the Milken Institute team found that many of the island’s doctors were not properly trained in death certification practices. A number of them said they didn’t know how to certify deaths that occurred during disasters. The team also found that the quality of mortality data depends a lot on the training of the person filling out the death certificate.
These factors would make it plainly obvious that the initial estimate of 64 deaths was far too low. They also seem to back up multiple reports in the winter of 2017 that suggested that more people were dying on the island than initially claimed.
For instance, according to the head of the island’s demographic registry, 135 people died per day in the ten days after Maria made landfall–compared with 82 deaths per day before the hurricane. One of the Times reporters who worked on the Old Grey Lady’s 2017 investigation, Frances Robles, saw a number of things with her own eyes that suggested the body count was much higher than initially thought.
Add it up, and it’s obvious that if anyone is peddling fake news, it’s Trump–and enablers like Dobbs.
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