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January 12, 2005
Kristof Gets Obscene

Rarely does my jaw hit the table with such force as it did today when I read Nicholas Kristof's latest column in the New York Times on infant mortality. Kristof compares a rise in infant mortality rates in the US for 2002 and uses it to compare us to Cuba and, shockingly, China:

In every year since 1958, America's infant mortality rate improved, or at least held steady. But in 2002, it got worse: 7 babies died for each thousand live births, while that rate was 6.8 deaths the year before.

Those numbers, buried in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, didn't get much attention. But they are part of a pattern of recent statistics dribbling out of the federal government suggesting that for those on the bottom in America, life in our new Gilded Age is getting crueler.

Apparently, it got better before it got crueler, because in 1998, the CDC reported an infant-mortality rate of 7.2, putting just behind Cuba for 28th place. (Hong Kong and Sweden were the best two places to be born in 1998.) In 1999 and 2000, the number improved to 7.1 and 7.0, exactly where we are now. So that makes the very next statement Kristof uses somewhat suspect:

"America's children are at greater risk than they've been in for at least a decade," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and president of the Children's Health Fund.

Neither Kristof nor Redlener are apparently capable of performing any research on the subject before commenting. In just a few quick keystrokes, I located the applicable table at the CDC and found out that perinatal death rates in the US have declined quickly over the past decade, going from 7.6 in 1995 to 7.0 in 2002 -- which, as Kristof reports, represented an increase from 6.9 (not 6.8) the previous year. In fact, the perinatal death rate was 9.1 in 1990, and 10.7 in 1985, showing tremendous progress over the past generation.

But the false impression given by Kristof on infant mortality in the US only partly accounted for the bruise on my chin at breakfast. The rest of the injury comes from Kristof's assertion that China protects infants better than the US:

As readers know, I complain regularly about the Chinese government's brutality in imprisoning dissidents, Christians and, lately, Zhao Yan, a New York Times colleague in Beijing. Yet for all their ruthlessness, China's dictators have managed to drive down the infant mortality rate in Beijing to 4.6 per thousand; in contrast, New York City's rate is 6.5.

Kristof misleads his readers with that comparison. Using the CIA Factbook entry for China -- a source that Kristof uses for Cuba -- we find out that China has an astronomical infant-mortality rate of 25.28, a rate that has not been seen in the US since the 1960s. Perhaps the rate is better in Beijing, but it hardly matters if the rest of the country has that rate. It qualifies as cherry-picking of the worst order on Kristof's part.

Kristof also leaves out another issue with China and its infants: its forced-abortion policy aimed at population control. These infants don't get counted in China or Beijing as infant deaths, and yet many thousands of them have been slaughtered to please the dictators in the Beijing that Kristof regards so highly. The notion of using China as an example of child care is so noxious that it almost defies description. It equates to using Juan Corona as a poster child for supporting migrant workers, or Richard Speck as a spokesman for a nurse's union.

Normally I disagree with Kristof but manage to still respect his work. This misleading, prevaricating, and morally bankrupt column has certainly changed that perspective for me.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Dont forget to check out World Relief Day here at CQ for tsunami relief ... We've raised $27,000 so far and hope to push that total to $50K by the end of the day.

UPDATE II: I've received e-mail questioning my use of the word "obscene". Here's the definition of that word:

1. Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty.
2. Inciting lustful feelings; lewd.
3. Repulsive; disgusting: The way he writes about the disease that killed her is simply obscene (Michael Korda).
4. So large in amount as to be objectionable or outrageous: local merchants in nearby stores get hammered by stratospheric rents and obscene taxes (Joe Queenan).

In my opinion, Kristof's unfavorable comparison of US infant mortality to a country that forces women to kill their unborn children qualifies under definitions 1, 3, and 4 as "obscene". YMMV.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 12, 2005 6:34 AM

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