826 Do you see what I saw in this article?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 6 months ago

I just read an article about what percentage of time judges approve social security benefit cases for applicants who have been turned down by office workers.

I have no axe to grind in this issue one way or the other; in fact this string isn't about the issue itself. It's about the bias I was I feeling as I read the article. I may be wrong, but I came away with an uncomfortable feeling that I was being led to take one side.

Understand, by the way, that I am not the soft-centered type. I believe that benefits should be approved or disapproved according to the criteria laid down in our laws, but we can talk about all that later, okay?

Please tell me how you feel about my suspicion of bias. It began with this headline:

• "Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp claims."

BIAS CONCERN: Please re-read that headline. It sounds like it the article is reporting that that social security judges rubber-stamp claims, doesn't it? But that is NOT what it says. What is says is that some report or other has made a claim that it's happening. That's a big difference! If I come to you and say that something is true, that is VERY different from saying that someone wrote a report that says it's true, isn't it? So right from the beginning I was worried about bias.

• The first sentence of the article contained two completely unrelated phrases:

"Amid complaints about lengthy waits for Social Security disability benefits, congressional investigators say nearly 200 administrative judges have been rubber-stamping claims, approving billions of dollars in lifetime payments from the cash-strapped program."

BIAS CONCERN: Notice that the phrase "Amid complaints about lengthy waits" is no doubt talking about something that is true, something that actually happens. But what has it got to do with the rest of the sentence? The phrase "congressional investigators say nearly 200 administrative judges have been rubber-stamping claims" has no logical connection with "Amid complaints of lengthy waits." Why then did the sentence start that way? Was it to start with something that was true so that you would believe the rest of the sentence?

BIAS CONCERN: Also, please notice how that same sentence ends: "...approving billions of dollars in lifetime payments from the cash-strapped program." Why was the term "lifetime payments" included? Why was it pointed out that the program is "cash-strapped?" Were those terms put there get us thinking negatively?

• Farther along, this appears: "Cited were 191 judges who approved 85% of the cases they decided. The comment was made that those judges approved $153 billion in lifetime benefits."

BIAS QUESTION: Was that dollar sum included to prejudice us? Better still, did it influence your thinking as you read it?



Tom Garrett 2 years, 6 months ago

• The issue of whether the judges involved are making fair and honest decisions is not resolved in the article, but I'll just let you see how one line of questioning was handled. See if you are comfortable with it.

Don't forget that the cases being discussed here are ones office workers have turned down. That's why the applicants are appearing before a federal judge trained in administrative law to present the facts of their cases. If they had not been turned down at least once they would not have been in court.

"House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was incredulous that so many judges would rule that initial rejections were so often wrong."

(BIAS CONCERN: None. It just says how Representative Issa feels, but the next question is quite different.)

"Are the people below you always wrong?" Issa asked Judge Charles Bridges of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

(BIAS CONCERN: The term "always" is an extreme exaggeration.)

"I would say they are not legally trained," replied Bridges, who approved 95 percent of the cases he decided.

(BIAS CONCERN: Why is it necessary to point out what percentage of his cases the judge decided in favor of the appellant? Was the number placed there to influence your thinking?)

(Just as an aside, when asked about his "approval rate" judge Bridges said: "I don't pay attention to those figures. All I do is concentrate on each case, one at a time." He added that he did not want to be influenced by the fact that someone was looking over his shoulder at how many cases he approved or turned down. I have to tell you, I agree with him. Deciding cases is not a numbers game; it's a case of who is right or wrong under the law.)

Can you guess what first made me suspect bias? These words, "...judges rubber-stamp claims."

Appeals judges, which is what we are talking about, do no such thing. If an appeals judge used a rubber stamp on a case it would say DISAPPROVED! Why? Because that's what rubber-stamping is, approving what was done before.

That headline very slickly reverses the truth. The judges don't "rubber-stamp" anything when they approve a benefit case. They do the exact opposite; they correct what they see as a case where someone has incorrectly been turned down by an office worker.

Suppose you were sentenced to be hanged by a trial judge and you were sitting in your cell awaiting the decision of the appeals judge, In runs your lawyer who says, "Hey! The appeals judge rubber stamped the trial court judge's decision."

"You might die of a heart attack, right?"

And you'd no doubt bend your lawyer's nose when he finally got you up off the floor and told you, "Gee! Sorry! I meant he let you go free."

Anyway, words have power beyond their meaning. And they can be used to bias us.

What do you think of my suspicion that someone was trying to lead me into thinking one way about the rubber-stamping issue?

Am I too suspicious, or do you too see what I saw in that article?


Pat Randall 2 years, 6 months ago

Tom, Some people try to get on social security disability when they were injured on a job and should be drawing industrial disability. Depends on the reasons they are trying to get on social security. Don't know if that has anything to do with what you wrote, but they know industrial payments usually will end at some time if and when they get better and can work. Few people are ever checked that are on SS. disability. They get jobs that pay them with cash. So do the ones on industrial but they get caught by their ex employer because they are charged for industrial insurance on the amount of claims they have against them.


Tom Garrett 2 years, 6 months ago


I wasn't really talking about the people who are on disability; that's a whole different subject.

What I was talking about was whether or not a judge should look at the evidence and make up his mind about it, or whether he should worry about looking too easy or too hard. In other words, should he go by the evidence, or should he treat his job as a popularity contest.

What I got out of that article was three things:

a. People sitting behind desks and disapproving cases according to their own ideas instead of the law.

b. Judges who looked at the actual law and sometimes said the desk jockey was wrong.

c. Someone writing an article in favor of the clerks in a.

As to who should get what? I'm with Sergeant Schultz: I know nothing. So i take your word for it.


Pat Randall 2 years, 6 months ago

Tom, If not disability what are you talking about? If you are of the age to receive SS they can't be turning them down. When my dad went to sign up for SS he was 62. A long time ago. He was born in 1904. The lady kept arguing with him that if he waited until 65 he would get a lot more money. She wouldn't shut up. Finally I spoke up as I could see my Daddy was about to lose it and it would get really nasty. He lived until 3 or 4 months before his 95th birthday so I think he got a lot more than anyone ever expected or that he paid in. 33 yrs. right?


Tom Garrett 2 years, 6 months ago

"The lady kept arguing with him that if he waited until 65 he would get a lot more money. She wouldn't shut up."

That's exactly what I am talking about, Pat. The clerks, not the program. I have been told over and over again that clerical personnel do their best to get rid of someone, and my question is whether or not they are trained to do that?

If that's so, and everyone I have spoken to claims that it is, then I could easily see that a large number of the cases which go to court are approved by the judges, who have no interest in the result except for justice.

The article seems to be strongly biased against the judges, who say all they are trying to do is go by the law.

I'll just put that first sentence up again to show you what I mean.

"Amid complaints about lengthy waits for Social Security disability benefits, congressional investigators say nearly 200 administrative judges have been rubber-stamping claims, approving billions of dollars in lifetime payments from the cash-strapped program."

That phrase "Amid complaints about lengthy waits for Social Security disability benefits..." has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the sentence, has it? How does the fact that people are waiting too long to get a benefit support the comment that administrative judges are approving too many cases? If judges approved fewer cases would the lines get shorter? Also, the term "rubber-stamping," a very negative term, is improperly used; what judges are doing is the exact opposite of rubber stamping prior decisons. And the terms "billions of dollars," "lifetime payments," and "cash-strapped" are all planted to cause you to think negatively.

Want to see how a Journalism 101 course would say to write that first sentence?

Congress is looking into claims made by (name him, her, or it!) that 200 administrative judges ranked high in approvals have numbers which are too high.

That says what the article is about. Next comes evidence, or at least the specifics of the claims. The article contains literally none of that.


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