Left-wing news outlet Missouri Independent published misleading article with insufficient data; now faces calls for retraction

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Independent has come under fire recently for a misleading article published Wednesday insinuating that Gov. Mike Parson hid data showing that mask mandates work. 

However, the Independent discretely buried a pivotal detail deep down in the article after explaining the specifics of the irrelevant report: the data isn’t comprehensive enough to draw any conclusions.

The Missouri Independent is a subsidiary of States Newsroom which has come under fire in the past for having an extensive trail of connections to “dark money” and far-left organizations. Nonpartisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics included States Newsroom in a May 2020 report titled, “‘Dark money’ networks hide political agendas behind fake news sites,” and noted the Newsroom’s affiliation with two entities tied to the national progressive movement. The Missouri Independent worked alongside the Documenting COVID-19 project at Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and MuckRock on the report. 

Parson requested an analysis of the effectiveness of mask mandates in Missouri at the beginning of November. The Independent received the data of that report via a public records request.

In the article titled, “Missouri health department found mask mandates work, but didn’t make findings public,” the Independent asserted that mask mandates “saved lives and prevented COVID-19 infections.” 

However, the news outlet seemed to walk that assertion back later in the article, saying that, “State health department data alone can’t explain the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of mask mandates, without a fuller analysis of vaccination rates, behavior and time.”

The “analysis” was merely a two variable comparison that did not account for population disparities or health care infrastructure differences. 

The DHSS selectively chose four subdivisions with some of the most accessible healthcare and highest vaccination rates in Missouri and did not take into account that subdivisions with limited access to hospitals and healthcare resources would have higher death rates. 

The Independent quoted an email chain with Donald Kauerauf, Director of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, seemingly supporting the outlet’s assertion – but they intentionally left out the beginning of Kauerauf’s correspondence when he contradicted the article’s premise.

“As you stated, there are ‘lots’ of variables that must be considered before we can definitively (emphasis added) assess the impact of wearing a mask (or not wearing a mask) in Missouri before and during the primary Delta period,” Kauerauf wrote to the Independent.

It was a simple two variable comparison that didn’t look at testing, vaccines or other relevant factors to death or infection rates. There were no other control variables in the study, so the Independent’s deceptive assertions look to be a pristine example of the correlation equals causation fallacy.

The Independent also left out an email exchange with Nathan Koffarnus, MDH Assistant Bureau Chief, Bureau of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention. In the exchange, Koffarnus wrote, “Please note that there are many outside factors that we can’t account for here.” 

But factually stating that there are numerous factors that could not be accounted for doesn’t help the Independent’s agenda of supporting mask mandates, so they conveniently left that out of the article.

When the Independent figured they had Parson, AG Eric Schmitt and other mask mandate objectors dead to rights, they sent over the data to Schmitt’s office asking for comment. Spokesperson Chris Nuelle fired back at the outlet, saying it’s about Missourians having the right to make their own decisions. 

“We dispute this premise and these charts,” Nuelle wrote. “We’ve been clear that Missourians should have the right to make their own decisions, and that government bureaucrats shouldn’t be mandating masks or vaccines.”

Nuelle also pointed out that it’s convenient for the Independent to use these statistics, but they ignored earlier data that showed no correlation between mask mandated counties and lower infection rates.

“When those jurisdictions reimposed mask mandates in late July/early August, case trend lines were nearly identical in both ‘mask mandate jurisdictions’ and non mask mandate jurisdictions,” Nuelle stated. “Lastly, since the beginning of the pandemic, case rates and deaths are lower in many non-mask mandate jurisdictions than they are in ‘mask mandate jurisdictions.’”

Only after Nuelle pushed back, the Independent conveniently decided to include the pivotal fact that “state health department data alone can’t explain the effectiveness, or lack thereof,” of mask mandates – over 900 words deep into the article.

By publishing the data and asserting that mask mandates work, the Independent’s article has struck many as intentionally misleading and disingenuous reporting.

Parson was quick to call out the intentionally misleading article and took aim at its author, calling him a “political blogger.”

“Rudi Keller, a political blogger for the Missouri Independent, wrote a purposefully misleading article titled ‘Missouri Health Department found mask mandates work, but didn’t make findings public.’ He handpicked information from a Sunshine request then took the data out of context in order to fit his narrative. He left out important information that provides context for the whole story. This type of ‘so called’ reporting is unethical and needs to stop because it misleads the public and poses a danger to the credibility of our institutions.”

Schmitt and Parson have repeatedly noted that wearing masks should be a personal decision and not one made by government officials. Schmitt has walked the walk as well, filing several lawsuits challenging almost every local mandate implemented in Missouri in recent months. 

“Gov. Parson’s handling of COVID has saved lives and jobs,” said Tom Burcham, Chairman of Uniting Missouri PAC. “To manufacture a story relying on an incomplete analysis, championed as science, is disingenuous at best and very dangerous at worst.

“Clearly the Missouri Independent is not independent. It is part of a national network funded by left-wing dark money and it’s not reporting the news.”

As the Independent continues to take fire for their misleading assertions and inadequate reporting, Missourians should expect a retraction and a statement from the news outlet explaining why they chose to proceed with the insufficient data.

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