As you might have read elsewhere, large chunks of the right-wing blogosphere have decided to go after Graeme Frost, the kid who gave the Democrats' response to Bush's radio address a week and a half ago. Frost was in a car accident, and S-CHIP, the children's health insurance program Bush just vetoed, paid for his medical care. First, a Freeper decided to "investigate" the Frosts' financial situation, via Google. Then the results of his "investigation" were linked all over the right-wing blogs. Michelle Malkin decided to do an on-site investigation of the Frost home and business. As John Cole wrote:
"Maybe she can get some of her flunkies at Hot Air to sit with binoculars and see what they have for dinner. Better not be government cheese, or the SH!T is going to hit the fan."
(OK, he didn't use an exclamation point.)
I find the idea of Michelle Malkin poking around people's homes trying to find out whether they are really as poor as they claim to be as creepy as everyone else. So rather than belabor that point, I'll make another:
If, for some reason, it occurs to you to fact-check a story like this, please, please, please try to exercise some modicum of intelligence. And if you read someone else's investigation, please, please, please ask yourself whether there are any obvious problems with it before plastering it all over cyberspace. It's one thing to investigate the claims made by a kid on the radio privately, and then go public if you find some actual problems. It's quite another to go after a kid (or anyone else) with allegations whose problems are so obvious that you'd really have to wonder about anyone who didn't spot them.
The first point made by icwhatudo, the Freeper who did the original Googling, is this:
"Graeme Frost, who gave the democrat rebuttal to George Bush’s reasons for vetoing the SCHIP Bill, is a middle school student at the exclusive $20,000 per year Park School in Baltimore, MD. (...) His sister Gemma, also severely injured in the accident, attended the same school prior to the accident meaning the family was able to come up with nearly $40,000 per year for tuition for these 2 grade schoolers."
This fact was picked up by all sorts of bloggers, many of whom ask "why a “working family” in need of government-subsidized health care can afford to send two children to a $20,000-a-year-private school" (to cite Michelle Malkin's version.)
Heavens: who could spot a problem with this? Here is an analogous question, just in case some of you are feeling a little slow:
"John Edwards claims to be the son of a mill worker. But somehow his allegedly impoverished parents were able to find the money to send him to Clemson University, which now costs out-of-state residents all of $22,300 in tuition and fees! Even accounting for inflation, it must have cost a decent chunk of change when John Edwards went there. I wonder how his poor mill-worker Dad managed?"
If you guessed "financial aid", you win a lifetime subscription to Obsidian Wings! Apparently, most right-wing bloggers are unfamiliar with the concept of "scholarships", by which private educational institutions defray the cost of tuition for their poorer students. But it's hard to see how icwhatudo, or any of the bloggers who bothered to click his/her links before linking to his/her post, could have missed this fact, since (as Thers at Whiskey Fire notes) s/he links to this page at the Park School's website, which is conveniently titled "Cost & Financial Assistance". You don't even have to scroll down to find this information:
"Park enrolls students based on their talents and capabilities. Families who are unable to meet the full cost of tuition may apply for the Financial Assistance Program, which supplements tuition payments. Financial assistance does not need to be repaid.
In 2007, 18% of Park students in grades 1-12 received over $2 million in financial assistance that ranged from $1,000 per year to full tuition. Tuition remission for children of our faculty brings that total to 25% of the student body.
Because each family's situation is unique, it is impossible to predict the amount of funding awarded based solely on income. For example, the number of children attending tuition-charging institutions is an important factor. As a guide, families with incomes up to $160,000 received financial assistance during this past school year."
It certainly sounds as though a family like the Frosts, who make $45,000 a year, might have gotten some of that financial aid. And, in fact, they did: ThinkProgress reports that the family pays only $500 a year in tuition.
Moving right along:
the next "fact" that icwhatudo "discovered" is this:
"In a Baltimore Sun article the family claims to be raising their four children on combined income of about $45,000 a year. "Bonnie Frost works for a medical publishing firm; her husband, Halsey, is a woodworker. They are raising their four children on combined income of about $45,000 a year. Neither gets health insurance through work."
What the article does not mention is that Halsey Frost has owned his own company "Frostworks",since this marriage announcement in the NY Times in 1992 so he chooses to not give himself insurance. He also employed his wife as "bookkeeper and operations management" prior to her recent 2007 hire at the "medical publishing firm". As her employer, he apparently denied her health insurance as well."
Last time I checked, owning a company didn't necessarily mean that you had much money. If you own Microsoft, then you do; if you incorporate your struggling one-person business, that's another story entirely. The fact that Mr. Frost owned his own company does not begin to imply that he "chose" not to offer himself or his wife health insurance. Health insurance is expensive, especially for very small businesses, and if the family was making $45,000/year and needed to cover two adults and four children, they would probably not have been able to afford it.
"His company, Frostworks, is located at 3701 E BALTIMORE ST. A building that was purchased for $160,000 in 1999. The buildings owner is listed as DIVERSIFIED INDUSTRIAL DESIGN CENTER, LLC whose mailing address is listed as 104 S Collington Ave which is the Frost's home. The commercial property he owns is also listed as the business address for another company called Reillys Designs which leads to the question of whether rental income is included in the above mentioned salary total
The current market value of their improved 3,040 SF home at 104 S Collington Ave is unknown but 113 S COLLINGTON AVE, also an end unit, sold for $485,000 this past March and it was only 2,060 SF. A photo taken in the family's kitchen shows what appears to be a recent remodeling job with granite counter tops and glass front cabinets"
The Frost family seems to have around half a million dollars in assets! And yet their children are getting government-sponsored health care! This certainly sounds bad, unless you happen to be familiar with an arcane financial instrument called a mortgage, which allows a person to purchase a home or commercial property even if she cannot come up with the full price, and to pay off the balance over time. During the term of the mortgage, the buyer owns the house, but also owes money, often quite a lot of it, to the bank that lent her the money to buy it with. This means that the assessed value of the Frosts' properties tells us very little about their actual net worth. Since charity forces me to assume that right-wing bloggers are unfamiliar with mortgages, I probably should not fault them for not knowing this. However, even a shred of journalistic integrity would have required that they familiarize themselves with the terms on which most Americans buy property before leaping to conclusions.
In this particular case, the Frosts probably do have a fair amount of equity in their home. ThinkProgress reports that they "bought their “lavish house” sixteen years ago for $55,000 at a time when the neighborhood was less than safe." Since I actually live in Baltimore, I can speak to this: during the last 16 years, property values in many neighborhoods have gone up a lot. There has been a fair amount of gentrification in some parts of the city, and that has meant that some houses that were quite cheap 16 years ago are now a lot more valuable. Moreover, the real estate boom of the past few years has brought up property values in general, as it has in most places.
On the other hand, that also means that if the Frosts were to sell their home, they would have to pay a lot more for a new one. They couldn't just expect to cash out their equity and buy another house for a lot less: most of the neighborhoods that were easy to gentrify have been gentrified, and while it's still possible to buy a house for a song in some neighborhoods, I'm not sure I'd recommend those neighborhoods to a family with four young children.
In any case: two final points. First: is there any reason to think that it would be a good thing for the Frosts to have to sell their home and move in order to pay their kids' medical bills? I don't think so. It would be one thing if they were living in a mansion somewhere. But they aren't. They are living in a 3000 sq. foot house, and there are six of them. If they sold their home and tried to find a new one outside some pretty seriously dangerous neighborhoods, they would probably not be able to get one for very much cheaper. I can't really see why it would be in any way desirable for them to become renters.
Second: As far as I could tell, none of the right-wing bloggers bothered to consider such questions as: how much equity do the Frosts have in their home, and how much could they expect to convert to cash if they tried to sell it? As far as the ones I checked were concerned, the fact that the Frosts own these two properties just means that they had about half a million dollars in assets, which in these days of no down payment, no income verification, no nothing is completely ludicrous.
As I said: before you start smearing kids, let alone siccing Michelle Malkin on them, you should at least have the decency to try to make sure that you've got the facts straight. Likewise, before you link to a piece that smears kids, you should make sure that it has the facts straight. If anyone wants, we can have an interesting debate about exactly how much trouble you have to go to in order to link to something responsibly. But surely we don't need to debate whether it involves things as minimal as: considering the possibility that kids are going to school on scholarship, or recalling that owning a property does not necessarily mean owning it free and clear.