Fact-Check Fail: Arizona Republic Flubs Mark Brnovich's Bogus Medical-Marijuana Claim

Where does 25 equal 30, and 22.7 percent equal "most?"

The Arizona Republic's "Fact Check: Keeping Arizona Honest" column, of course.

In Sunday's paper, as a reader informed us this week, a fact-check completely flubs the evaluation of Mark Brnovich's comment on TV last month about the state's medical-marijuana patients. (The article has not yet finally appeared online at -- see below)

See also: -Mark Brnovich Called the Winner for Attorney General

"In Arizona, we legalized marijuana for medical purposes and the results of that apparently are that there are bunch of 18- to 25-year-old males with back problems and migraine headaches because that's who's getting the cards, most of them," the Repub quotes Brnovich, state Attorney General-elect, as saying during an interview on Channel 13's "The 48th" show.

A quick glance at the top of article reveals that Brnovich has won three stars for being "mostly true."

Julia Shumway, author of the article, informs readers that "18- to 30-year old men are indeed the largest demographic participating in the program."

Indeed. But Brnovich's comment refers to "a bunch of 18- to 25-year-old males..."

The difference between 18-to-25 and 18-to-30 is about 37 percent. That's a large margin for error, and it makes a difference here.

As Shumway relates, the state's 2014 Medical Marijuana program report -- released last month -- shows that nearly all patients claim severe and chronic pain. About 71 percent of cardholders claim pain by itself, while another 19 percent or so claim pain in combination with other qualifying ailments, like cancer.

Of all cardholders, 9,561 are male patients between the ages of 18 and 30. Shumway notes that the number of males in that age group make up 18 percent of the state's 51,783 patients (the total at the time the report was compiled), while the next-highest demographic group, men 31-to-40, comprise 14 percent of total patients.

But we think it's fair to take away 37 percent (the 26-to-30-year-olds) of the 9,561 in order to comport strictly with Brnovich's claim. In that case, Brnovich's hypothesized group of 18-to-25 year-olds make up only 11.6 percent of cardholders. That's smaller than both the 31-to-40 and the 51-to-60 group.

None of that really matters, though. As Shumway gets around to explaining near the end of the story, just 22.7 percent of all Arizona cardholders who claim severe and chronic pain are between the ages of 18 and 30. That alone debunks Brnovich's claim.

Shumway writes that Brnovich's claim is "largely accurate," even though admitting "it's not fair to say they're getting 'most' of the cards."

Then she gives Brnovich his "three stars: mostly true" designation.

Shumway, editor-in-chief of the State Press, Arizona State University's student-run online newspaper, didn't return an email. The Arizona Republic's Fact Check editor, Michael Squires, told us yesterday he wasn't authorized to comment to the news media.

UPDATE: The azcentral site put the Fact Check story online on December 23. A couple of the site's commenters have already noticed the math problems. One of those commenters, Alan Mccarter, needs to check his work, too. He says, "Also in your 'bottom line' since when is 18% 'more than a fifth'?" In fact, Shumway was referring here to the 22.7 figure, which is more than a fifth.

It seems likely from the "migraine headaches" quip that Brnovich didn't mean his comment to be taken anywhere near this seriously.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.