Speaker Calls False Information In House Hearing An "Aberration"
The Speaker of the Ohio House says recent false comments made during testimony by a doctor opposed to vaccines are out of the ordinary. But he's pushing back on questions about what to do when false statements are made in committee hearings, which are broadcast and archived by the state.
Recent testimony on an Ohio House bill that would prevent employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines got national headlines and laughs from late-night comedians.
But it also has some wondering whether people who espouse beliefs not based in fact should be allowed to make those comments in a venue that can reach a large audience.
There have been a few hearings in the Statehouse that have included false information - most recently on that anti-COVID vaccine bill, House Bill 248. Testimony by interested parties both for and against proposed legislation is not fact-checked, though it must be provided to committee members.
All Ohio House and Senate committee hearings are broadcast on The Ohio Channel, which is a state-funded broadcast service that airs on channels operated by Ohio public television stations and at ohiochannel.org. Those hearings, along with legislative sessions, press conferences, bill signings and Ohio Supreme Court arguments, are archived at that site as well.
Cleveland anti-vax Dr. Sherri Tenpenny testified for House Bill 248, which would ban employers and schools from requiring vaccinations, not just for COVID-19 but for other diseases as well. Tenpenny falsely claimed people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 could be "magnetized".
"You can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. You can put spoons and forks all over them and they stick," Tenpenny testified.
Tenpenny wasn't the only person who spread such falsehoods while testifying.
Joanna Overholt, a registered nurse from Strongsville, placed a key against her chest and neck while before the committee and said, "Explain to me why the key sticks to me. It sticks to my neck too. So, yeah, if somebody could explain this, that would be great."
The key fell off her neck.
Rep. Michele Lapore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) says public testimony should be encouraged. But she worries about misinformation being given through the committee broadcasts.
"When we allow that sort of crazy fringe to have a platform, it just encourages people to believe in falsehoods," she says.
House Speaker Bob Cupp isn’t saying much about the false statements made by Tenpenny that COVID vaccines could somehow "magnetize" people.
But he told reporters he doesn’t think there’s a reason to revisit the process for broadcasting committee meetings on TV and online.
“Those kind of things are an aberration. Most of the people who come to testify provide very valuable information to the committee as they deliberate on proposed legislation. I think it’s a valuable service to the people of Ohio to be able to tune in and to see that," Cupp says.
National news outlets and late-night comedians have shown clips of testimony from Tenpenny and Overholt. They've also made the rounds on social media worldwide, and earned a "pants on fire" rating from Politifact.