Howard Kurtz is bewildered that people believe falsehoods about health care reform, despite the fact that news organizations like the Washington Post have debunked them:
In the 10 days after Palin warned on Facebook of an America "in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel,' " The Washington Post mentioned the phrase 18 times, the New York Times 16 times, and network and cable news at least 154 times (many daytime news shows are not transcribed).
While there is legitimate debate about the legislation's funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions, the former Alaska governor's claim that government panels would make euthanasia decisions was clearly debunked. Yet an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly -- a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers.
On Aug. 9, Post reporter Ceci Connolly said flatly in an A-section story: "There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills."
Ok, let's take a look at that Connolly article:
Conservative talk-radio shows have raised the prospect of euthanasia based on a provision to reimburse doctors through Medicare for counseling sessions about end-of-life directives.
And comments posted on former Alaska Republican governor Sarah Palin's Facebook page Friday said that people would have to "stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."
There are no such "death panels" mentioned in any of the House bills.
That is not a particularly effective debunking, for several reasons, including:
1) Connolly repeats the false claims for two paragraphs before indicating their falsity.
2) Connolly doesn't explain their falsity in any way -- doesn't explain that the counseling sessions are optional, or that they would not impose outcomes on patients, doesn't indicate that the falsehood comes from people who have a pattern of lying about health care. Connolly's debunking comes down to "Trust me, not Sarah Palin or talk show hosts." Obviously, many of Connolly's conservative readers are unlikely to do so.
3) Connolly's debunking sentence appears narrowly crafted: It can be read to apply only to the phrase "death panels," not to the euthanasia in the first paragraph, and it refers specifically to the "House bills," rather than making clear that nobody is proposing anything like Death Panels.
4) Connolly's article privileges the lie.
If this is what Kurtz holds up as a shining example of the media debunking the false claims, it isn't at all difficult to see why so many people believe them.
Meanwhile, Kurtz has finally discovered the fact that television has done a lousy job of covering the substance of health care reform:
The eruption of anger at town-hall meetings on health care, while real and palpable, became an endless loop on television. The louder the voices, the fiercer the confrontation, the more it became video wallpaper, obscuring the substantive arguments in favor of what producers love most: conflict.
Here's the loopy lede [emphasis added]:
The Obama administration has declared the wildly popular 'Cash for Clunkers' program a success, saying it has revived the country's ailing auto industry and taken polluting vehicles off the road.
But the data shows that the program, which ends Monday, has apparently benefited foreign automakers more than their U.S. counterparts.
This is dumb on so many levels. Foxnews.com is clearly trying to suggest that Obama's "Cash for Clunkers" program was supposed to boost American car companies. (Hint: it was not.) But uh-oh! Toyota and Honda and others enjoyed a "Cash for Clunkers" sales boost. "Foreign automakers" are making out like bandits! "Cash for Clunkers" was lining the pockets of foreign automakers.
Thwack! (Sound of palm hitting forehead.)
In case Foxnews.com isn't aware, "foreign automakers" such as Toyota, and Honda, and Acura, and Nissan, and Hyundai all make cars in America. (Y'know, by employing American workers.) So the whole buy-American angle implied throughout the article is lamely out of date.
The Associated Press is just the latest news org to make that claim. Detailing how nearly three dozen advertisers have fled Beck's program in response to the "racist" charge Beck made on the air, the AP over the weekend reported [emphasis]:
[Beck] was actually on another Fox show July 28 when he referred to Obama as a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The network immediately distanced itself from Beck's statement, but Beck didn't. He used his radio show the next day to explain why he believed that.
That language has been used over and over again by reporters to describe FNC's reaction. But is is accurate? This was the cabler's official response:
During Fox & Friends this morning, Glenn Beck expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.
I think Crooks & Liars nailed it back when the story first broke:
Make no mistake, the powers that be at Fox News couldn't care less about Beck's statement. If they did, Beck would have been suspended, or at the very least, reprimanded. This kind of outrageous propaganda permeates their network and they use it daily to hold on to their racist viewers.
The press ought to stop giving Fox News credit for something it never did; "distance" itself from Beck's "racist" smear.
Take a look at this New York Times article about health care reform; you may never find a clearer illustration of the media's tendency to simply type up what a variety of people say -- omitting any effort to determine which statements are true and which are false -- and call it reporting.
Here's a condensed version of the article that demonstrates how it's just one long he-said/she-said, on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other-hand litany of things people have said, with no effort made to assess the validity of the claims:
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut on Sunday urged the Obama administration to consider postponing overhauling the health care system and instead work on smaller chunks of the issue until the economy improves.
Also Sunday, Senator John McCain said that one way for Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise would be for Mr. Obama to abandon a government-run insurance program for the nation's 49 million uninsured.
Last week, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that a government-run plan was not essential to an overhaul, a concession to United States senators who say such a plan could not win the backing of a majority of the crucial Senate Finance Committee.
But on the same show, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican and a member of the same finance panel, predicted that "tens of millions of people will go into the government plan" against their will.
But on CBS's "Face the Nation," Howard B. Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, said a government program would be far cheaper than any private alternatives.
Senator McCain said President Obama is as much to blame as Republicans for the paralysis on health care legislation because "the president has not come forward with a plan of his own."
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, explained on "Face the Nation" why language about paying for end-of-life counseling had to be taken out of a health care bill the committee was reviewing in March.
On Fox News Sunday, Jim Towey, director of faith-based initiatives during the administration of George W. Bush, said end-of-life counseling is already taking place for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Responding on the same show, Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary of veteran affairs, insisted the booklet was indeed pulled off the shelves in 2007 and that the Obama administration has been revising it and telling medical practitioners not to use it.
And guess what? It took two people to write that article.
From an August 23 Associated Press article:
Glenn Beck returns to Fox News Channel after a vacation on Monday with fewer companies willing to advertise on his show than when he left, part of the fallout from calling President Barack Obama a racist.
A total of 33 Fox advertisers, including Walmart, CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint, directed that their commercials not air on Beck's show, according to the companies and ColorofChange.org, a group that promotes political action among blacks and launched a campaign to get advertisers to abandon him. That's more than a dozen more than were identified a week ago.
While it's unclear what effect, if any, this will ultimately have on Fox and Beck, it is already making advertisers skittish about hawking their wares within the most opinionated cable TV shows.
The Clorox Co., a former Beck advertiser, now says that "we do not want to be associated with inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts." The maker of bleach and household cleaners said in a statement that is has decided not to advertise on political talk shows.
My latest column is about the bizarre tendency of much of the news media to be shocked by extraordinarily predictable political developments. Here's an example I left out: Melinda Henneberger on MSNBC's Hardball last week:
"It's pretty amazing how quickly things have changed when only recently we thought this was going to be another really great year for the Democrats. But I am just so astonished most of all that this health care debate has gotten away from Obama the way it has. I mean, this should be his greatest moment. This should be a no-brainer."
Really? Henneberger is seriously surprised that fundamentally reforming the health care system turned out to be a struggle -- just as it has proven to be every previous time it was attempted, which is why it still needs reform?
Which part of the process caught her off guard? That Republicans are kicking and screaming and lying and doing everything they can to stop reform -- just like they did last time? Or that, just like they often are, many Democrats have been slow to realize that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith? Or that insurance companies with deep pockets are fairly influential on Capitol Hill -- just like they always are?
Henneberger is "astonished" that the "no-brainer" that is health insurance reform didn't just magically happen while Washington held hands and bought Cokes for one another.
The thing that's actually astonishing is that any reporter could be astonished by any of this.
So, Chris Matthews is concerned that bloggers (supposedly) don't fact-check their work. That's odd, since Chris Matthews is the poster child for the punditocracy's habit of endlessly repeating falsehoods that happen to mesh with their worldview.
There is a virtually endless supply of examples we could include, but let's stop on that last one. Is a television reporter who is wrong so often he has to admit "I keep saying it, and I keep being wrong on this" really in any position to complain about anyone else's fact-checking?
From George Will's August 23 Washington Post column, headlined "Obama's State Capitalism":
Even more than the New Deal and the Great Society, Obama's agenda expresses the mentality of a class that was nascent in the 1930s but burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s. The spirit of that class is described in Saul Bellow's 1975 novel "Humboldt's Gift." In it Bellow wrote that the modern age began when a particular class of people decided, excitedly, that life had "lost the ability to arrange itself":
"It had to be arranged. Intellectuals took this as their job. . . . This arranging has been the one great gorgeous tantalizing misleading disastrous project. A man like Humboldt, inspired, shrewd, nutty, was brimming over with the discovery that the human enterprise, so grand and infinitely varied, had now to be managed by exceptional persons. He was an exceptional person, therefore he was an eligible candidate for power." So, shrewd and nutty people such as Rep. Barney Frank are brimful of excitement about arranging American life.
The prize goes to Politico (surprise!) and three in question were penned by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. The article's premise was utterly predictable: The White House is bumbling, while the GOP is super savvy! (Politico's been writing that same piece for six months straight now.) But behold what happens when news is literally filtered through the RNC:
By doing so much, so fast, Obama gave Republicans the chance to define large swaths of the debate. Conservatives successfully portrayed the stimulus bill as being full of pork for Democrats. Then Obama lost control of the health care debate by letting Republicans get away with their bogus claims about "death panels."
How does Politico know the GOP was successful in portraying the stimulus bill as full of pork? Allen and VandeHei don't say. Everyone understands that's the claim that the GOP made during the stimulus 'debate.' But how does Politico come to the conclusion it was successful? The duo don't bother pointing to any polling data. They don't provide any evidence that that GOP claim stuck among everyday voters. Politico simply announces the claim as fact.
What I think they really meant to suggest was that the GOP was successful in convincing journalists that the stimulus bill was full of pork. The Beltway press club concluded that conservatives had successfully tagged the bill as being wasteful, so therefore it's now considered fact.
Think about it: The bill itself was easily passed and was signed into law. And the "Cash for Clunkers" stimulus program, for instance, has sent automobile sales soarings this summer. But at Politico, conservatives won the battle over the stimulus bill.
Nifty trick, eh?
Second, note how it was the White House's fault that conservatives launched the phony "death panel" smear campaign. It was the White House's fault that the other side rolled out a wild, unhinged, sci-fi lie about health care reform. It was the White House's fault that Republicans got "away with their" bogus claim. But how did they get away with the smear? By the media, including Politico, often repeating the hollow claim, of course.
From today's Washington Post editorial, "Scare Tactics Evade Debate on Real Health Care Issues":
EZEKIEL EMANUEL, one of President Obama's top health advisers, is a respected bioethicist who opposes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. When the Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of state laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide, Dr. Emanuel was an outspoken opponent of the practice. He warned it could be abused "to justify using euthanasia for children, the incompetent, the mentally ill, and others who are suffering or who we imagine are suffering in some fashion." So it is grotesque that Dr. Emanuel has become the latest bogeyman -- the "Dr. Death" behind the "death panels" -- for opponents of the Obama administration's push for health-care reform.
Dr. Emanuel's writings reveal him to be a thoughtful person grappling with difficult ethical issues. The same cannot be said of his critics, who seem less intent on discussing what is in the health reform proposal than in deploying scare tactics to defeat it.
From Washington Post columnist Bill Kristol's August 31 Weekly Standard column:
Conservative policy wonks helped to explode the false budgetary and health-improvement claims made on behalf of Obamacare. Conservative polemicists pointed out how Obamacare--conceived in the spirit of budget chief Peter we-spend-too-much-as-a-nation-on-health-care Orszag and adviser Ezekiel we-need-to-stop-wasting-money-on-extending-low-quality-lives Emanuel--means, in effect, death panels.
So good for them.
Good hire, guys. Clearly a welcome and valuable addition to the Post family.
And yes, Kristol "deploying scare tactics to defeat" the health reform proposal rather than "discussing what is in" it was entirely predictable.