A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz expressed bewilderment that people believe lies about health care -- even as he was validating people who tell lies about health care, like Fred Barnes:
Here's an example: Later in today's column, Kurtz quotes Fred Barnes' latest Wall Street Journal column. In that column, Barnes promotes the death panel nonsense that Howard Kurtz knows and says is false. Yet not only does Kurtz quote the Barnes column, he doesn't write a single word of criticism of Barnes. (He does quote Time's Joe Klein blasting Barnes, but doing it this way sets up a he-said/she-said in which some readers will dismiss Klein's views.)
This, Mr. Kurtz, is why people like Barnes feel free to spread lies: They know people like you will keep quoting them as though they are serious thinkers who deserve a place at the center of the public dialogue.
So who do you think Kurtz gives the last word about Barack Obama's speech tonight in today's Media Notes column? That's right: Fred Barnes.
If you treat people who spread lies as respectable and important thinkers, they're going to keep telling lies. If they keep telling lies, the public will believe lies. I suppose you can come up with a justification for why treating them as respectable and important thinkers constitutes acceptable journalistic practice, but you certainly can't smack your head in wonder at the fact that the public believes lies told by the people you are treating as respectable and important thinkers.
Meanwhile, in an online discussion yesterday, Kurtz continued to suggest the media debunked the "death panel" nonsense as well as they could have:
Re: Numerous news organizations said flatly that this was a bogus charge, and yet, for a great many Americans, it didn't matter.: I wonder if this points to a basic problem for "traditional" media -- one that may not be easily solved. News organizations did point out that the "death panels" did not exist, but it took them a while. The first headlines said "Sarah Palin attacks Obama's 'death panels'". Then, after there was time to investigate, the stories changed to "nothing in the proposed bills supports Palin's accusations." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the general idea, and it was too late. The story had already spread through the non-traditional media.
Howard Kurtz: I don't think speed was the issue, as you'll see in the timeline below. But the bogus "death panels" did seem to crowd out other coverage -- in other words, even as journalists said and wrote that there were no such panels, they kept the controversy alive in a way that may have made some people say, hmmm.
From my column last month:
Less than seven hours after Palin posted her charge Aug. 7, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called it an "absurd idea." That might have been dismissed as a liberal slam, but the next day, ABC's Bill Weir said on "Good Morning America": "There is nothing like that anywhere in the pending legislation."
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." That same day, on NBC's "Meet the Press," conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called Palin's assertion "crazy." CNN's Jessica Yellin said on "State of the Union," "That's not an accurate assessment of what this panel is." And on ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos said: "Those phrases appear nowhere in the bill."
I have previously explained why Connolly's article was not the effective debunking Kurtz expected it to be. The fact that the nation's most famous media critic is surprised that throwaway line in Connelly's article was insufficient is simply amazing.
Andrea Mitchell just asked Valerie Jarrett whether Barack Obama would follow House Democrats in insisting on "the public option, do or die."
I'm still waiting for Mitchell to ask a conservative whether they insist on "the public option, don't or die."
Today's Washington Post features an article entitled "Opposition to Health-Care Reform Revives Christian Right."
Oddly, the article makes no attempt to explain how opposing universal health care and maintaining insurance company profits are essential to -- or even consistent with -- the practice of Christianity. No effort to explain, or to ask the "Christian Right" leaders to explain, what Biblical basis there is for opposing a plan to care for the sick.
It seems whenever there is a news report about the religious left, the report goes out of its way to make clear that some of the positions the religious left takes are inconsistent with the teachings of various churches. Yet here's a case where on the very issue in question, the "Christian Right" seems to be taking a position that is not entirely consistent with Christian teachings -- and the Post makes no mention of that tension.
From The Fox Nation, accessed on September 9:
So, some reporters are proclaiming the end of the Drudge Era.
I'm not impressed.
See, Matt Drudge was never really as influential as the media insisted he was. He was their mascot, not their quarterback.
Drudge's thinly-sourced "scoops" and badly-skewed, sensationalist spin on mundane stories seemed to carry the day not because he enjoyed a svengali-like grip over the diligent reporters at MSNBC and the Washington Post who wanted nothing more than to produce solid, factual, balanced journalism but were led astray by Drudge's irresistible breaking-news beacon. No, Drudge seemed to carry the day because those journalists wanted to focus on the gossip, wanted to pursue irrelevant, salacious, and often false stories rather than write about policy, wanted to behave like cliquish thirteen-year-olds. They used Drudge as an excuse, not as a guide.
If they no longer feel it necessary to blame their shortcomings on Matt Drudge, that's only because they've embraced the fact that they are Matt Drudge.
An op-ed by serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey is, indefensibly, featured in today's New York Post:
When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, he should pledge to do three things.
First, he should announce that he will discard the 1,018-page health bill drafted in the House of Representatives and replace it with a 20-page bill in plain English. Twenty pages should be sufficient. The framers of the US Constitution established an entire federal government in 18 pages.
This is absolute nonsense.
First, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows -- though most of her readers do not -- the number of pages is wildly misleading. See, legislation is printed on pages with very wide margins. Text is double-spaced -- and lines are numbered. Here, for example, is what page 483 of the House bill looks like:
Page 483 -- a typical page -- contains only 151 words. That's about half as many words as appear on a page in a typical book. So it's more useful to think of the health care legislation as running about 500 pages. That's quite a bit shorter than a Harry Potter book. Surely it isn't unreasonable for legislation governing the nation's health care and insurance systems to run two-thirds as long as a children's book, is it?
Next: McCaughey says the bill should be written "in plain English." But legislation is written in highly precise and technical legal language for a reason: If it were written in "plain English," it would introduce more ambiguity, not less. Enforcement of laws would be more dependent upon judge's interpretation, and less dependent upon the intent of the elected representatives who wrote the law. (A prospect that would make a conservative like McCaughey twitch, if she were honest.)
Think about a "plain English" agreement between you and your daughter: If she cleans her room, she can have ice cream. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Now, think of all the complications that could arise: Who decides what qualifies as "clean"? What if she enlists the help of a friend? How soon does the room need to be cleaned? What kind of ice cream is she entitled to -- the stuff in your freezer, or the soft-serve chocolate-vanilla twist at her favorite ice cream stand, three towns over? How much ice cream? Et cetera. Those details need not be spelled out when you're dealing with your daughter -- at the end of the day, you can impose your will on the situation easily enough. It isn't so easy when you're trying to get your insurance company to cover your prostate exam.
Next: McCaughey says "20 pages should be sufficient" to revamp the nation's health insurance system. That's nothing short of crazy, as the ice cream comparison probably makes clear. Some things need to be elaborate and complicated. Next time you get on an airplane, think about whether you want the pilot's dashboard controls to be as complex as they are, or whether you'd prefer it to consist of an on/off switch, a steering wheel, and a break pedal. Think about whether you'd prefer the mechanics who service the plane to work off detailed step-by-step instructions making clear the 300 safety tests they must perform before each flight, or whether you'd be more comfortable if they were just told "Check it out."
Finally, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows, the Constitution did not establish an entire federal government in 18 pages. It laid out the basic framework for such a government. Betsy McCaughey understands the difference -- she just hopes her readers don't.
McCaughey's dishonesty and fundamentally-flawed thinking make the rest of her argument impossible to take seriously, but let's look briefly at her next demand:
Secondly, the president should announce that the purpose of his 20-page bill is to cover the truly uninsured. Period.
And do nothing for the already-insured, whose health care costs are skyrocketing? Nothing to stop health insurance companies from doing everything they can to avoid paying for necessary medical care so they can maximize profits? Nothing for people who are locked-in to their current jobs for fear that if they change jobs, they will be unable to get insurance due to "pre-existing conditions"? Nothing to force insurance companies to compete? Nothing to lower costs? Nothing to prevent insurance companies from placing caps on health care payments, which can -- and does -- result in people with top-of-the-line health insurance going bankrupt due to health costs?
Well, at least McCaughey made her perspective clear: She doesn't want to do anything to stop insurance companies from denying payment for necessary procedures. Good to know.
Why isn't the liberal mainstream media all over this story? And man, is that Obama sneaky, or what? Sure, he didn't mention politics in his "controversial" school speech yesterday. He didn't actually try to "indoctrinate" the kids. But hours beforehand, while taking questions from a handful of Virginia students, he directly answered their queries about health care reform!
Thankfully, the right-leaning CNSNews.com has the scoop.
I'm tellin' ya, you gotta watch that guy like a hawk!
Sort of embarrassing, considering the media site spends lots of time touting Beck's new-found influence:
Up until Jones' resignation Glenn Beck has been an incredibly popular and successful cable news version of the snake oil salesman — in the hands of anyone else Jones might have merely remained a blip on the talking points radar, in the mesmerizing, entertaining hands of Beck he has become a national villain, and now Obama's Achilles heel.
Yep, "mesmerizing" and "entertaining." Mediaite's got a Beck crush. But this passage really made me chuckle [emphasis added]:
Fox is a great punching bag, but no one wants to admit its anchors have the power to bring down a White House official. Keith Olbermann has issued a "Fox Twa" requesting viewers and Daily Kos readers alike dig up whatever dirt they can on Beck. No doubt there will be some dug up. Will it matter? Advertisers and ratings matter on TV, not "dirt."
See, it's "advertisers" that matter on TV, don'tcha know. But at Mediaite, the supposedly media savvy site, the fact that Beck has lost nearly 60 advertisers in the last month, and the fact that Beck has been abondoned by more blue chip advertisers, and more quickly, than perhaps any host in the history of cable television, doesn't matter. Mediaite never even mentions the fact Beck no longer has a single prominent, national advertiser that's willing to appear on his program.
In its Beck valentine, Mediaite claims "advertisers" matter on TV. But in its Beck valentine, Mediaite forgets to mention that all-powerful Beck has lost nearly 60 advertisers this summer.
UPDATED: Does Mediaite's Glynnis MacNicol even watch Glenn Beck? I have my doubts after reading this:
The genius of Beck in choosing Van Jones to focus on — as opposed to, say, President Obama directly — is that Jones didn't have a national reputation Beck had to contend with, he was a relative unknown, which allowed Beck to define him nationally, and destructively, almost from scratch.
Really? Mediaite's MacNicol thinks Beck hasn't directly focused on President Obama as a target this year?
It's from an online report about the Obama school "controversy," and it's written by Dan Harris. In his piece, Harris notes that conservatives pre-emptively blasted Obama's stay-in-school speech even though conservatives had no idea what was going to be in the speech. Harris notes that the speech itself "turned out to be little more than a pep talk on the importance of staying in school."
Later in the piece as he tries to put the "controversy" in context, Harris uncorks this era-defining gem [emphasis added]:
While the media loves a good fight -- even when the charges are unfounded -- there may be more to conservatives' complaints that play into larger concerns about the president on health care reform.
Behold the wonder. Pretty much sums up the state of affairs, right? "The media loves a good fight--even when the charges are unfounded."
And do I even have to mention that the media's new-found love of unfounded fights is an Obama era special. Or can somebody point me towards the manufactured, unfounded "controversies" hatched during the Bush years that the press treated as big news. (As I've noted, when conservatives--and overwhelming white--activists get mad, it's news. When liberals do it, it's annoying.)
If that weren't bad enough, there were other depressing nuggets from Harris' woeful report. First, he quoted three partisan Obama critics in the story, yet somehow managed to avoid a single Democrat or Obama supporter for his report.
And second, then there was this:
While Obama may have run a successful presidential campaign, critics say the White House has been unprepared for the ferocity of the Republican opposition.
"You have to be aware of the opposition that is going to arise and have a plan to deal with it," [former Gov. Mitt Romney spokesman Kevin] Madden said.
Did you get that? According to a partisan Republican, the Obama WH was to blame for the school "controversy," because it should have seen the firestorm coming. It should have known that by having the President of the United States address school children and urge them to excel and stay in school, that Republicans and wingnuts would accuse him of trying to "indoctrinate" kids with a "socialist" agenda.
I mean really, how did the WH not see that one coming, right?
So to summarize: ABC News confirms that it will chase any right-wing "fight" even if it's baseless; even if it's "unfounded." In reporting those fights, ABC News will purposefully exclude Democrat voices from the story. And ABC News, while acknowledging a fight is "unfounded," will allow partisan Republicans to blame the White House for the "controversy."
Here are Glenn Beck's September 8 sponsors, in the order they appeared: