In a press release issued over the weekend, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey responded to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg's article on her often fact-free commentary about health care reform. She did so, of course, with a falsehood about the House health bill:
The bill's partisans say the consultation sessions are voluntary. But if there is a penalty for noncompliance, then it is not voluntary, regardless of whether the word mandatory used. The penalty is on page 432. Doctors' quality ratings will be determined in part by the percentage of the doctor's patients who create a living will and the percentage who adhere to it. (And quality ratings affect a doctor's Medicare reimbursement)
Jon Stewart disputed this claim during his interview with McCaughey, saying that "It would be really wrong if that was in any way what this said." As we noted at the time, the bill's language does not impose a "penalty" on doctors, but rather provides incentive payments for doctors who provide the Department of Health and Human Services with "data on quality measures" for end-of-life care – regardless of the results they report. Media outlets who consider offering McCaughey a platform to discuss health care reform should be aware that she is just going to spout falsehoods.
This one was just dopey.
Searching for an angle to Van Jones resignation, the Politico adopted its trademark breathless style and announced [emphasis added]:
When President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser, Van Jones, submitted his resignation this weekend, he became the first casualty of the Obama administration not to go quietly.
Where other departing officials have given explanations about process or used predictable lines about spending more time with their families, Jones released a statement accusing his critics of using "lies and distortions" about him to divert attention from the White House's agenda.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones said.
Unlike previous administration officials who were let go or walked away, Van Jones was fighting mad! (His exit was "fiery.") And to prove it, Politico then detailed four previous White House staffers who had gone quietly: Louis Caldera, Ellen Moran, Gen. David McKiernan, Steve Rattner.
Why is the Politico premise dopey? Why is Politico guilty of comparing obvious apples to oranges? Because unlike Van Jones, none of the others highlighted in the article had been the subject of a vicious right-wing smear campaign. Because Van Jones was the only one in the article whose reputation was savaged on Fox News for weeks on end.
I'm pretty sure that's why Van Jones didn't go quietly. I'm pretty sure that's why he was exit was "fiery." But I guess that glaringly obvious point escaped the pro's at Politico.
UPDATED: if you take a step back, the Politico's general premise that Van Jones refused to go quietly doesn't even make sense. Refusing to go quietly, in classic Beltway terms, suggests that Van Jones balked at resigning; that he'd battled with the White House, or that he'd been aggressively public in the days since his resignation denouncing his former employer. None of that is true though.
At Politico, the entire he-refused-to-go-quietly premise was based on the fact that Van Jones issued a brief statement attack his critics (not the White House).
In his August 30 column, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander declared policy the "Missing Ingredient" in the paper's health care coverage, and pointed out that the vast majority of the paper's coverage had focused on "political maneuvering or protests." Today, the news section makes a welcome response to this criticism, with several policy-focused offerings highlighting the flaws in the current health care system and the solutions proposed by Democrats.
In a front-page story, the Post reports on rescission, the practice by insurance companies of investigating the medical histories of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments, on the grounds that those individuals had pre-existing conditions. The Post tells the story of Sally Marrari, whose coverage was rescinded following a 2006 diagnosis of a thyroid disorder, fluid in the heart and lupus on the grounds that she had not listed on a health questionnaire a "back problem" that she says she didn't know she had. As the Post notes, all health reform bills currently under discussion would ban this practice.
Rescission was the subject of a heart-wrenching hearing earlier this summer, in which former policyholders who had been subject to the practice told their stories. As we noted at the time, the evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS all ignored the hearing – the Post is far from the only news outlet that has a problem relating information about policy rather than politics.
The rescission article isn't the Post's only offering for the day – in a two-page spread teased with an A1 above-the-fold graphic, the paper presents what can only be called a tour-de-force of health care reporting -- dare I say it, the most substantive piece of writing to emerge from the pen of Ceci Connolly (best-known for inventing the Al Gore Love Canal "scandal" entirely out of whole cloth) in ages.
In an easily accessible yet detailed piece accompanied by useful graphics, Connolloy and Alec MacGillis address "8 Questions on Health Care Reform," laying out detailed explanations of how the Democratic reform proposals will affect you if you have health insurance, lack it, or are on Medicare – you know, the sorts of questions you might have if you have been reading the Post this year. The Post also includes a sidebar glossary providing useful definitions for terms like "Exchange" and "Comparative Effectiveness." It really is very well done, though it would have been nice if the Post had decided not to wait until September to give their readers this kind of detail.
As Ezra Klein suggests, this is the sort of piece that the paper should do everything it can to promote:
It's the sort of article that people sometimes say the media don't publish, but the actual problem is that it doesn't get republished. If you miss it in today's Post, you've simply missed it. Which is a shame, because this article is probably the most useful thing we'll publish for the people who doesn't read every newspaper every day.
But even if newspapers don't do reruns, the internet does archives. This article could be expanded as new questions arise, and it could be prominently included in the link box accompanying future health-care articles The Washington Post publishes. It need not disappear into the ether.
On a similar note, Los Angeles Times' Kristina Sherry wrote an excellent glossary of key terms in the health care debate that anyone doing any reporting at all on the subject simply needs to read. It's not perfect (opponents of health care reform call EVERYTHING "socialized medicine," not just a single-payer system), but would certainly be useful to, say, Chris Wallace and Lou Dobbs, in case they missed my own primer last month.
Of course, it's not all good news on the substance front – today, Politico debuts its new section, CLICK, which "covers the latest news and gossip from Washington's social scene." If you're wondering how that differs from the rest of Politico's reporting, or if you aren't interested in reading "Washington party animal" Luke Russert explainhow he's "worn khakis my entire life," you will probably want to stay away.
David Carr is, I think, more than a little off-base in his suggestion that Glenn Beck is off-limits for the same kind of research and criticism that Beck is advocating be deployed against those he disagrees with.
Here's the background: After Glenn Beck used his Twitter feed to urge people to "FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN, MARK LLOYD AND CAROL BROWNER," Keith Olbermann used the same language to urge people to research Beck and his allies "I don't know why I've got this phrasing in my head, but: Find everything you can about Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes."
Olbermann's response made Carr uneasy:
Decoder is all for fearless reporting, but making commentators and media executives the target of investigations reminds us of the ambush interviews that "The O'Reilly Factor" was doing earlier this year ... It all makes some of us at Decoder a bit uncomfortable. While Mr. Beck may be serving as a proxy for the party of opposition, his targets are members of the administration, a rugged game to be sure, but not one that attempts to investigate journalists and commentators for having contrary opinions. ... Once the game of oppo research on the press begins, it's hard to tell where it might stop, no?
Carr's concern seems to reflect a sense of entitlement many journalists possess -- they think nothing of scrutinizing and criticizing others, but when such scrutiny is aimed at them, they cry foul. But freedom of the press does not carry with it freedom from scrutiny, nor should it. If Glenn Beck is engaging in rampant hypocrisy, or lying, or using his television show to shill for companies in which he has a financial stake, there's no reason to think he should be immune from criticism for those activities simply because he is nominally a journalist.
And yes, that applies to legitimate journalists like David Carr, too.
Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander dedicated his Sunday column to his paper's recent profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown, concluding that the profile by reporter Monica Hesse "fell short" and agreeing that the piece was inappropriately one-sided.
While criticizing Hesse's article, Alexander invoked Hesse's "personal life" to argue that she does not have a conservative agenda:
I agree that the story fell short, but not because Hesse was naïve or lacked journalistic diligence. In retracing her reporting, it's clear the research was extensive. And some details about her personal life seem to belie claims she has a conservative agenda (more on that later).
Hesse is a gifted writer, as can be seen in a piece about her marriage in today's Post Magazine. At 28, she's one of Style's rising stars. But she was rocked by the angry reaction to the Brown story and spent most of last week responding to unhappy readers. Especially sensitive to accusations of a "homophobic agenda," her e-mails offered a glimpse into her personal life.
"My current partner is a man," she wrote them. "Before him, my partner of two years was a woman, with whom I discussed health insurance, kids, houses and marriage. You can bet that I found the fact that our marriage wouldn't have been legal to be wrong as hell.
"That doesn't mean that what NOM is trying to do and how they are trying to do it are not important to hear about," she wrote.
And that pretty well makes clear the fatal flaw in the contention that because most journalists (supposedly) lean to the left personally, their reporting reflects liberal bias. Monica Hesse personally opposes Brian Brown's agenda -- and yet her profile of Brown was obviously slanted in his favor, a conclusion shared by her editor and her ombudsman.
(As for Alexander's insistence -- without example -- that Hesse's "research was extensive," that is either overly generous, or indicates that Hesse willfully omitted detail from her profile that would have undermined her thesis. It's a shame Alexander didn't address those omissions.)
A couple of weeks ago, I noted that in an interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Andrea Mitchell asked "Is it better to have nothing than to have a plan that does not include the public option," and pointed out that she doesn't ask similar questions of Senators who oppose the public option. She doesn't ask them "is it better to have nothing than to hae a plan that includes the public option." I explained at the time:
It seems to me that framing -- a choice between nothing and what liberals want -- is common, while conservatives don't face such questions in the health care debate.
So here's a challenge for Andrea Mitchell: The next time you interview a Ben Nelson or a Joe Lieberman or a Mary Landrieu or a Chuck Grassley, ask them "Is it better to have nothing than to have a plan that includes the public option."
Well, Andrea Mitchell just finished an interview with Joe Lieberman -- and no, she didn't ask him anything remotely like that.
Instead, she let Lieberman get away with a string of falsehoods, not challenging any of them:
Lieberman: A government-run health insurance plan: The public doesn't support it. They know that ultimately taxpayers will pay for it. They don't want us to add to the debt. They feel that the existing system, private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid does pretty well.
In fact, health care reform with a strong public option would cost taxpayers less than a similar plan without such an option.
In fact, few people (other than private insurers) think the existing system does pretty well.
But Andrea Mitchell didn't challenge Joe Lieberman on any of those false claims (or on the apparent inconsistency between his disdain for "government-run" health insurance and his praise for Medicare and Medicaid.) Nor did she ask him the type of questions she asks people like Bernie Sanders.
And that goes a long way towards explaining the difficulty in passing meaningful health care reform.
With Glenn Beck and various other lunatics complaining about President Obama's speech to schoolchildren about the importance of education, despite the fact that previous Republican presidents also spoke to schoolchildren, some reporters knew just what to do.
That's right: it's time for a round of news reports suggesting that the complaints from conservatives like Beck are just like complaints from Democrats when George H. W. Bush spoke to school children.
Here's Byron York in the Washington Examiner:
The controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren will likely be over shortly after Obama speaks today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush's speech -- they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.
The more things change...
Posted: Thursday, September 03, 2009 10:42 AM by Mark Murray
From NBC's Mark Murray
... the more they stay the same, we guess.
As it turns out, a controversy over a president giving an education speech to students isn't new.
One, George H.W. Bush gave a speech to students back in 1991. And two, Democrats criticized him for it.
I'm not really in the mood to mince words today, so I'll just say that this is absolutely idiotic. Anyone who thinks that criticizing the president for spending taxpayer money on a speech to schoolchildren is equivalent to criticizing the president for "indoctrinating" schoolchildren and comparing him to Mao and Hitler should give serious thought to resigning so someone who is competent can have their job.
Oh brother [emphasis added]:
The controversy, stoked by conservative talk-radio hosts and some politicians, took White House officials by surprise, and marked a new low in the deteriorating relationship between Mr. Obama and a right wing he had pledged to work with in a postpartisan presidency.
Talk about rewriting history. Usually the media's bipartisan talking point is that Obama promised he'd end bickering between the parties; that Obama promised he'd rewire the Beltway entrenched partisan culture in a matter of days. Of course, that's a joke. What Obama did as a candidate was pledge to try to end the partisan fighting. But the press likes it better when Obama somehow guaranteed that he'd end the fighting, so they type that up instead.
But now comes along the WSJ and goes one further. Suddenly the Journal claims that Obama "pledged" to work with the "right wing." Obama pledged to work with the same fringe radical who concocted the school speech "controversy," and oh my, that means his relationship with the right wing is tarnished. That means his relationship with Beck and Limbaugh and Malkin has suddenly turned cold.
To paraphrase Barney Frank, on what planet do Journal reporters Jonathan Weisman and Ben Casselman live? On what planet did candidate Obama ever "pledge" to work with the right wing; with "conservative talk show hosts"? On what planet did Obama make plain his desire to have any relationship with the nut jobs on the radical right who consider him to be a communist and a Manchurian Candidate sent to destroy America?
Obama never, ever "pledged" to work with the "right wing" or with "conservative talk show hosts." The Journal's just inventing history.
From the September 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Making sure not to note the idiocy of the right-wing attack on Obama's school speech, the WashPost, like most Beltway news outlets, carefully avoids telling the truth about this brain-dead controversy. (See that journalism trend detailed here.)
Today's Post headline:
President Seeks to Avoid Politics in Speech to Schools
The headline is flat-out inaccurate. There's no proof Obama today "seeks to avoid politics in the speech," because there's no proof Obama ever contemplated including politics in the speech in the first place. That allegation was manufactured by the right-wing and has always been based on nothing but run-away paranoia. Period.
Think of it this way. Imagine right-wingers had launched an hysterical crusade about how Obama was going to scare school children with a speech about invading aliens. But then the White House released the text of the speech and--voilà!--no mention of invading aliens, would the Post then print up a headline, "President Seeks to Avoid Aliens in Speech to Schools"?
The sad part is, considering how the press now willingly allows itself to be led around by the GOP Noise Machine, I'm afraid the answer would be yes, the Post would publish that headline.
UPDATED: The Post also plays nice with the right-wing nuts in this passage:
Republicans have called Obama's back-to-school address an inappropriate political intrusion into the classroom.
Again, flat-out inaccurate. Republicans didn't merely complain the speech was inappropriately political, they claimed Obama was going to "indoctrinate" kids with his "socialist" agenda. They compared him history's tyrants and mass murderers.
But at the Post, reporter Scott Wilson knows to clean up the craziness and to present Obama's "critics" as concerned and thoughtful, rather than hateful and unhinged.