Lots of chatter yesterday about how House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer ran into more 'grassroots' protesters at a public event and was put on the defensive, the way 'grassroots' conservatives have been organizing across the country in hopes of shutting down town hall forums to discuss health care reform.
Hoyer appeared at a press conference in Utica, N.Y., to talk about government funding for high-speed rails when protesters started yelling at him, and repeatedly calling him a "liar." The scene fit neatly into the emerging storyline about Dems getting ambushed by angry voters nationwide and how the encounters a) highlight the growing anger across the country and b) have Dems back on their heels.
Except when you actually watch the raw footage from the Utica showdown, the show of 'grassroots' activism becomes almost comical. By my count, there were no more than a handful of protesters at the Utica event. Watching the video, you can see one nearby man telling the loudmouths to be quiet. ("Listen!) And at one point, a man gets up and moves, apparently not wanting to be near, or associated with, the rude hecklers, one of whom starts ranting about how high the corporate tax rate is. (So much for health care reform.)
Anyway, Glenn Thrush at Politico gets this scene about right and provides important context:
A closer look at this video also calls into question whether this is a serious grass-roots movement of town hall protesters or just a few folks holding "tea party" signs. The Utica crowd, shown by a local TV news station, is sparse, and the anger seems to be coming from just a few in the audience.
From Harold Meyerson's August 5 Washington Post column, "Filibuster Nation":
The right, by contrast, seems perpetually fired up, and not just on health care. At a town meeting last month, Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) was booed and heckled when he wouldn't concur with a noisy "birther" who argued that President Obama had been born in Kenya. This bit of social psychosis is limited almost entirely to Republicans: 77 percent of Americans, according to one recent poll, believe that Obama was born in the USA, but only 42 percent of Republicans do.
When future historians look back at this passage in our nation's history, I suspect they'll conclude that this Obama-isn't-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.
Yesterday, TPM's Josh Marchall called Ambinder out when he claimed that today's GOP min-mobs, formed to shout down Democrats in public, are doing exactly what Democrats did when they opposed Bush's push to privatize Social Security.
Except that that's false.
I watched those events unfold pretty closely. And what the Dems did in 2005 consisted almost entirely of protest outside town halls and anti-privatization activists trying to get into the meetings to ask questions to pin members of Congress down on their position. What made it so uncomfortable for Republican and some Democratic members of Congress is that they got questions they didn't want to answer.
Did some meetings get heated? Sure. But these weren't organized attempts to shut down the meetings themselves.
Democrats were able to defeat President Bush on Social Security because they found a way to capitalize on inherent skepticism about forcing that cherished institution to change. Make no mistake, the effort to defeat Social Security reform won because of a mix of organic anxiety, inorganic organizing, focus grouped-messaging and wealthy people and interests writing large checks. Today, we're at a similar juncture, except for the fact that the wealthy, organized/organic/inorganic protesters are on the other side of an issue. Democrats may have used different tactics -- protesting outside of places as opposed to inside of them -- but that's not terribly germane.
Ugh. Several problems as Ambinder continues to strain to equate the opposition to Social Security and today's astroturf push to shut down debate on health care reform. First, is Ambinder really suggesting that today's health care system is a "cherished institution"? He seems to be because claiming the anti-privatization push and the anti-health care push are exactly the same, Ambinder notes that Dems won because skeptical Americans didn't want to changed Social Security, a cherished institution. The implication, of course, is that the GOP today is succeeding the same way by raising concerns about another "cherished institution," health care companies (?!).
Second, while backtracking from yesterday's comparison, Ambinder suddenly thinks it's insignificant that the right-wing is using "different tactics"; that the GOP is forming mini-mobs and Dems never did that when opposing Social Security reform. Suddnely that point is not "terribly germane."
Excuse me but the only reason Ambinder is writing about this issue is because of the mini-mobs. If conservatives were politely objecting to health care reform at Dem town halls, would anybody in the media care? And would anybody in the media be pushing the false claim that there's genuine grassroots opposition spreading across the country?
Of course not. The mini-mobs are the story, but Ambinder tries to dismiss them as irrelevant.
Also, as one of Ambinder's readers noted:
Marc. Marc. Marc. It's not that astroturfing exists, it's that you conveniently ignore it until you are challenged over your poor journalism
Greg Sargent reports [emphasis added]:
I'm told by a CNN source that the network privately pressed cable operators not to run the Media Matters ad attacking Dobbs, which pilloried his footsie with the birthers as CNN's "Lou Dobbs problem."
Media Matters had previously booked a week's worth of ad time on MSNBC, Fox, and CNN — during Dobbs' show.
The pressure, which came before CNN publicly acknowledged that they were nixing the ad, suggests that the network may have been more rattled by the campaign against Dobbs — and by the prospect of public criticism of Dobbs running on the network — than has been previously known. The network may have hoped to shut down the ad without being publicly associated with that effort.
It's also rather intriguing that CNN has been unwilling to pressure Dobbs to rein in the birther talk — but was willing to press cable operators not to run a paid-for ad questioning it.
Why on earth is CNN urging competing cable news outlets not to run specific ads? Bizarre.
Chris Matthews on Hardball today:
Remember the poll last week where a majority of Republicans said either 'No' or 'Not sure' when asked if President Obama was born in the US?
Well, here's a blast from the past, courtesy of Real Clear Politics. Back in 2007, two years ago, Rasmussen polled voters with a similar out-of-left-field question, asking whether they believed that then-President Bush, George W. Bush, had gotten the inside word that the World Trade towers and the Pentagon were about to be hit on September 11, 2001. We're talking hard intel as to what was coming that day -- how the hijackers were going to grab those planes and fly them into buildings.
Well, how many Democrats said either 'Yes, Bush knew' or that they weren't sure whether he knew about that? Not sure whether the president deliberately sat back while America's cities were attacked and thousands were killed? Well, think about it. Sixty-one percent, a majority. Evidence that both parties hold the darkest of suspicions about the other party and it's leaders.
No. This is not true. Chris Matthews is lying to you.
The Rasmussen poll Matthews refers to didn't ask anything like what Matthews described. Nothing. Like. It.
The poll asked "Did Bush know about the 9/11 attacks in advance?" That's it. Many of those who answered either "yes" or "don't know" were likely doing so in reference to the presidential daily briefing Bush received warning him that al Qaeda was "determined" to attack the US. Even conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg acknowledged at the time that "Many Democrats are probably merely saying that Bush is incompetent or that he failed to connect the dots."
In any case, Matthews description of the poll is flat-out wrong. It is entirely made-up. The poll question said nothing -- nothing -- about Bush getting "inside word." It said nothing about "hard intel," and it said nothing about "how the hijackers were going to grab those plans and fly them into buildings."
Chris Matthews made all of that up. That is lying.
And it isn't a tangential lie: it's his whole point. Matthews lied about what the Rasmussen poll found so he could accuse Democrats of holding beliefs comparable to the Birthers. His entire point was a lie.
Remember this dishonest smear of Democrats the next time some right-winger -- or Howard Kurtz -- insists that Chris Matthews is evidence of MSNBC's "liberal bias."
From Buchanan's August 4 column:
Time to go, Grandpa
With "controlling costs" a primary goal of Obamacare, and half of all medical costs coming in the last six months of life, "rationed care" takes on a new meaning for us all.
London's Telegraph reported Sunday that the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, known by its Orwellian acronym NICE, intends to slash by 95 percent the number of steroid injections, such as cortisone, given to people who suffer severe and chronic back pain.
"Specialists fear," said the Telegraph, "tens of thousands of people, mainly the elderly and frail, will be left to suffer excruciating levels of pain or pay as much as 500 pounds each for private treatment."
Now, twin this story with the weekend Washington Post story about Obamacare's "proposal to pay physicians who counsel elderly or terminally ill patients about what medical treatment they would prefer near the end of life and how to prepare instructions such as living wills," and there is little doubt as to what is coming.
The Post portrayed the controversy as stoked by "right-leaning radio" using explosive language like "guiding you in how to die" and government plans to "kill Granny." Yet, is not the logical purpose of paying doctors for house calls to the terminally ill, whose medical costs are killing Medicare, to suggest a pleasant and early exit from a pain-filled and costly life?
Let us suppose the NICE plan in Britain is adopted. And an 80-year-woman, living alone, with excruciating persistent back pain, is visited by a physician-counselor. What is he likely to advise? What conclusion would Grandma be led to by a doctor who sweetly explains what treatment she may still receive, what is being cut off, and what her other options might be?
What other options are there?
Examples of how to "die with dignity" are at hand.
Three weeks ago, Sir Edward Downes, the world-renowned British orchestra leader, who was going blind and deaf, and his wife of 54 years, who had terminal cancer, ended their lives at a Zurich clinic run by the assisted suicide group Dignitas. They drank a small amount of liquid and died hand in hand, their adult children by their side.
This is the way of de-Christianized Europe. For years, doctors have assisted the terminally ill in ending their lives. Indeed, it has been reported that indigent, sick and elderly patients who could not make the decision for themselves had it made for them.
In America, we have a Death with Dignity Act in Oregon and such suicide counselors as the Hemlock Society, which itself took the cup in 2003. Now we have Compassion & Choices, which counsels the elderly sick on a swift and painless end. Before he took to ending the lives of patients who were not terminal, but sick and depressed, Dr. Kevorkian had his admirers. Not infrequently, one reads of nursing homes where the infirm and elderly have been put to death.
Beneath this controversy lie conflicting concepts about life.
To traditional Christians, God is the author of life and innocent life, be it of the unborn or terminally ill, may not be taken. Heroic means to keep the dying alive are not necessary, but to advance a natural death by assisting a suicide or euthanasia is a violation of the God's commandment, Thou shalt not kill.
To secularists and atheists who believe life begins and ends here, however, the woman alone decides whether her unborn child lives, and the terminally ill and elderly, and those closest to them, have the final say as to when their lives shall end. As it would be cruel to let one's cat or dog spend its last months or weeks in terrible pain, they argue, why would one allow one's parents to endure such agony?
In the early 20th century, with the influence of Social Darwinism, the utilitarian concept that not all life is worth living or preserving prevailed. In Virginia and other states, sterilization laws were upheld by the Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said famously, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
In Weimar Germany, two professors published "The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life," which advocated assisted suicide for the terminally ill and "empty shells of human beings." Hitler's Third Reich, marrying Social Darwinism to Aryan racial supremacy, carried the concepts to their logical if horrible conclusion.
CROWLEY: Republicans are also encountering angry voters but Democrats seem to be getting the worst of it and they accuse Republican operatives of sending protesters to their Town Hall meetings, but even if there is any truth to that charge the reality is that poll after poll shows that Americans are divided about Obama-style health care reform.
Well, first, of course there is "truth to that charge." Right-wing groups are sending around memos telling people how to "artificially inflate" their numbers and "be disruptive early and often." That memo was revealed four days ago. Has Crowley been paying any attention at all?
And second: No, Americans are not "divided" in any meaningful way on "Obama style health care reform." By large margins, Americans want significant health care reform. By large margins, they favor Barack Obama's approach over the GOP's approach. They favor a public option.
Yes, it's true, polling also shows things like public concern that they wouldn't be able to choose their own doctor under proposed reforms. But that concern is not based on reality -- it is based on an aggressive disinformation campaign waged by enemies of reform. If Candy Crowley spent her time producing news reports that correct that disinformation rather than hyping the results of it, things would be going a lot more smoothly -- and more importantly (from her perspective) she'd also be performing actual journalism.
Marc Ambinder seems to think that liberals are ignoring "real health care anxiety," as expressed by people yelling at town hall events. And he seems to think he's being criticized for pointing out that such anxiety exists.
I think what's really happening is that some liberals think the media should not behave as though a few very loud, very angry protesters are representative of the public at large. And they shouldn't report the things those protesters are yelling -- or even the "real health care anxiety" many other Americans are feeling -- without making clear whether or not the concerns are factually correct.
Basically, by endlessly reporting that town hall events are being interrupted by yelling anti-health-care-reform protesters, the media is giving disproportionate attention to what polls show to be the minority of the public that opposes reform. And by failing to point out when those complaints are factually inaccurate, the media is further amplifying their power.
Video of a handful of shouting protesters may make for better television than factual explanations of health care reform, and refutations of false claims about it, or recitations of polling data showing those protesters to be in the minority -- but it makes for worse journalism.
Ambinder says "protesters are mix of artificial and real. Point is: they're THERE." Well, sure. But that's a pretty banal point. Nobody doubts that they're there. We see the video every time we turn on cable news. But what do they mean? How significant are their numbers? Are their facts right? Those are the things reporters should focus on, not simply assuming that because they are loud, they are powerful or right. There were plenty of angry yelling people at McCain-Palin rallies last year, too -- and they didn't turn out to matter at all, because they were representative of only a small portion of the country.
(This is where Ambinder says I don't understand how things are, and I reply that I do -- but Ambinder doesn't understand they don't have to be, and shouldn't be, how they are.)
UPDATE: Ezra Klein points out that at health care events over the past several years, "one thing is perfectly predictable: The Q&A session will be dominated by single-payer activists asking about HR 676." Now, maybe you've noticed the lack of media attention paid to these public demands for single-payer health care by real Americans over the years. So, no, the media doesn't have to breathlessly report every time some obscure member of congress gets a question from someone who has been lied to about what health care reform will involve.
UPDATE 2: Ambinder elaborates -- and basically says reporters can't say weather health care reform concerns are valid:
Take, for example, the question of whether people would have to change their policies or their doctors as the result of a robust public plan. Obama says no -- and he makes a credible argument for it. Many real people -- regardless of their motives -- have legitimate and credible reasons to believe that the answer is yes.
Nonsense. We know that none of the health care bills in question would require anyone to change health care plans or doctors. None of them.
Ambinder doesn't explain what the "legitimate and credible reasons" to believe that people would have to change policies and doctors are. But whatever they are, they certainly don't preclude reporters from saying "None of the proposed reforms would require anyone to change health care plans or doctors." If Ambinder can come up with a credible argument why people would be required to do so, fine: reporters can and should mention that argument, too. (Though they needn't and shouldn't give it equal weight if it isn't equally-likely.)
That's the responsible way to cover the "anxiety" Ambinder is obsessed with: to assess how valid it is. That may not mean being able to definitively say "true" or "false" -- but the answer isn't, as Ambinder seems to think, to throw your hands up in the air, decide you can't know for sure so you won't even try to assess it, and decide that your job is simply to report that concerns exist.
And, really, I can't believe anyone would seriously think that is the correct path to take. Why would you become a reporter if you think the job simply entails announcing that concerns exist without assessing the validity of those concerns?
Jane Hamsher at FDL spells out the news media's delinquency:
Organizations like CBS and the New York Times do not report the news when it is right in front of them. They pass off these transparent lobbyist funded thuggery as a grassroots effort. They do not say who is organizing these violent uprisings, or how they are being funded. These media outlets are playing a critical role by telling the country that its people believe something that they don't. It is blatant propaganda being passed off as news, and it is to "journalism" what David H. Koch is to "grassroots."
UPDATED: Irony alert. During the run-up to the Iraq War when tens, and often hundreds, of thousands of anti-war activists gathered to voice their opinion, the press often seemed to go out of its way to downplay the significance.
But today when a few dozen Tea Party protesters form town hall min-mobs, the press seems anxious to assign great meaning.
The anti-health care mobs that the right-wing is whipping up to disrupt town hall meetings hosted by Democrats are being cheered mightily by bloggers like Malkin, who are thrilled that angry conservatives are trying to shut down public dialog about health care reform in this country.
It's funny, because during the Bush years, Malkin had a caustic put-down she used for anybody on the left who protested government policy, without, of course, trying to shut down public debate: Moonbats!
But today's Tea Party fanatics who scream and yell and plan massive disruptions? They're just regular ole Americans.