MSNBC has been paying much more attention to Rep. Joe Wilson -- the Republican congressman who yelled "You lie" during last night's presidential address to congress -- this morning, at the expense of actually covering health care policy. No surprise, really, but it doesn't serve their viewers well.
Even worse, MSNBC just aired comments from Wilson earlier this morning in which he reiterated his claim that President Obama isn't telling the truth about whether proposed health insurance reforms would cover those who are in the country illegally.
Wilson is wrong; Obama is right. But that wasn't made clear to MSNBC viewers. MSNBC aired Wilson speaking, without interruption, for more than two minutes. During those two minutes, Wilson claimed again and again that illegal immigrants would be covered, referring to amendments and what he claims are third-party validators of his position. MSNBC's debunking of Wilson consisted entirely of Tamron Hall saying -- a full minute after the clip of Wilson ended -- "there's also been a number of fact-checkers who said that Congressman Wilson is wrong, that there was nothing to indicate."
That's it. MSNBC played Wilson going on for two minutes about amendments and the Congressional Research Service validating his position, then "debunked" him by saying "there's also been a number of fact-checkers who said that Congressman Wilson is wrong, that there was nothing to indicate." (That's the full sentence, by the way: Hall just stopped mid-thought, not making clear what Wilson was wrong about.)
How does that segment look to a typical viewer? I suspect many viewers -- particularly those who lean to the right -- come away from the segment believing Wilson. He seemed to be offering specifics, he claimed to have the support of the Congressional Research Service, and the "rebuttal" of him was laughably vague; it wasn't even a full sentence. And it came well after viewers saw Wilson's claims.
It's bad enough that MSNBC is allowing Wilson's outburst last night to drive the day's discussion of health care; it's indefensible that in doing so they are doing such a poor job of debunking his underlying claims.
UPDATE: Just 15 minutes after the segment about Wilson, MSNBC is right back at it, playing a clip of him and devoting a large chunk of their health care coverage to this sideshow. And how long do you think it'll be before MSNBC anchors express shock that the American people don't understand health care? This. Is. Why.
UPDATE 2: ... And 8 minutes later, more focus on Wilson.
UPDATE 3: At least two more segments have mentioned Wilson, bringing the total to at least four -- in the past hour alone.
According to the wire service, the health care 'debate' has been a boon for the GOP:
Despite being badly outnumbered in Congress, Republicans have been riding a political wave as voters increasingly have turned against Democrats' efforts to provide more coverage to the uninsured and to pay for it through a tax surcharge on the wealthy.
It's true that poll numbers, at least prior to Obama's popular speech last night, had softened in terms of how Americans felt about health care reform. But did that also mean, as the AP implied, the GOP's fortunes were improving? That the party was "riding a political wave"?
Not that I can tell. But the press loves to tell that tale anyway, so look for it to continue.
According to the most recent party polling data (Pew Research Center), 50 percent of Americans have either a "mostly unfavorable" or "very unfavorable" opinion of the Republican Party. Back in April, that percent was almost exactly the same: 51 percent. And in January it was a very similar 54 percent.
So for the entire year, the public's (low) opinion of Republicans has remained essentially unchanged. But at the the AP, that translates into the GOP "riding a political wave."
In a blog entry discussing Fox News' skewed coverage of President Obama's speech Wednesday night, the NY Times made this odd characterization of Special Report host Bret Baier:
Fox News did call upon Bret Baier, its decidedly un-opinionated Washington news anchor, and a pair of veteran Washington correspondents to handle coverage of Mr. Obama's speech and the Republican response.
Wow, "un-opinionated"? I'm wondering which Baier the Times is referencing?
Fox News hosts have recently fixated on the House's decision to terminate a pilot program to -- in the words of Bret Baier -- "kill the patriotic tunes callers hear when they're put on hold."
Stoddard, Baier agree that reconciliation "used to be called the nuclear option"
Fox News' Bret Baier repeated Sarah Palin's false assertion that the end-of-life counseling provided for under the House health care reform bill would, in Baier's words, "not be voluntary as the president says."
During the "All Star Panel" on the July 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier asked: "Is the president overexposed? Is he out there too much? He had 11 health care events in many as many days pushing the health care reform legislation."
Baier, Bream selectively cited Obama interview to claim he "may have contributed to the atmosphere of fear"
Wait, wait, just wait. Here is Bret Baier being "decidedly un-opinionated" as the New York Times describes him:
Fox's Baier describes Gore as a "global warming alarmist"
That's it. There you go. Parroting conservative misinformation and characterizations are the height of "un-opinionated". Definitely.
Maybe it was the snap polling that showed Americans overwhelmingly liked the speech and now support Obama's health care reform push. Or maybe it was the sad spectacle of watching Republican loud mouth Rep. Joe Wilson's unseemly bout of heckling, which was roundly condemned by both sides of the isles.
Whatever the trigger, some right-wing bloggers seemed to snap at having to watch a Democratic president regain control of the health care debate last night. Why else would Allah Pundit contemptuously refer to the President of the United States as "this jackass"?
And yes, these are the same conservative hypocrites who lectured liberals during the Bush years about not showing sufficient respect for the Oval Office.
UPDATED: Why do right-wingers hate the office of the presidency? Between the casual "jackass" insults this week, and insisting last week that school children needed to be sheltered from the President of the United States, when did the once-patriotic GOP Noise Machine decide that the Oval Office needed to be desecrated at every turn?
Of course, the rude heckling by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is being reported everywhere. And yes, his apology for the extraordinary outburst has been noted. But have you noticed what's been mostly left out from the dispatches? It's the fact that when Wilson called Obama a liar for claiming illegal immigrants would not be covered by proposed health care reforms, Wilson himself was lying.
What's been completely glossed over by the press is the fact that the "You Lie!" was itself built upon a lie. That the rude outburst was yet more GOP misinformation. Instead, too many in the press treat the exchange as a he said/he said. i.e. Obama claimed illegal immigrants won't be covered, and Wilson called him a liar. What are the facts? Which man was telling the truth? The press won't say.
From ABC News:
A Republican member of Congress interrupted President Obama's speech tonight on the floor of the House of Representatives to yell "You lie!" at the president, in reference to the president's assertion that his proposals wouldn't provide health insurance to illegal immigrants.
That's it. ABC never even tries to inform online readers which side was telling the truth.
I guess we shouldn't be surprised, since the press has spent the whole summer timidly looking away from the orchestrated, right-wing misinformation. What does a Republican have to do these days to get fact-checked by the press?
UPDATED: Politico's Glenn Thrush hailed Wilson's heckling as the night's "defining moment" in a piece headlined, "Wilson's rallying cry." But was Wilson's boorish accusation true? Did Obama "lie" when he claimed Democratic health care reforms would no offer up free care to illegal immigrants? On that count Politico remains politely silent.
As we've seen this summer, right-wing theatrics are far more important than facts.
UPDATED: Credit goes to Time's Michael Scherer, who included this in his "You Lie!" report:
The President's seemingly simple statement, that "the reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally," is not hard to check. In the Senate Finance Committee working framework for a health plan, which Obama's speech seemed most to mimic, there is the line: "No illegal immigrants will benefit from the health care tax credits."
During President Obama's health care speech Wednesday night, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled out "You lie!" -- an outburst Wilson later apologized for after blistering criticism (not to mention a flurry of online donations to his Democratic opponent.)
Of course, whenever reporters like Dana Milbank note such boorish behavior by a Republican, they must quickly include something some Democrat did so they seem "balanced," even if the Democrat's actions aren't even remotely comparable. Sure enough, here's Milbank:
And, in truth, there were provocations from the Democratic side. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), sitting on the Republican side, insisted on making a victory sign with his hand and waving it at Obama.
Yeah. That's the same. (And "insisted upon"? Really? Was there some effort to prevent Pascrell from doing so?)
Milbank, continuing directly:
Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), also on the GOP side of the aisle, felt the need to pound his fist in the air and make what looked, awkwardly, like a fascist salute.
Um ... What? "Fascist salute"? What does that even mean?
Milbank doesn't say. But it does dovetail nicely with the Right's overheated comparisons of Obama to Hitler and Mao.
Amid the furious coverage of Sen. Max Baucus' effort in the Senate Finance Committee to produce a bipartisan health care bill, the media have missed one important fact: there is already a Senate health reform bill.
For instance, describing the status of health care reform in Congress during a recent NPR special report, Robert Siegel described the Senate's "progress" as "glacial," pointing only to negotiations among the Finance Committee's Gang of Six:
SIEGEL (host): Congress adjourned with things in a muddle. Both chambers failed to meet President Obama's ambitious timetable: one bill in each house before they left town. There was some progress. In the House, three committees approved revised versions of the original bill, H.R. 3200 America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. The three bills have to be merged into one, with floor debate and a vote possible this fall. Over in the Senate progress was glacial. The Gang of Six, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Finance Committee met daily through much of July to craft a bipartisan compromise. They left town without reaching an agreement.
In their September 8 Washington Post article, Paul Kane, Ben Pershing and Perry Bacon, Jr. wrote that the Senate "has been stalled all summer" on health reform.
Many Democrats do not want the House to act until they know what will happen in the Senate. That chamber has been stalled all summer as a bipartisan group of six senators on the Finance Committee has tried to reach a compromise that does not include a public option, costs much less than the $1.2 trillion House version and does not include a surtax on the wealthy.
If the Senate bill does not include a public option, many House Democrats will not want to vote for it in their version, because it would be unlikely to survive a House-Senate conference on the two measures.
Contrary to the media narrative that the Senate has "been stalled" and that its "progress" been "glacial," there is in fact a Senate health bill. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed a bill in mid July, The Affordable Health Choices Act, which then-Chairman Ted Kennedy praised:
"I could not be prouder of our Committee. We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do. We have considered hundreds of proposals. Where we have been able to reach principled compromise, we have done so. Where we have not been able to resolve our differences, we have treated those with whom we disagree with respect and patience," Chairman Kennedy said. "As we move from our committee room to the Senate floor, we must continue the search for solutions that unite us, so that the great promise of quality affordable health care for all can be fulfilled."
The HELP bill includes a public option, employer mandate, and subsidies that people making up to 400% of the poverty line can use to purchase insurance. Combined with an expansion of Medicaid (which the HELP committee lacks the authority to include in legislation), 97% of Americans would be covered under the bill.
This is not a simple, technical oversight on the part of NPR and The Post. Disappearing the HELP bill is a problem because it creates the false impression that the Finance Committee alone speaks for the Senate, and that House and Senate Democrats are not on the same page about what health reform means -- all of which baselessly boosts the importance of whatever the Finance Committee eventually produces.
In reality, the bill that Finance will drop, which Baucus' legislative framework indicates will exclude a public option, is the congressional outlier, not the standard-setter. Indeed, like the House bill that has moved through three committees in that chamber, the HELP bill includes a public option. Baucus' framework has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, but, like the House bill, the HELP bill has been scored -- twice. And Baucus' framework at best only represents the work of six of 23 senators on his committee. By contrast, both the HELP and House bills were actually voted and passed by full committees, and before the August recess at that.
So in the media's continuing coverage of the machinations of the Finance Committee, maybe they could provide this fact-based perspective to their listeners, viewers and readers. It doesn't make for the sexy, conflict-based narrative that they do so love, but it does make for real journalism.
From Joe Scarborough's Twitter account:
More than 60 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program. Here are his September 8 sponsors, in the order they appeared: