As has been repeatedly noted here, despite Howard Kurtz's protestations to the contrary, the media's best efforts to report on the debate over health care reform have resulted in a public that believes any number of false claims opponents have made about the legislation. Perhaps the reason that has happened is because even though health care has been among the top issues under discussion since President Obama took office, prominent media figures remain woefully ignorant of its elementary details.
For example, Lou Dobbs seems to have a problem absorbing basic facts about health care:
DOBBS: Is universal health care, the so-called public option, or single-payer, which -- however you want to break it down…
Similarly, earlier this month, Chris Wallace stated:
WALLACE: Congressman Rangel, here's a top House Democrat saying the Republicans are right, that the public option is a stalking horse for a single-payer government takeover like we see in Britain or Canada.
Ok, full stop. Let's "break it down" in a way that doesn't involve journalists who should know better conflating a bunch of terms that mean different things: Universal health care is different from the public option, which is different from single payer. Britain and Canada have very, very different health care systems.
Universal health care refers to the goal -- not any specific policy proposal – to provide quality, accessible health care to everyone in the country. There are many different ways you can get there; we currently aren't following any of them.
The public option is a proposal included in the Senate health committee and House bills that would establish as one option among many a government-run health insurance plan. It would not be open to anyone who wishes to enroll in it, and those who are eligible would be able to choose it from a list of other, private options. CBO estimates that if the public option passes in the form envisioned by the House draft bill, only about 11 or 12 million people would be enrolled in it by 2019.
Single-payer is a health care model wherein a single source – usually the government – finances all or almost all health care expenditures; basically, everyone in the country has government-provided health insurance. You go to the doctor or the hospital, they treat you, the government pays. Our Medicare program is effectively a single-payer system for the elderly. Canada's health care system features single-payer insurance available to all citizens, with doctors working in public or private practices, but receiving payment for most treatments from the government. There is no proposal currently under serious discussion that would institute a nationwide single-payer system.
The United Kingdom has a single-provider health care model, wherein the government owns and operates the health care system, employing all doctors and other medical personnel through the National Health Service and paying them for all medical services. Our own VA is a single-provider system for veterans. There is no proposal currently under any level of discussion whatsoever that would institute a nationwide single-provider system.
Yes, this stuff is a little complicated – at least, it requires media figures to actually study the issue a bit and develop some understanding of the basic facts at hand. Then again, that's theoretically what they get paid for – to learn about the issues and educate their audience.
Or, you know, they could just keep talking about the politics of it all. That's worked out pretty well so far, right?
Here's The Note item on a Bloomberg News piece:
One side has it figured out: "The town-hall meeting, a format as old as democracy and a staple of congressional recesses, has taken on new force this summer, with consequences that so far have backfired on the president's efforts to retake control of the health-care debate," Bloomberg's John McCormick writes. "Obama's electronic brigade of supporters, meanwhile, has so far struggled to find traction to help push policy initiatives, something the White House is trying to change."
Behold the genius of the mini-mobs! Politically, they have it "figured out." They've unleashed a "new force this summer" and have seized control of the health care 'debate.' How did the mini-mobs do it? On that count, ABC and Bloomberg News remain politely mum today.
There are no references to shrieking free-for-alls, loaded guns, swastikas, Nazi posters, shouts of "Heil Hitler. Neither The Note nor Bloomberg News bother to mention the death threats that have been issued, the politicians tied up in effigy, or the acts of mini-mob vandalism that have taken place.
Why dwell on the unpleasant details people? All ABC and Bloomberg News care about is that the mini-mobs are winning and seizing control of the debate (thanks to the press), and that they have it "figured out."
God bless Bill O'Reilly (I know, right?), since he seems to be the only one of FNC's talk show hosts who will even consider (rarely) having an articulate opposing viewpoint on his program. The other night it was Columbia professor and FNC contributor, Marc Lamont Hill, who was invited to discuss the radical right's response to Obama's presidency. And man, was it a revelation to watch (i.e. smart, coherent pushback from the left), even if it only lasted for a couple minutes.
Imagine what somebody like Hill would do to Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity on live national television if given the chance to match wits? (Well, you know what I mean.)
P.S. Since O'Reilly is, kinda/sorta, receiving some County Fair love today, I'm going to summon all my strength and not dismantle his monumentally dumb claim in this clip that today's birthers are just like the people who questioned Bush's Air National Guard record. I'm not going to mention that Bush's own military records prove he went nearly unsupervised for two years and that Bush failed to show up for any duty. I'm not gong to dwell on the fact that Bush refused to take a mandatory physical after becoming a pilot. And I'm not to remind people that Bush went AWOL in April 1972 (he never flew again), the same month that the Air Force announced mandatory drug testing for pilots.
Nope, not gonna do it.
It's becoming increasingly likely that the cadre of crack "bias" sleuths over at NewsBusters don't even read their own blog. I'm not sure how else to explain this latest bit of staggering hypocrisy.
Two days ago, NewsBuster Matthew Balan lashed out at Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik, complaining that Zurawik "didn't even wait a full 24 hours after Robert Novak's death to launch a stinging criticism of the former Crossfire host on the newspaper's website on Tuesday." Balan wrote: "Even the liberal CNN, who, as Zurawik noted, chose to not renew Novak's contract, paid tribute to the veteran columnist. That might give you a hint as to how much class, or lack thereof, the TV critic has."
OK, so Mr. Zurawik demonstrated a lack of "class" by criticizing Novak less than 24 hours after the storied political columnist passed away. When I read this, I found myself a little confused, given that when Chicago author and broadcaster Studs Terkel passed away on October 31, 2008, Mr. Balan's fellow NewsBuster Michael M. Bates couldn't wait 24 hours before posting a screed attacking Terkel as "a guy who wouldn't say whether he was a Communist and, apparently, a guy who -- charitably -- exaggerated a great deal."
But I decided to give NewsBusters a break, thinking that perhaps their "24 hour" standard for decency had evolved after Terkel passed away. But checking the website again this morning, I found that NewsBuster Tim Graham had posted an entry attacking 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt -- who passed away yesterday -- as "a pioneer in hard-hitting liberal attack journalism" who kowtowed to "favored Democrats."
And this was after another NewsBuster, Brent Baker, heaped praise on Hewitt for once "reprimanding" Dan Rather.
So do they read their own blog? Who knows... What is certain is that they've piled hypocrisy on top of internal contradictions in pursuit of a confused product that, by their own standard, lacks "class."
The Globe headline reads:
Democrats renew threat to go it alone
There's quite a bit of buzz today that Democrats might go it alone on a health care overhaul, giving up on a bipartisan bill because of Republican intransigence and unwillingness to compromise.
How is that a "threat"? Aren't Democrats simply acknowledging the facts on the ground, which seem to indicate that Republicans, once again, might uniformly oppose Obama's legislation? How are Democrats threatening to go it alone if it's Republicans who won't join in? To me, threatening to go it alone suggest Democrats don't want Republican support; that they're rejecting it and telling the GOP to get lost.
A better headline:
Democrats acknowledge they may have to go it alone
Ugh, the press is now circling back to the hackneyed RNC talking point about how Obama's not bipartisan. We went through this last winter when the Beltway press crew concocted the completely unique premise that only Democrats were to blame for the lack of bipartisan cooperation. Ironic, no? The definition of bipartisanship is the two political parties working together. But for Obama the press rules have changed. If Republicans uniformly fail to support him, then it's Obama's fault.
The Journal's Jonathan Weisman has an article today that's even worse, because aside from conveniently ignoring new polling data that undercut his premise, and propping up the it's-all-Obama's-fault meme, Weisman spins the tale by claiming as fact that as a candidate last year the Democrat "campaigned last year on a pledge to end the angry partisanship in Washington." And that Obama "said he would end" "partisan bickering."
Really? I paid pretty close attention to that campaign and I don't recall Obama every saying flatly that he'd end partisanship in Washington, as Weisman now claims the president did; that Obama guaranteed it. What I remember is Obama pledging to try to end partisanship; a pledge that virtually every major candidate has made for the last several decades. I remember Obama saying he'd make an honest effort to reach out across the isle, which he has done.
But Obama claiming, as fact, that he'd quickly, and irrevocably, change the entrenched culture of Washington, D.C.? I don't remember that claim. And guess what? Weisman doesn't even try to back that up with a 2008 Obama quote to prove the candidate made that boast. My hunch is that if Obama criss-crossed the country announcing he'd end partisan bickering, period, than Weisman could easily find quotes to include. But Weisman did not, and I suspect he can't.
Instead, journalists now prefer to rewrite history. It it sounds better today to suggest Obama made that audacious campaign claim and that he's failed. It also sound better to blame Obama only for the lack of political cooperation, so that's what Weisman does; he never even mentions in his article the fact that the GOP has openly adopted a political strategy of opposing whatever Obama is for. In an article about bipartisanship, what the Republicans do is irrelevant.
Meanwhile, how big of a mess was Weisman's article? Consider the fact that he ignored brand new polling which completely undercuts his claim about Obama being blamed for the missing D.C. cooperation. The latest Pew Research poll finds that just 17 percent of Americans blame Obama for that, compared to a plurality of 29 percent who blame Republicans.
For some reason, that polling data was left out of the Journal article.
From Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason's August 20 "analysis" titled: "Obama's deficit woes linger despite rosier estimate":
A stabilizing U.S. financial sector may have freed the White House to trim its 2009 budget deficit projection but the still-record-breaking figure will not make it easier to sell healthcare reform.
President Barack Obama's administration will lower its budget deficit forecast next week for the current fiscal year to $1.58 trillion from $1.84 trillion after removing $250 billion set aside for bank bailouts, officials said.
The decision shows the administration has enough confidence in the financial sector's strength to forego an option to ask the U.S. Congress for further rescue funds.
But the lower figure's release, which comes at a convenient time for Obama as he tries to overcome critics' concerns about a nearly $1 trillion overhaul of the healthcare system, does not change a key problem: it is still in the trillions of dollars.
"The size of the deficit remains large and most Americans will see it that way," said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University.
"In this case, the devil is not in the details but rather it is in the trillion dollar figure."
In May, the White House pushed up its budget deficit estimates for the fiscal year ending September 30 to $1.84 trillion -- representing a huge 12.9 percent of gross domestic product.
The latest number, which represents 11.2 percent of GDP, still marks the highest deficit as a percentage of GDP since 1945.
Obama, a Democrat, has pledged to halve the deficit by the end of his four-year term and is eager to remind constituents that he inherited a $1.3 trillion budget hole from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Audiences at town hall-style meetings often boo when Obama emphasizes that fact and critics have gained traction by arguing that expensive plans to revamp healthcare, improve education and alter U.S. energy usage do not mix well with budget shortfalls.
From G. Gordon Liddy's Twitter account:
Here's Chris Matthews, purported political expert, offering his take on the prospects for health care reform:
The way I see it, he's [President Obama] got three ways to go at this point.
One: They can challenge the Senate rules and ram through a bill with just 50 votes with the help of the Vice President to break the tie. That's what today's lede in the New York Times suggested they're threatening to do. [Matthews later made clear he was referring to using the reconciliation process]
Number Two: They can go for a moderate bill, politically sellable to a few Republicans and get the 60 Senate votes needed for regular passage.
Three: They can go back and build a dramatic rock-'em-sock-'em liberal bill, stand ready to take the loss and blame Republicans for the failure.
Matthews is forgetting something: 60 votes are not needed for "regular passage." Sixty votes are needed to invoke cloture, at which point 50 votes (plus Biden) are all that is required for passage.
What this means is that a health care bill with a public plan could pass if some of the conservative Senators who have made noises about opposing such a plan prove unwilling to filibuster the bill, even if they don't plan on voting for it. Joe Lieberman, for example.
The obvious meaning of this is that when a Joe Lieberman or a Ben Nelson expresses skepticism about the public plan, reporters should ask them if they will filibuster it, or allow it to come to a vote. But that rarely happens. Instead, reporters let those Senators off the hook, allowing them to get away without taking a strong stand.
Which, of course, is exactly what some of them want: to avoid taking a stand. Joe Lieberman may not want to vote for a public plan -- but he probably doesn't want to tell Connecticut voters he'll filibuster, either. He's probably hoping he never has to; that his statements of opposition will ensure it never comes to a vote. That's a perfectly valid, if not terribly brave, approach for him to take. But there is absolutely no reason reporters should play along with it. It's their job to press politicians to take a stand, not help them avoid doing so.
Following Media Matters' item, NBC's Tom Costello corrects his report on the tax proposals in the House health care reform bill.
From Costello's August 19 post on NBC's The Daily Nightly blog:
On NBC Nightly News Tuesday, we tried to provide answers on how much the Health Care Reform proposal in the House would mean to American taxpayers. In short, how much will taxes go up?
As it stands, a House proposal would tax family incomes over $350,000 at one percent, with a maximum of $1,500 in additional tax. Family incomes over $500,000 would be taxed at 1.5 percent, up to $9,000. And family incomes over $1 million would be taxed at 5.4 percent, or $9,000+.
The tax rate climbs if certain savings are not realized.
The math is easy enough, but a simple mistake cascaded into a series of errors on our broadcast.
We applied the tax hike numbers to the entire income, rather than income over a certain threshold.
No political bias, just a simple, silly mistake. My mistake!
We'll set the record straight on NBC Nightly News tonight, as Lester Holt sits in.