Writing over at The Atlantic, Fallows bemoans the state of the health care 'debate', and especially the GOP misinformation about ""death committees," socialized medicine, end of innovation, "keep the government out of my Medicare," etc."
Fallows is depressed. He writes:
I have to say that it is striking to come back -- from the world of controlled media and not-always-accurate "official truth" in China -- and see the world's most mature democracy, informed by the world's dominant media system, at a time of perceived economic crisis and under brand new political leadership, getting tied up by manufactured misinformation. No matter what party you belong to, you can't think this is a sign of health for the Republic.
Really, Fallows seems surprised that the debate surrounding a big public policy issue is "getting tied up by manufactured misinformation" launched by the right?
That strikes me as being wildly naive and my suggestion to Fallows would be to go spend a few hours reading the archives over at The Daily Howler. Purposeful conservative misinformation, which then often gets echoed and spread around by the (lazy) mainstream press, has been the defining trait our political dialog for at least the last fifteen years. Yet media elites (like Fallows) still act surprised, in part because lots of media elites have spent the last 15 years playing dumb about the trend and playing dumb about the damage being done to our democracy.
Honestly, what was Fallow expecting, that the right-wing press was going to promote a robust, fact-based discussion about the issues, and that the mainstream press was going to drill down deep into the facts? I suppose that yes, most sane observers would bemoan what's become of our health care 'debate' today. But the ones who act shocked are the ones who surprise me the most.
UPDATED: Paul Krugman recently made the following point. It wasn't in reference to Fallows, but it could have been [emphasis added]:
So now that the same people [Republicans] are in opposition, nobody should be surprised that they are willing to say anything to block efforts to actually deal with problems. Anyone who is surprised hasn't been paying attention since, oh, 1993.
The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes lead off their article today by writing:
The White House on Monday started a new Web site to fight questionable but potentially damaging charges that President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system would inevitably lead to "socialized medicine," "rationed care" and even forced euthanasia for the elderly.
But in introducing the Web site, White House officials were tacitly acknowledging a difficult reality: they are suddenly at risk of losing control of the public debate over a signature issue for Mr. Obama and are now playing defense in a way they have not since last year's campaign.
That's one way to interpret the White House's decision to roll out their new website debunking health care smears. Here's another: The White House is doing it because they realize that the media is unwilling or unable to call those smears false, instead – just to pull an example out of thin air – referring to misleading-to-ridiculous claims that Democratic proposals "would inevitably lead to 'socialized medicine,' 'rationed care' and even forced euthanasia for the elderly" as "questionable but potentially damaging charges."
What makes this particular case even more absurd is that just yesterday, the Times published "A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform." Unfortunately, Rutenberg and Calmes don't seem to have read it.
If they had, they might have written that claims that health care reform would lead to "socialized medicine" "seem overblown" because "[m]ajor versions of the legislation all rely heavily on a continuation of private health plans" and the CBO has found that under the House bill, 3 million more people would have employer-sponsored insurance in 2016 than would be expected under current law. They also might have called the "euthanasia" claims "unfounded" or noted that the AARP says they're "flat-out lies."
But instead, we get "questionable but potentially damaging." The claims might be true; they might not be? Who can say? What we can say is that repeating them without debunking them – as we just did in our article in The New York Times -- could hurt reform's chances.
As Jamison noted in June:
Following up on my post this morning about combating misinformation by eliminating the incentives for lying, another stumbling block is that a lot of reporters and news organizations seem to think it is adequate to tell the truth once.
That is, if a politician runs around saying something that isn't true -- like that she said "thanks but no thanks" to "bridge to nowhere" funding -- many news organizations will debunk the false claim once. But then they'll go right on quoting the false claim when it is made again and again, without bothering to point out that it is false. And when challenged on this, they'll point out that they did debunk it, three weeks ago.
That isn't good enough, for reasons that should be incredibly obvious. It isn't good enough to tell the truth once.
The Times told the truth yesterday. Today, they don't seem to know what the truth is. Unfortunately for them, their job is to tell the truth every day.
That's great. But there's an obvious next step for news organizations that have reached the (unavoidable) conclusion that McCaughey isn't telling her the truth: Stop taking her seriously. Immediately and forever. It has been clear for 15 years that Betsy McCaughey does not tell the truth about health care.
There is no reason whatsoever to ever give any weight to anything she says. She isn't an "expert," unless the only qualification for being an expert is repeatedly being wrong and dishonest. There is no reason whatsoever to ever invite her to appear on your television program, no reason to ever quote her in your news report (unless you're doing so to illustrate and debunk the lies people are telling.)
If the Post or ABC or any of the other news organizations that have concluded McCaughey isn't telling the truth go back to quoting her as though she is anything other than an untrustworthy fraud, it'll tell us more about them than about health care.
Just wanted to highlight what Jamison noted in terms of Kurtz and the WashPost playing dumb about Limbaugh's outrageous Nazi rhetoric. My latest column is on this exact topic, so I thought I'd add two points.
First, the Washington Post also gave Glenn Beck a pass when he recently announced the President of the United States had a "deep seated hatred of white people" and was a flat-out "racist." At the Post, which obsesses over the intersection of media and politics, the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News' superstar host wasn't considered to be newsworthy.
So for those keeping score at home, two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America (Limbaugh and Beck) have recently called out Obama as a Nazi racist. But sorry, at the Washington Post that's just not news. Nothing to see here people. Just keeping moving along. The right-wing media are not the story.
Second, and this is just sort of a side note, but how loopy was it that when a reader specifically asked Kurtz during an online forum why, as the newspaper's media critic, he hadn't written one word about Limbaugh's Nazi rhetoric, Kurtz's response was "I don't know."
How can he not know why he does or does not cover a particular story?
Last night, AC 360 featured a report by CNN's Gary Tuchman from a health care town hall meeting held that day by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), who faced a large, hostile crowd for three hours in North Arlington, NJ. After the meeting, Tuchman gathered a group of presumably representative attendees together and asked them why they thought all the "yelling and screaming" was necessary:
You'll notice that during the interview, CNN displays a graphic that should have thrown up a red flag for Tuchman: One of the town hall protestors – who says the "yelling and screaming" is necessary because "If you were about to be hit by a bus and didn't see it coming would you like me to yell and get your attention?" – is captioned "Valley Stream, NY."
Valley Stream is in Nassau County, between 52 minutes and two and a half hours away from North Arlington, NJ, depending on the traffic (and trust me, there's always traffic).
And yet, Tuchman had no questions for the man about how he happened to end up in a town meeting for a different congressman in a different state. Because it's not like there's a wide-ranging campaign by national conservative organizations to pack Democratic town halls with protestors who oppose health care reform.
On Sunday, I noted a new Gallup poll that provides further evidence that the May Gallup poll showing a significant spike in the percentage of people who self-identify as "pro-life" was an outlier. (To be clear, it was always obvious from looking at the poll that it was an outlier and should not be taken particularly seriously. The new Gallup poll is just the icing on the cake.)
Today, Steve Benen rounds up some of the other reaction to the new Gallup poll, and takes a look at which of the two polls got more media attention. You'll have to check out Benen's post for the results, but here's a hint: the "liberal" media has a strong track record of privileging opposition to abortion.
Say you're Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, and you're looking for a column that will help people understand the health care debate. You could chose one that makes clear that health care reform does not involve, as Sarah Palin mendaciously claims, "death panels" that convene to kill children and the elderly. But that would be boring! So you run this, instead:
The issue here is not that these citizens consider Obama untrustworthy -- though they do. The issue, rather, is that they recognize that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice. This is why these citizens, including professionally briefed participants such as Sarah Palin, can continue to maintain, in the face of a barrage of insistences to the contrary, that the reforms will (1) result in rationing and (2) establish "death panels."
Check out that framing: people who believe health care reform will "establish 'death panels'" are "professionally briefed," while those who point out that no such thing will happen and no such thing is contained in any proposed legislation are merely offering a "barrage of insistences." Way to stack the deck in favor of the crazy and false position.
More from Danielle Allen's op-ed:
These activists do not claim that the proposed reforms include policies whose explicit purpose is to ration, nor do the more careful among them claim that the policies will establish panels to help people decide when to die. They are not arguing about the semantic content of the policies; that is, they are not arguing about the meaning of the words that are actually in the relevant drafts of bills. Instead, they are considering, as the pragmatist philosopher William James put it, "what conceivable effects of a practical kind the [policy] may involve -- what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare."
In asking lawmakers to consider not merely the goals of their policies but also the experiential meaning of concrete realities that those policies may bring, they have a point. One can't answer them by saying: "These policies won't ration; there will be no death panels." If these reforms do either of these things, they will do so as a matter of unintended consequences.
Nonsense. Utter, complete, contemptible nonsense. Plausible unintended consequences should surely be considered. But implausible, never-going-to-happen, absurd unintended consequences need not be. Sure, the government could theoretically eventually create "death panels" that order three-year-olds and grandparents put to death. And a race of super-human alien-dinosaur hybrids from the planet Zolog could theoretically become angered by the adoption of a public plan and blow up Earth in a fit of rage.
Hmmm. If I can stretch that last sentence into an 800 word defense of irresponsible fear-mongering, Fred Hiatt will probably put it in Thursday's Washington Post ...
UPDATE: Speaking of enabling the spread of crazy nonsense, Josh Marshall catches the New York Times calling the false claims about "death panels" "questionable but potentially damaging charges."
Oh, the claims are "questionable," are they? That's a relief! I thought the "death panels" were a certainty. Sure is great the New York Times is here to set the record straight and make clear that they are only a possibility!
From Niall Ferguson's August 10 Financial Times column:
This is definitely going to be a thing today, with President Obama hosting a town hall meeting in New Hampshire to discuss health care reform. The chatter has already begun about whether the GOP mini-mobs will show up outside or even inside and try to disrupt the events.
Obviously the mini-mobs have been in the news as they turn town hall gatherings into shrieking free-for-alls. But those have been at events sponsored by members of Congress. Obama's, of course, will be a POTUS forum, complete with a Secret Service detail, among other key differences. Just keep that in mind.
Now, to Todd [emphasis added]:
Pres. Obama holds his OWN town hall in New Hampshire this Tuesday where the issues of the economy and health care are likely to be the dominant issues. Of course, what many will be watching is to see if this town hall invites the same passion as we've witnessed at town halls for members of Congress this last week...
And as much as some might want to believe the White House will be staging the questions, don't believe that hype. The White House knows the political price for being caught doing that is MUCH higher than having to deal with a confrontation or two at the meeting itself. If anything, I'd bet some inside the White House are hoping for a confrontation since they believe the president's demeanor alone will politically play well with the folks the White House cares most about right now, ACTUAL independents.
With that, Todd helps set the perimeters of the debate: Will the White House basically censor citizens from protesting inside town hall forums? Todd says no way because the political fall-out would be "MUCH higher" than having to deal with the confrontations. Meaning, Obama would catch holy hell if word got out that the White House tried to keep the mini-mobs out; if the White House tried to pick and choose who got into the NH town hall.
Because in case Todd forgot, back in 2005 when President Bush held town hall forums to push his failed idea to privatize Social Security, it was an open secret that only Bush supporters were allowed into the events. In fact, in one celebrated instance, three Denver liberals were physically removed from a Bush town hall. Their infraction? Arriving at the event in a car that had a "No More Blood For Oil" bumper sticker on the back.
Even Foxnews.com took note of the White House's heavy head:
The unceremonious ouster of three people from a recent White House Social Security event in Colorado has critics wondering how far President Bush will go to ensure friendly, sympathetic audiences at his town hall-style forums and rallies.
And Fox News' Chris Wallace has also conceded that, "in the Bush administration, George W. Bush, they had a lot of these town hall meetings, and they chose all the people there. So everybody has always tried to get a home-court advantage."
So as the Obama town hall forum story unfolds, let's keep in mind the words of former Bush White House spokesman Scott McClellan who defended the practice of removing Bush critics from town hall-style events:
If someone is coming to try to disrupt it, then obviously that person would be asked to leave. There is plenty of opportunity outside of the event to express their views.