NBC's Chuck Todd, a few minutes into a discussion with Chris Matthews about health care polling:
When you actually give them the president's plan, a majority approve of it, when you lay it out.
Well, that would seem to be a pretty key point, wouldn't it? That polling showing a lack of support for health care reform is based on a lack of understanding of it, and when it is spelled out for people, they approve of reform?
And yet Matthews and Todd quickly moved on, with Matthews asking why Democrats don't just give up already and pass whatever Chuck Grassley and Joe Lieberman want. Matthews doesn't seem to think the policy merits matter, doesn't seem to think informed public opinion matters -- he just wants Congress to pass a bill with the words "health care" in it.
This is a little old, but it's a valuable glimpse at how committed the media elite is to the idea that both the Left and the Right are equally guilty of whatever sins are relevant at any given moment -- and into the consistent failure of the media to accurately describe the Right's approach to public policy. Here's the New York Times' Gail Collins a few weeks ago:
I like partisanship. What I don't like, and what nobody likes, is the brain-dead variety we see in Congress where the minority party would rather make a bill worse in the hopes that it would fail than make it better in case it passes. So the Republicans make it impossible for the Democrats to put cost controls in the health care plan by howling "rationing!" And back when the Democrats were in the minority, they made sure that any attempt to contain the cost of entitlements was immediately branded "destruction of Social Security."
As Matthew Yglesias explained last week, the Bush administration was described as trying to destroy Social Security because ... it was trying to destroy Social Security.
But don't take Yglesias' word for it, or mine. The Bush administration itself admitted their proposals were not about improving the solvency of the Social Security system. They admitted it would have no effect whatsoever on solvency.
And yet Gail Collins clings to the notion that Republicans were simply trying to "contain the cost of entitlements," and "brain-dead" Democrats unfairly accused them of trying to destroy Social Security.
There's something brain-dead in all this, but it isn't Democrats' opposition to Bush's Social Security schemes. It's the knee-jerk assumption that both sides must be equally guilty of everything; it's the blind faith -- in the face of all evidence to the contrary, including their own admissions -- that the Republicans were simply trying to ensure Social Security's solvency. They weren't. They were trying to dismantle it. It didn't have anything to do with solvency. They even said so!
The Western Journalism Center -- the recently reconstituted right-wing group best known for perpetuating Vince Foster conspiracy theories during the Clinton administration -- has posted a video titled "Rachel Maddow Lies about MoveON.org," which purports to debunk Maddow's claim during the August 16 edition of "Meet the Press" that MoveOn never ran an ad comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler.
But the WJC is the liar here. While the video includes a clip of something that appears to be a MoveOn ad comparing Bush to Hitler, at no point does the video note that it was submitted as part of a contest MoveOn ran in 2004 and never ran as a paid ad by MoveOn. Indeed, MoveOn specifically stated of that submission and a second similar one, "They will not appear on TV. We do not support the sentiment expressed in the two Hitler submissions." MoveOn later removed the ad from its website.
Most folks wouldn't have the courage to roll out such a ham-fisted piece of blatantly false agitprop, so the WJC has that going for it.
Howard Kurtz, the most influential media critic in all the land, thinks media coverage of health care has been just dandy:
Alexandria, Va.: Overall, I think the fabled mainstream media has done a great job covering protests and opinions on both sides of the health-care debate, but they get a D- on presenting an overall, easy to understand what it all means. I've been disappointed that controversy, over detailed analysis wins yet again. Sorry, those multiple Web links to copies of the bill don't help. This should be a major national debate, but overall, the coverage is too much flash and not enough substance.
Howard Kurtz: I'm going to partially disagree. If you look at the major newspapers, and the recent Time cover story, there has been a lot of detailed substance published about almost every aspect of the health care debate: public option, Medicare reimbursement, industry lobbying, end-of-life counseling, you name it. It's out there. It's not hard to find.
As Eric noted earlier, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence In Journalism found that recent health care coverage has focused overwhelmingly on politics and protests, and 70 percent of Americans say the media has done a fair or poor job of explaining the details of health care proposals.
But Howard Kurtz says the media has done a fine job, so don't worry if the public has mostly seen stories about yelling and screaming, and doesn't think the media have explained the policy details.
I know it's only Tuesday, but this has to be the lamest allegation of media bias you'll see all week. Here's Newsbusters' Rich Noyes:
Gibson Worries: 'Will Obama Go to the Mat for a Public Option?'
August 18, 2009 - 11:40 ET
On Monday's World News, ABC's Charles Gibson channeled the worry of liberal activists over the Obama administration's seeming retreat on government-run health insurance, the so-called "public option." Gibson fretted about Obama to White House correspondent Jake Tapper: "Will he go to the mat for a public option?"
Was Gibson really "worrying" or "channeling" or "fretting"? Uh, no. He was asking a question. Asking the rather obvious question, actually. Here's the exchange in question:
JAKE TAPPER: The White House says the President has not backed off anything, he still thinks the public plan is the best way to do this, but he has not drawn any lines in the sand.
CHARLES GIBSON: But will he go to the mat for a public option? He says now it's just a sliver of health care reform. But earlier he said it's a lot more than that.
Pretty unremarkable. Yet Noyes sees it as evidence of ... something.
That's what PoliticsDaily.com claims:
The pressure on advertisers has become a politically charged debate about the right to free speech, censorship and what constitutes hate speech.
That's a rather dramatic, misinformed, and GOP-friendly spin to the put on the unfolding story. Do editors at PoliticsDaily.com not understand what "censorship" means in terms of free speech? Because if they did they certainly wouldn't use it in connection to an advertising boycott story. (Of course, only the government can censor free speech.)
The outlines of the story are pretty simple. Glenn Beck said some hateful things on his Fox News show and activists began contacting advertisers urging them not to be associated with that kind of hate. To date, nearly two dozen companies have pulled their ads off Beck's show.
If PoliticsDaily.com wants to take another stab at it, we'd sure love to hear how any of that is even remotely connected to "censorship" and questions of "free speech." Because as of right now, Beck has the right to say whatever he wants on his show. And advertisers have the right not to support him.
Where's the "censorship"?
Newsbusters' Tom Blumer sees some kind of liberal media conspiracy of silence in the lack of media coverage of a Gallup poll finding that more people self-identify as "conservative" than "liberal" at the state level as well as nationally. Blumer seems to think this finding has great significance, though Gallup provides no historical data for comparison, so we don't know which way things are trending.
And, as I've mentioned a time or two in the past, such labels are so imprecise and meaningless to many if not most Americans that these self-ID questions are of limited value. Indeed, the Gallup poll itself provides evidence that these questions don't mean much: Gallup finds that even in Massachusetts and Vermont more people self-identify as "conservative" than "liberal."
But Blumer thinks this one-off poll that is quite consistent with years and years worth of national-level polling is hugely important. Maybe that's because he doesn't really "get" how polling works. Here's Blumer:
The margins may not be "statistically significant," but the reported result still shows conservatives on top in HI (+5), VT (+1) and MA (+1). I also have to wonder how you can have a 5-point or more margin of error in a poll of 160,000 people. [Emphasis added]
Wonder no longer, Blumer:
Results are based on telephone interviews with 160,236 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 2-June 30, 2009, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.
The margin of sampling error for most states is ±3 percentage points, but is as high as ±7 percentage points for the District of Columbia, and ±6 percentage points for Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, and Hawaii.
That little bit of explanation was carefully hidden in the Gallup article Blumer linked to and quoted. On the first page. Under the heading "Survey Methods." A heading that was presented in bold font.
From Jonah Goldberg's August 18 column in the Los Angeles Times:
Imagine if President George W. Bush, in his effort to partially privatize Social Security, had insisted that the "time for talking is over." Picture, if you will, the Bush White House asking Americans to turn in their e-mails, in the pursuit of "fishy" dissent. Conjure a scenario under which then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) derided critics as "evil-mongers" the way Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently described town hall protesters. Or if then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) had called vocal critics "un-American" the way Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did last week, or if White House strategist Karl Rove had been Sir Spam-a-lot instead of David Axelrod.
The good news is that the topic of health care reform was, by far, the most covered topic in the news media last week, according to Journalism.org. It was a landslide.
Cable news barely covered any other topic last week:
That's good, right? The country's having a robust discussion about an important public policy issue, right?
Yeah, not quite. Also from Journalism.org [emphasis added]:
Last week's coverage of the proposed health care legislation was overwhelmingly focused on the two p's—politics and protests. Those two storylines accounted for about three-quarters of the overall coverage of the subject.
So much for a public policy discussion. Wonder if that media obsession with the three p's (politics, protests and process) has anything to do with the fact that most Americans think the health care coverage debate has been rather abysmal.
A Pew Research survey earlier this month found:
The public gives news organizations low marks for their coverage of health care. More than seven-in-ten say the media has done either a poor (40%) or only fair (32%) job explaining details of the various proposals. Just 21% offer a positive rating of this coverage: 4% excellent and 17% good.
Robert Kuttner was referring to what's "off" about the arguments used against health care reform, but he could just as easily be describing what's missing from the media's coverage of this debate:
Something is severely off when economically stressed Americans confront members of Congress about "death panels" in the Obama health plan. The rumors, fanned by talk radio with a little help from Republicans, are false and even delusional. Yet the anger, if misdirected, is genuine.
People should be plenty angry about their jobs and their mortgages and their health insurance. With health care, however, virtually all of the fears attributed to the Obama health reform efforts more accurately describe the existing private system.
It is private insurance companies that ration care by deciding what is covered and what is not. Private plans limit which doctor and hospital you can use, define "preexisting conditions" and make insurance unaffordable for tens of millions. For many, all this can cause suffering and sometimes even death. Our one oasis of socialized medicine, Medicare, has the most choice and the least exclusion.
The apparent ignorance of the reality of health care on the part of a significant portion of the public is understandable. Many in the media, giving legitimacy to demagogically driven claims that the Democrats want to legislate "death panels" and even sacrifice Grandma, are committing malpractice in their reporting on the current state of health care. They have grossly distorted the debate -- pushing the issue of whether rationing will occur under a new system, while ignoring the fact that it is currently rampant; refusing to cover real-life evidence of insurance company malfeasance. Perhaps most egregiously, they have obfuscated the truth and willfully refused to challenge public plan option opponents with a simple fact: Medicare is a public plan.