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.
Via Darren Hutchinson, Here's how a CBS report about AARP and health care begins: "CBS News has learned that up to 60,000 people have cancelled their AARP membership since July 1st, angered over the group's position on health care."
CBS News "has learned" that "up to" 60,000 people have cancelled AARP memberships? Well, that sounds awfully fishy, doesn't it?
"Up to 60,000 people" could accurately describe 60,000 people, 50,000 people, 30,000 people, or two dozen people. Generally, people use the phrase "up to ____ people" when they want to focus your attention on a large number they don't know is actually true. If CBS actually knew there were 60,000 cancellations, they'd just say "60,000 people," without the "up to" wiggle words.
So, since CBS apparently has no idea how many people have cancelled memberships, how have they "learned" about this? It seems rather obvious that CBS "learned" this not by gaining access to AARP's records, or from an AARP official, but from the American Seniors Association, a right-wing fundraising organization featured in the CBS report. ASA is urging seniors to mail them torn-up AARP membership cards, which ASA will reward with half-off membership.
There's no reason to take ASA's claims about AARP's membership seriously -- they are not in any position to know, and have a clear interest in inflating the number of cancellations. That's almost certainly how CBS News "has learned" about the AARP membership cancellations -- ASA told them. And, since ASA has no idea how many people have actually cancelled AARP memberships, and ASA has a clear motivation for inflating those numbers, CBS had to include the "up to" wiggle words.
In short, that first sentence of the CBS report is a pretty clear indication that you should ignore everything that follows.
But ... Let's not. CBS' Sharyl Attkisson next introduces video of Elaine Guardiani saying she is "extremely disappointed in the AARP." Who is Elaine Guardiani? According to Attkisson, Guardiani "has been with AARP for 14 years." What does "with" mean? Employed by? A member of? Who knows. Attkisson's description is painfully vague. Why is she disappointed? Do her concerns have merit? Does she have some expertise we should know about? Who knows. Attkisson doesn't tell us.
And is the Elaine Guardiani who is "extremely disappointed in the AARP" the same Elaine Guardiani who wrote this about Barack Obama last in March of 2008?
I think the church DOES represent Obama's views. He was raised as a moslem then a perported christian ( although do not believe this). this church represents radical racial and hateful views and emulates moslem thinking. He could not be a member for 20 years without knowing about these inflammatory views and by his presence, he condones those views and espouses to them. As President of the United States, he cannot simply care about black people but must care about all people. Too many blacks think of themselves as a separate America. Do we want such views in the white house?
I think not!
Or this last in May of 2008?
"What's next -- am I going to be called a racist if I don't vote for Barack Obama?"
After airing Guardiani's vague criticism of AARP, Attkisson then turned the segment into an ad for ASA, announcing that CBS' "camera was there Friday when the mail came... Letters were filled with cut-up AARP cards." Awfully convenient that Attkisson and her camera crew just happened to be there as ASA was opening their mail, isn't it? Too bad she didn't tell viewers that the cut-up AARP cards were not a spontaneous demonstration of dissatisfaction with AARP, but rather a response to ASA offering financial inducements to send in the cut-up cards. Then again, that would have been journalism rather than an infomercial.
So, who is American Seniors Association? According to Attkisson's report, ASA is a plucky underdog conservative alternative to AARP, benefiting from spontaneous mass disgust with AARP and fighting valiantly for seniors.
But if you do a Nexis search for "American Seniors Association" -- or their previous name, "National Association of Senior Concerns," it seems they appeared virtually out of nowhere, just in time to get a profile on CBS News. Prior to the last week or so, they had sent out a press release about immigration, and announced plans to hold a Republican presidential primary debate (a debate that never happened.)
So who are they really? ASA's web site makes clear they don't want you to know who they are or what they support. Take, for example, "ASA's Four Pillars":
That's it. What does it mean? Who knows! But send your check today!
Go to ASA's "History" page, and you'll find nothing more than a few paragraphs ostensibly written by former Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall -- paragraphs that don't say much of anything beyond "We want to represent your values to government. We don't want to represent government's values to you."
Which values are those? What does this mean? Who knows! But send your check today!
What kind of organization is ASA -- a charity? A foundation? Is it a nonprofit, or a for-profit business? Who knows! ASA's web page doesn't say, and Attkisson doesn't tell us. But send your check today!
UPDATE: Let's say, just for the fun of it, that ASA has actually received torn-up AARP cards from 60,000 people. And let's say, just for the fun of it, that they proved to Attkisson that they received 60,000 torn-up AARP cards. Is there any reason -- any reason at all -- to think those people actually cancelled their AARP memberships? Because I'm pretty sure simply cutting up your card and mailing it to some third party doesn't cancel your membership.
Yesterday's New York Times:
For Mr. Obama, giving up on the public plan would have risks and rewards. The reward is that he could punch a hole in Republican arguments that he wants a "government takeover" of health care and possibly win some Republican votes.
Really? What indications are there that this would actually happen? Which Republicans have said that if the public plan is dropped, they'll sign on? What in the GOP's recent behavior towards Democratic Presidents -- say, over the past 40 years or so -- suggests they will abandon their "government takeover" arguments, much less sign on to health care reform that does not include a public plan but is still significant?
The Times, of course, doesn't address any of those questions. Several paragraphs later, it even acknowledges that "whether a co-operative would actually bring Republicans on board with Mr. Obama is unclear." The closest the article comes to providing any reason to think that might happen is a quote by Republican Senator Richard Shelby saying "we ought to look at" the idea of replacing the public plan with a co-op model.
For that matter, the article provides exactly zero evidence, no matter how weak, that dropping the public option would even win over conservative Democrats.
The notion that dropping the public plan will win the support of Republicans, and get them to drop their arguments about a "government takeover" is based on the assumption that conservatives are debating and negotiating in good faith. That's an assumption the media has little if any reason to make, and significant reasons to be skeptical of. But it regularly underlies media coverage of public policy debates despite the frequency with which it is shown to be baseless. This Times article is just an example -- and not even a particularly egregious one at that.
Menachem Rosensaft, Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, writes at HuffPost:
One stark difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats appear to be far more willing to confront and publicly denounce bigots and extremists in their own fold. This has been highlighted by the GOP leadership's failure to condemn Rush Limbaugh's divisive, race-baiting diatribes...
By tolerating and encouraging Limbaugh, the Republican leadership is fomenting racial and ethnic hatred that could have disastrous consequences for our country. Limbaugh's extremist rhetoric is transforming the Republican side of the American political discourse from one of legitimate political and ideological disagreement among fellow citizens into a demonization of the "other," that is, everyone who is non-white, non-fundamentalist Christian and non-conservative.
From the Drudge Report:
From the Fox Nation:
From a Google Images search for "white flag":
Last week, Media Matters reported on companies and organizations that have run ads in recent weeks on the hate- and conspiracy theory-filled programs of Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Rush Limbaugh despite appearing on a 2006 list of advertisers that reportedly didn't want their ads broadcast during Air America programs.
One of these companies is the Home Depot. As we reported, Home Depot has recently advertised on Limbaugh's show.
Media Matters has now received multiple emails from readers who say that they contacted Home Depot and received a reply asserting that Home Depot doesn't "support the Rush Limbaugh radio show." Here's the text of one such email:
Thank you for contacting The Home Depot Customer Care.
We appreciate you taking the time to forward your concerns.
In reference to your e-mail, we would like to inform you that the Home Depot do not support the Rush Limbaugh radio show.
We look forward to your continued patronage and assisting you with all of your home improvement needs.
Customer Care Research Team
Media Matters has the audio of a Home Depot ad that aired on New York's WABC-AM during the July 3 Rush Limbaugh Show at 12:49 p.m. ET.
Reader tips contributed to this post. Thanks, and keep them coming!
Washington Times editor John Solomon got some attention the other day by complaining that The New York Times, in an article explaining the origin of the false "death panel" claim, described his newspaper as "decidedly opposed" to President Obama. Solomon insisted in response that "Our news pages have no agenda except to accurately and fairly cover the news."
Solomon's whining paid off in the form of not just a correction stating that the article was "referring to its opinion pages, not to its news pages" but an apology from New York Times Washington editor Dean Baquet stating, "We did not mean to imply the Washington Times newsroom is biased or partisan."
Below are of Media Matters items on Obama-related news articles published by The Washington Times. Judge for yourself:
From an August 17 ColorofChange.org press release:
Eight more Glenn Beck advertisers, including Wal-Mart – the world's largest retailer – have confirmed to ColorOfChange.org that they pulled their ads from the controversial Fox News Channel broadcaster's eponymous show. Allergan (maker of Restasis), Ally Bank (a unit of GMAC Financial Services), Best Buy, Broadview Security, CVS, Re-Bath, Travelocity and Wal-Mart join the dozen other companies who previously distanced themselves from Beck.
Twenty companies have pulled their ads from Beck's show in just the last two weeks. The moves come after the Fox News host called President Obama a "racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people" during an appearance on Fox & Friends. Previous companies who pulled their ads include ConAgra, GEICO, Lawyers.com, Men's Wearhouse, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, RadioShack, Roche, SC Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Sargento, and State Farm Insurance.
"We are heartened to see so many corporate citizens step up in support of our campaign against Glenn Beck," said James Rucker, executive director of ColorOfChange.org. "Their action sends a clear a message to Glenn Beck: Broadcasters shouldn't abuse the privilege they enjoy by spewing dangerous and racially charged hate language over the air. No matter their political affiliation, hate language doesn't belong in our national dialogue."
Reporting on the town hall forum hosted by Rep. David Wu (D., Ore.), the Journal includes this passing "death panel" reference in the second paragraph:
I think they're going to say to U.S. seniors, 'Sorry, it's the end of life and you don't get medical care,'" Dawn Robbins, a 69-year-old retired day-care provider, said at a Wu event in St. Helens on Friday.
Note that the Journal nowhere in the article points out that the idea that the federal government would soon be in the business of selecting killing old people has been completely debunked. Instead, the Journal sees its job as simply repeating whatever outlandish claims members of the anti-health care reform mini-mob are making.