Matthews, Blitzer uncritically cited Giuliani ad without noting his use of "meaningless" stat, according to cancer expert

››› ››› ROB DIETZ & JEREMY HOLDEN

Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, and Chris Jansing each uncritically aired or reported on a Rudy Giuliani radio ad in which Giuliani claims that when he had prostate cancer, his "chance of surviving ... in the United States, 82 percent" but that his "chance of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44 percent under socialized medicine." However, a post on washingtonpost.com's Fact Checker blog noted that "the survivability figures tell us little about the differences in the quality of treatment received by prostate cancer patients in the United States and Britain" and that "the two countries are much closer" in terms of the "mortality rates from the disease." Neither Matthews nor Blitzer nor Jansing noted Giuliani's use of "meaningless" -- according to a cancer research expert -- statistics.

On the October 29 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews uncritically aired part of a radio ad for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani in which Giuliani claims that when he had prostate cancer, his "chance of surviving ... in the United States, 82 percent" but that his "chance of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44 percent under socialized medicine." But an October 30 entry by Michael Dobbs on washingtonpost.com's Fact Checker blog noted that "the survivability figures tell us little about the differences in the quality of treatment received by prostate cancer patients in the United States and Britain." Dobbs wrote that "the two countries are much closer" in terms of the "mortality rates from the disease," adding, "About 25 men out of 100,000 are dying from prostate cancer every year" in both countries. Dobbs quoted Howard Parnes, chief of the Prostate Cancer Research Group at the National Cancer Institute, saying, "When you introduce screening and early detection into the equation, the survival statistics become meaningless." Dobbs also wrote:

Brantley Thrasher, chairman of the Department of Urology at the University of Kansas, said it was "impossible to say" on the basis of the statistics whether a prostate cancer patient had a better chance of surviving under a "capitalistic" or "socialistic" medical system.

Moreover, the author of the article that the Giuliani campaign cited in support of the ad is reportedly a Giuliani campaign adviser.

The Fact Checker awarded the Giuliani ad "four Pinocchios," the worst rating on its fact-checking scale.

On the October 29 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer also uncritically reported claims in the ad, and on the October 30 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing aired part of the ad; neither Blitzer nor Jansing noted Giuliani's citation of "meaningless" survivability rates. After airing the clip, Jansing turned to CNBC chief Washington correspondent and Wall Street Journal senior contributing writer John Harwood, who said the ad was "a smart shot" at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

The Fact Checker post explained:

More importantly, the survivability figures tell us little about the differences in the quality of treatment received by prostate cancer patients in the United States and Britain. Doctors in the two countries have different philosophies about how to treat prostate cancer, and these differences have greatly influenced the "survivability" statistics.

In the United States, there has been a big emphasis since the early 1990s on early screening through PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing. Five-year survivability rates have increased simply because men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer at a very preliminary stage of a slow-developing disease. If you are diagnosed early on, your chances of surviving for another five years are close to 100 percent. Britain is several years behind the United States in the widespread use of PSA testing.

The post concluded:

Rudy Giuliani is simply wrong when he claims that his chances of surviving prostate cancer are almost twice as high in the United States as in England, under a "socialized" medical system. The mayor seems to be making a habit of making sweeping statements with little or no factual support. See our recent posts on his claims about Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of the Soviet Union, the cost of health care premiums, and his own record as mayor of New York.

Additionally, as ABCNews.com's Political Radar blog reported, "[T]he data Giuliani cites comes from a single study published eight years ago by a not-for-profit group, and is contradicted by official data from the British government." According to the blog, "In releasing the ad, the Giuliani campaign cited statistics published in an article in the Summer 2007 issue of City Journal," which "was written by David Gratzer, a physician who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and is a healthcare adviser to the Giuliani campaign." Neither Matthews nor Blitzer nor Jansing noted Gratzer's reported connection to Giuliani's campaign.

Matthews asserted of Giuliani's ad, "Boy, that is classic Live Free or Die, self-reliance, the Granite State." Addressing Washington Post staff writer Perry Bacon, Matthews said: "[T]his is like mainlining right into that sort of psychology of New Hampshire, which is, 'Leave me alone. I don't trust socialism.' Is it going to work in these days, when people are really challenged on health care?" Matthews went on to ask, "[I]n the America of today, in the Republican world, is it still safe to run against, quote, 'socialized medicine' as being enough?" Similarly, Blitzer said that in the ad, "Giuliani says his chances of survival would have dropped significantly under what he called a socialized health care system." By accepting Giuliani's suggestion that Democrats advocate "socialized medicine," Matthews and Blitzer echoed a conservative talking point. Responding to Matthews, Bacon noted that "all the candidates are saying this. So it's not exactly -- it's not a very distinguishing message for Mayor Giuliani. I think [Republican presidential candidate] Mitt Romney -- in every debate, if you watch the Republicans, they all criticize Britain and France, [Democratic presidential candidates] Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton for having this sort of idea of sort of much more government-mandated health care."

Indeed, since Clinton announced her American Health Choices Plan, numerous media outlets have allowed Romney to characterize Clinton's plan as "socialized medicine," as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented. In fact, contrary to the "socialized medicine" claim, Clinton's plan would require individuals to have health insurance, provide tax credits to help families cover their costs, and offer a choice of coverage from private insurers, Medicare, and the system currently available to government employees.

From the October 29 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: I think he's the best possible news for Rudy Giuliani, because if he can thump Romney on Iowa, with Mike Huckabee, then he can do well in New Hampshire and really get a bandwagon going. Here, by the way, is the latest radio ad from Rudy Giuliani up in the Granite State of New Hampshire.

GIULIANI [audio clip]: I had prostate cancer five, six years ago. My chance of surviving prostate cancer -- and thank God I was cured of it -- in the United States, 82 percent. My chance of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44 percent under socialized medicine. You and I should be making the decisions about what kind of health care we get with our doctors, not with a government bureaucrat.

Government has never been able to reduce costs. Government never increases quality. We have the best health care system in the world. We just have to make it better.

MATTHEWS: Boy, that is classic Live Free or Die, self-reliance, the Granite State. Perry, this is like mainlining right into that sort of psychology of New Hampshire, which is, "Leave me alone. I don't trust socialism." Is it going to work in these days, when people are really challenged on health care?

BACON: I don't know. I mean, the problem with that message is -- I understand what the idea is -- that all the candidates are saying this. So it's not exactly -- it's not a very distinguishing message for Mayor Giuliani. I think Mitt Romney -- in every debate, if you watch the Republicans, they all criticize Britain and France, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton for having this sort of idea of sort of much more government-mandated health care.

MATTHEWS: And does it work? Perry, I'm not going to let you go here. I'm not going to let you go. Is that a -- in the America of today, in the Republican world, is it still safe to run against, quote, "socialized medicine" as being enough -- and that's what Rudy Giuliani's doing there?

BACON: I think it is a good message. I actually do think it is a good message for where he is in New Hampshire particularly, yes.

MATTHEWS: Jill?

JILL ZUCKMAN (Chicago Tribune Washington bureau correspondent): But Chris, it's not any different than any other Republican candidate. And he's -- what he's doing is he's continuing to run against Senator Clinton essentially. And the question is, whether voters are going to -- that's going to help Republican voters decide among the Republican primary candidates.

From the October 29 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" this Monday, Republican Rudy Giuliani is highlighting his successful battle against prostate cancer in a new presidential campaign ad.

In the new radio spot, set to air in New Hampshire, Giuliani says his chances of survival would have dropped significantly under what he called a socialized health care system. That's seen as a shot at his Democratic rival -- their proposals for universal health care in America.

From the 12 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on October 30:

JANSING: Well, let's talk about Rudy Giuliani's new radio ad. A lot of people talking about this because he uses his own experience with prostate cancer to address that same issue -- health care.

GIULIANI [audio clip]: My chance of surviving prostate cancer -- and thank God I was cured of it -- in the United States, 82 percent. My chance of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44 percent under socialized medicine. You and I should be making the decisions about what kind of health care we get with our doctors, not with a government bureaucrat.

JANSING: Who is Giuliani taking a shot at there?

HARWOOD: Well, guess what? He's taking a shot at Hillary Clinton, and it's a smart shot, I think. Personalizing it, talking about his own vulnerability there, is something that is useful for Rudy Giuliani, especially since there are some times he comes across with a bit of an edge, as a little, maybe, too tough, a little of that sort of New York brashness doesn't always serve him well.

That's a way to soften it a little bit while getting in that dig against what he calls socialized medicine. Of course, Hillary Clinton says it's nothing of the kind. She's talking about preserving the private insurance system.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, CNN
Person
Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, John Harwood
Show/Publication
Hardball, MSNBC Live, The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
Rudy Giuliani, 2008 Elections
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