Media Matters: Charting a misleading course on health care


Nothing sends media conservatives off the deep end quite like the issue of health care reform. As the Republicans' "Candyland" chart demonstrated, this week was certainly no exception.

Nothing sends media conservatives off the deep end quite like the issue of health care reform. This week was certainly no exception.

This Wednesday on his nationally syndicated radio show, Fox News' Glenn Beck blew up on a caller who dared to challenge his unyielding, misleading war against health care reform. After patronizing the angry caller for several minutes, Beck "los[t]" his "mind," screaming at the caller: "Get off my phone you little pinhead!" Since then, the disturbing exchange has been burning up YouTube and is currently ranked the #5 video overall with more than 350,000 views. MSNBC's David Shuster and Tamron Hall even highlighted the clip as an example of how conservative "anger" has "intensified." Capping things off, Beck's screaming fit spawned a hilarious YouTube user-generated remix titled: "Glenn Beck 'Get Off My Phone' Radio Freak Out (Twilight Vampire Metal Remix)."

Coverage of health care, though, has been anything but funny of late.

This week, the Drudge Report, Fox News Channel, Fox Business and CNBC's The Kudlow Report ran with a chart released by congressional Republicans that day -- just one day after House Democrats introduced their health care reform bill -- that purported to show "the complex health care reform proposal by Democratic congressional leaders." The release from Rep. Kevin Brady (TX) about the chart, titled "BAFFLING FLOW CHART; Public Gets Peek at Complicated Bureaucracy in Democratic Health Care Plan," stated that the chart "depicts how the health care system would be organized at the national level if the Democrats' plan became law. These new levels of bureaucracy, agencies, organization and programs will all be put directly between the patient and their health care."

Fox News' Sean Hannity hosted Bill O'Reilly ambush-producer-extraordinaire Griff Jenkins, who described the chart as "Candyland," noting that "whatever it is, it's a lot of government between you and your doctor," while syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, also on Fox, touted the chart by saying it makes the health care bill "look like an absurd Rube Goldberg device."

The conservative media's promotion of the House Republican chart harkens back to the media attention devoted in 1994 to a similar misleading chart -- distributed by the office of then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter -- that then-Senate Republican leader Bob Dole claimed illustrated "what the health care bureaucracy would look like under" President Clinton's health care reform plan.

It really was a textbook example of how the right-wing noise machine operates. Media Matters produced a chart of its own documenting the media's web of misinformation on the subject, illustrating the disturbingly common pattern of conservative spin making its way from a Republican politician's press release to the Drudge Report to Fox News and other outlets on the right. Additionally, I discussed the subject as a guest on MSNBC Live noting, in part, that the conservative movement has been using the media to attack health care reform efforts for more than 70 years.

Not to be left out in the world of insane health care claims, an editorial by the conservative Investor's Business Daily actually claimed that the House tri-committee health-care reform bill includes "a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal." The claim is false, of course, but that didn't stop Rush Limbaugh, the Media Research Center or a host of other media conservatives from advancing the delusional line of attack on reform.

Other Major Stories This Week:

Crazy uncle Pat goes after Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings took place this week, which provided one final opportunity for her conservative critics to dust off the same set of attacks they unsuccessfully employed shortly after her nomination was announced. It also provided MSNBC's Pat Buchanan with an opportunity to once again test how much vitriol and hatred the peacock-branded cable network is willing to broadcast under the label of "political analysis."

In the span of a few days, Buchanan declared Sotomayor to be a "militant liberal Latina" of limited intellect who had never written any law review articles and who harbored "a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males." (White men are never prejudiced, in case you were wondering.) After again explaining how Sotomayor is nothing more than an "affirmative action" pick who had been "appointed because she's a Latina, and a Hispanic, and a woman," Buchanan said he didn't "understand" the idea of affirmative action for Hispanics, seeing as they had never suffered through slavery. "This has been a country built, basically, by white folks," he finally told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, for which she roundly rebuked him. "You're playing with fire," she said during a heated exchange, adding, "[Y]ou're living in the 1950s."

Which brings us back to the question Media Matters' Jamison Foser posed just six short weeks ago: What would Pat Buchanan have to say to get himself fired from MSNBC?

And what, you might ask, of Sotomayor's testimony itself? Fox News' Glenn Beck was so anxious to deride the proceedings that he began criticizing the questioning of the nominee a day before questioning had actually begun. Seriously. Fox News, meanwhile, wasn't particularly intent on showing what the Democratic members had to say, explaining that they might skip one "here or there" because the large Democratic majority meant there were more Democrats on the committee than Republicans. At Fox News, elections just don't have consequences. And why would they care, what with the "all-stars" on the Republican side of the ledger "scuffing ... up" the witness, as Carl Cameron put it. But in the sake of fairness, not everyone at Fox agreed. Sen. Lindsey Graham's airing of sexist, anonymous gripes about Sotomayor were too much even for anchor Megyn Kelly to accept -- although they sounded perfectly acceptable to a host of other reporters at the "fair and balanced" network.

It was perhaps Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III who led the most charmed life this week. Not only did Fox fawn over his line of questioning, the New York Times quoted his statement that there is "no place in the courtroom" for empathy without mentioning his support of Justice Samuel Alito, who spoke at length about his compassion for people involved in immigration and discrimination cases during his own confirmation hearings. Numerous media outlets also reported Sessions' statement that "I will not vote for -- and no senator should vote for -- an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court," without noting the crucial Alito context. Major broadcasts ignored conservative hypocrisy on empathy, too, although CNN's Kyra Phillips seemed to get it about right. But this pales in comparison to the fact that major newspapers failed to report on Sessions' alleged history of racial insensitivity in stories discussing his questioning of Sotomayor. Compare this to the endless discussion and distorted versions of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment, and you'll come away from the whole thing shaking your head.

Darth Cheney and the CIA controversy

As details continue to trickle out about Dick Cheney's reported role in keeping Congress in the dark about a CIA counterterrorism program, Liz Cheney, the former veep's daughter, took to the airwaves yet again to mount his defense.

MSNBC's Morning Joe hosted the younger, less scary Cheney to discuss recent reports that her father instructed the CIA not to disclose to Congress an intelligence program that CIA director Leon Panetta recently discontinued. Cheney repeatedly defended her father during the interview, and at one point stated, "[Dick Cheney] doesn't comment on classified programs, and obviously I'm not going to comment on classified programs on his behalf." Of course, the Morning Joe crew never asked her to explain what conversations she's had with Dick Cheney about CIA practices and policies during the Bush administration, or whether her father did in fact provide her with classified information that he reportedly withheld from Congress.

Then again, why would anyone ask such tough questions? After all, just last weekend Fox's Chris Wallace was asking whether he was "overly cynical" in thinking Democrats "just trot[ted] out" Dick Cheney because he's always a pretty good "whipping boy."

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert discusses Saradise Lost: How Alaska bloggers dethroned Sarah Palin; Jamison Foser looks at the real story of the Sotomayor hearings; and Karl Frisch says, "I guess you could say she's been 'sotomayored.' "

Don't forget to order your autographed copy of Eric Boehlert's compelling new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, May 2009).

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the web as well as original commentary.

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