Both sides of their mouth: A guide to the conservative media's consistently contradictory health care rhetoric

››› ››› MATT MCLAUGHLIN, TOM ALLISON, JUSTIN BERRIER & TODD GREGORY

In attacking President Obama's recent health care reform guidelines, right-wing media have leveled numerous criticisms that are at odds with their earlier attacks against Democratic health care reform legislation. This follows repeated efforts by conservative media figures to shift their criticism of health care reform by changing the definitions of "death panels" and the public option.

Then: Conservative media figures complained GOP "locked out" of health care debate

Crowley: "Republicans have been locked out" of health care debate "from the very beginning." From Fox News contributor Monica Crowley's appearance on the January 5 edition of Happening Now:

CROWLEY: The Republican Party put forward a long slate of [health care] reform initiatives from creating real competition by lowering the state-by-state barriers allowing these insurance companies to really compete in all 50 states, tort reform, there were a number of very significant reforms that the Republicans put forward that the Democrats just did not want to hear about. That's number 1. Number 2, the Republicans have been locked out of this process, the White House and on Capitol Hill from the very beginning.

Van Susteren said Republican senators were "excluded from the discussion." From the October 28, 2009, edition of Fox News' On the Record (transcript from the Nexis database):

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems a little bit bizarre that there are 58 Democratic senators, 40 Republican, and those 40 Republicans are representing people all across the nation who are -- who are excluded, in essence, from this discussion --

KYL: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: -- because their senators are excluded from the discussion. That's where we see how the sausage is made and that's unappealing, I think, to most Americans, whether you're for the bill or not.

KYL: Exactly. And that makes a really important point, Greta. Republicans are also for reform. What we'd like to do is stop this legislation so we can get back to a negotiation that more represents a 60/40 split, or a 50/50 split in the country, where we have sort of an equal voice in how this is done, as opposed to having nothing whatsoever to say about it. And I think our constituents deserve that.

And if you look at the polling -- and I know you've talked about the polling -- the majority of the American people do not like the direction in which this is headed. They want answers. They want to know what it says. They want to know how much it costs. And they want to know about these other protections that we talked about.

Ingraham: "Look at what they are doing to a fifth of our economy with no Republican support." During the October 27, 2009, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said during a discussion of the Senate's health care reform legislation: "This crowd is the most partisan crowd I have ever seen in Washington. They said Bush was partisan? Look at what they are doing to a fifth of our economy with no Republican support. It's, it's mind-boggling. And everyone listening to this across the country watching this show, you should be outraged. You're about to have your entire health care system changed by one party that's wildly unpopular right now. Unbelievable."

Now: Right-wing media warn that health care summit is a "trap" or a "setup"

Thiessen: "[T]he Blair House summit is a trap." In a February 22 post on the Washington Post website titled "Obama is the real obstructionist at his health-care summit," columnist Marc Thiessen wrote:

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) says of this week's bipartisan health-care summit: "Sounds like the Democrats spell summit: S-E-T-U-P." He's right -- the Blair House summit is a trap. If the objective really was to produce bipartisan compromise, Obama would not be using legislation crafted in a backroom that got virtually no Republican votes as the basis for the discussions. Nor would his secretary of health and human services have declared last week that the White House is still willing to fight for a public option, a proposal that died because of bipartisan opposition in the Senate.

Beck compares Obama's invitation of GOP to health care summit to "setup" he saw on 24. On the February 23 edition of his radio show, Glenn Beck stated of the health care summit: "It's a setup. It's clearly a setup." Beck later described a situation on the Fox Broadcasting Co. drama 24 in which a character named "Dana" was being "blackmailed by her ex-boyfriend," who asked her to "just do this one thing." Beck continued: "Everybody is watching the show and saying, 'Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.' She's not gonna say no. This is a setup. Well, that's exactly what the Republicans are walking into."

Limbaugh: "[T]his is nothing more than a trap." During the February 8 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated that "the Republicans have to be very, very careful here because this is nothing more than a trap." Asserting that "[t]his is no time for bipartisanship," Limbaugh added, "This is a setup because Obama wants to be able to blame this on the Republicans when in fact it is his own party that's been saying 'no' to itself."

Fox Nation: "Is Obama's Health Care Meeting a Trap?" On February 9, Fox Nation linked to Limbaugh's commentary with the headline "Is Obama's health care meeting a trap?":

Fox Nation: Is Obama's health care meeting a trap?

Johnson: "Rush is right. Of course it's a trap." On the February 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy had the following exchange with Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr.:

DOOCY: All right, Peter, Rush [Limbaugh] says it's a trap, but aren't most situations in politics a trap?

JOHNSON: Yeah, Rush is right, of course it's a trap. There's such a deep chasm and wide chasm over the goals and the objectives of health care reform in this country. But it's also a great, great op for the Republican Party and for all Americans. You know, Congressman [John] Boehner's written a letter to Rahm Emanuel laying out what needs to be done, and, "We've got to have this," and, "We've got to have that."

DOOCY: We've got to start from scratch.

JOHNSON: That's fine. Well, if it's truly bipartisan, then there has to be a consensus building, and it's based on starting from scratch. But the president's not going to start from scratch.

Napolitano: "I am in full accord with Rush Limbaugh on this, that this is a trap that's he's setting for the Republicans." On the February 10 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge, Judge Andrew Napolitano stated:

The only thing you can do with the Republicans is make them look bad. I am in full accord with Rush Limbaugh on this, that this is a trap that he is setting for the Republicans. He will look presidential and open-minded, and they will look narrow. I've said it before and I'll say it again: When the train is going full-blast towards socialism, the best thing the govern-- the Republicans can do is be the party of no and to stop that train.

Pruden: "Barack Obama has laid a not-so-clever trap in this week's 'health care summit.' " In a February 23 Washington Times column, editor emeritus Wes Pruden wrote, "Barack Obama has laid a not-so-clever trap in this week's 'health care summit,' and it doesn't take someone smarter than a Republican senator to figure out how to escape from it." Pruden went on to state that the summit will be a "photo op" in which Obama will be able to make Republicans uncomfortable, before concluding:

The White House mocks the concern that Mr. Obama has laid a trap by drawing up the revised Obamacare before he goes through the motions of making irrelevant small talk with the Republicans. The president's press secretary buries objections under a tub of the usual rhetorical blubber, asking ever so innocently how the trap is a trap.

Then: Media conservatives complained about the length of health care reform bills

Hannity: "[I]f you can't put this down in 30 pages or less, it proves that this is a complicated, you know, bunch of bureaucratic garbage." Fox News host Sean Hannity stated of the House health care reform bill, a copy of which he had on set, "My gosh, I could work out with this." He added, "Nineteen hundred pages. That -- if you can't put this down in 30 pages or less, it proves that this is a complicated, you know, bunch of bureaucratic garbage." During the program, conservative columnist S.E. Cupp stated of the bill, "It's longer than War and Peace. It's longer than Atlas Shrugged. And it's longer than Les Mis."

hannitybill

Drudge Report: "$2.2M A WORD." With the headline, "$2.2M A WORD," the Drudge Report highlighted a Politico article headlined "House health bill clocks in at 1,990 pages." Drudge also featured the headline "Pelosi's biggest one yet! 1,990 pages," which linked to a Politico blog post that did not mention the length of the bill but reported on "[a]n anti-Pelosi activist" who called Pelosi a Nazi. A third Drudge link stated "Boehner: '1,990 Pages of Bureaucracy' " and linked to a clip of Boehner's press conference. The following headlines were posted on the Drudge Report on October 30:

drudgebill1

drudgebill2

drudgebill3

Dobbs: "Pelosi's massive government takeover of the health care system -- here it is, 1,990 pages of it." Former CNN host Lou Dobbs stated, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's massive government takeover of the health care system -- here it is, 1,990 pages of it, at least $1 trillion, and that's the first estimate." He had on set copies of the House and Senate Finance Committee bills and later added, "I think it's really important we be straightforward and honest with everyone watching us right now and listening to us. This is 1,000 -- if we can show this -- 1,992 pages. This is House Bill 3962. This is Senate 1796. It is -- it's crazy. This is 1,502 pages here under my left hand."

dobbsbill

Fox & Friends hosts four reams of blank paper. On Fox & Friends, Doocy had a crew member carry a stack of paper on set and stated of the House bill, "It's 1,990 pages. We have not printed it out, because we didn't want to go through a couple of printers. But it is effectively four reams of paper. It weighs 20 pounds. It's a foot tall. ... Extraordinarily, with the 400,000 words -- I think it was Politico that averaged it costs us $2.2 million per word what's in this thing." Guest host Alisyn Camerota also stated, "How can you lift this?" and later added, "Unbelievable the price tag and the reams of paper that are clearly killing some rain forest somewhere."

Fox & Friends screen capture

Fox & Friends screen capture

Now: Obama's 11-page plans is "too vague"

Weekly Standard's Ham says president's plans is "perfect Obama. It was too vague to be scored by the CBO." In an appearance on the February 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Weekly Standard blogger Mary Katharine Ham stated (transcript from Nexis): "On health care, his plan today was perfect Obama. It was too vague to be scored by the CBO, yet it raised taxes and raised spending and doesn't deal with the tough issue like abortion. So I think it's going to be a problem for him."

Malkin: "CBO to White House: We can't score your health care crap sandwich." In a February 22 blog post, Michelle Malkin wrote:

Ok, they didn't say "crap sandwich."

But the message is clear on the CBO Director's blog:

"This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it -- a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week."

Long live transparency and the deliberative process!

NRO's Lopez complains that Obama administration "still glossing over details." In a February 22 post at the National Review Online blog The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote:

How long has the administration been at this? And it is still glossing over details. Or so the Congressional Budget Office tells us:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it -- a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

Might as well start over at this rate. And maybe cut the whole thing down 2,000 pages or so, with some detail the CBO can work with and the rest of us can live with.

Right-wing media change the definition of "death panels" to revive tired attacks on reform measures

Since Sarah Palin introduced the term "death panel" in August 2009, media conservatives have repeatedly shifted their definitions of "death panels" after their original claims were discredited.

Claim 1: End-of-life counseling provision in House bill creates a "death panel." The term "death panel" originated with Palin's statement on her Facebook page that under Democratic health care reform, "my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel.' " Palin's spokeswoman later clarified that Palin was specifically referring to the House bill's "Advance Care Planning Consultation" provision. Over the following days, conservative media figures widely adopted Palin's "death panel" term or advanced or expressed support for her assertion. Numerous media outlets subsequently debunked Palin's claim that the provision, which provides for voluntary, Medicare-subsidized end-of-life counseling sessions, created a "death panel." PolitiFact.com named Palin's statement the 2009 "Lie of the Year."

Claim 2: Palin "death panel" claim actually concerned Dr. Emanuel's purported position on rationing. Palin subsequently wrote in an August 12, 2009, Facebook post:

My original comments concerned statements made by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a health policy advisor to President Obama and the brother of the President's chief of staff. Dr. Emanuel has written that some medical services should not be guaranteed to those "who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens. ... An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia." Dr. Emanuel has also advocated basing medical decisions on a system which "produces a priority curve on which individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated."

In an August 24, 2009, New York Times article, Jim Rutenberg explained that in a paper Emanuel wrote in 1996 for the Hastings Center bioethics institute -- which Palin cited in her Facebook post -- Emanuel "laid out what he called a growing consensus among competing political philosophies about how a society should allocate health care services. In clinical terms, he said that consensus held that those who 'are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens' should not be guaranteed the same level of treatment as others." Rutenberg went on to report that "Dr. Emanuel said he was simply describing a consensus held by others, not himself."

Claim 3: "Rationing" makes the entire bill a "de facto" death panel. Following the debunking of Palin's original claim, the right-wing media suggested that while the House bill did not contain actual "death panels," it would have the same effect as a "death panel" through "rationing" of end-of-life care: a "de facto death panel." For example, Fox & Friends featured a discussion with Dick Morris about a column he wrote in the New York Post alleging that Democratic health care reform proposals amount to "one giant death panel." During the segment, on-screen text read: "Defacto Death Panels? Obama Plan Could Result in Rationing." Glenn Beck also said on his Fox News show that "[t]he death panel isn't a firing squad. Sarah Palin made a point -- I guess you could say in an inflammatory way. But when you implement a government health system, as they have found out in the U.K. and everywhere else on the planet, you are left with no other choice. That's just the way it is. Rationing is inevitable, and they know it." Limbaugh and author and columnist Mark Steyn also adopted the claim that the entire bill amounted to a "death panel."

Claim 4: Mammogram guidelines are a "death panel." On the November 18, 2009, editions of their respective radio shows, Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity all linked a task force's recommendation that fewer women younger than 50 receive regular mammograms to the widely debunked smear that Democratic health reform bills include "death panels." On November 19, 2009, Palin said that the recommendations are evidence of "the death panels of government bureaucrats." But the task force's recommendations are not legally binding. Moreover, the task force encouraged policymakers to include additional considerations and "individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation." In a Nightly News report on the task force recommendations, NBC chief medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman stated: "It's important to remember that these new recommendations from this independent task force are just that -- they're recommendations. They don't mandate any changes in who should get mammograms and when."

Claim 5: Independent Medicare Advisory Board in Senate bill is a "death panel." With the Senate poised to vote on final passage of its health care bill in late December 2009, conservative media began labeling the Independent Medicare Advisory Board created by the bill a "death panel," even though the board is explicitly prohibited from "modify[ing] eligibility," "restrict[ing] benefits," or "ration[ing] health care" and its recommendations can be overridden by Congress. Weekly Standard blogger John McCormack wrote in a December 21, 2009, blog post, "Paging Sarah Palin: the death panel is unkillable" [emphasis in original], and The Fox Nation linked to his post with the headline "Reid Bill: Future Congresses Cannot Repeal 'Death Panel.' " In a December 22, 2009, Facebook post, Palin asserted that the advisory board "is a panel of bureaucrats charged with cutting health care costs on the backs of patients -- also known as rationing." She added that "Democrats are protecting this rationing 'death panel' from future change with a procedural hurdle" On the December 23, 2009, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Morris said that the advisory board "is really the death panel that Sarah Palin was talking about."

Conservative media shift attacks on public option

Right-wing media figures repeatedly attacked language in reform legislation that would have established a public option for health insurance, but when lawmakers suggested establishing health care cooperatives as an alternative to the public option, media conservatives inaccurately attacked them as identical to the public option. After the co-op idea was no longer included in legislation Congress was considering, Limbaugh maintained the attack anyway, stating of health care reform in general, "It's all a public option."

CLAIM 1: Right wing media attack public option. Guest-hosting The Lou Dobbs Show, Tom Marr stated that "the government option that is in there that the late Senator Kennedy supported would never allow you to get the Bentley health care that Senator Kennedy got provided to him by the people of the United States." He later added: "The senator used everything possible to fight for over a year, and he fought a gallant fight. That is going to be denied and rationed if they get away with this government-run option. Yes, there will be a bureaucrat saying 'No, 77, brain tumor, bye-bye.' " Likewise, Fox & Friends suggested the "public option was at odds with "public good":

Fox & Friends screen capture

Claim 2: Media conservatives criticize co-ops as identical to public option Discussing reports that the Obama administration might support health care cooperatives as an alternative to the public option, Hannity stated, "I think the cooperative plan is basically the same thing with a new packaging." He then asserted that "this is still going to be government-run health care." Limbaugh claimed, "Look, I know liberal lingo when I hear it. A co-op? Yeah, let's go to the farmers market. Let's go to the community garden! What, do they think we're idiots?" He later stated, "Co-ops! Man, you people at the administration, if you're going to try to fool us by thinking you're dumping the public option, well then come up with some name that doesn't reek of liberalism." During an interview with Steyn, Hannity asked, "The co-ops. But is a co-op any different than the so-called public option?" Steyn responded, "No, I don't think so, because in the end if you have a government perspective on health care, it leads to rationing." Former Christian Coalition of America director and Republican strategist Ralph Reed asserted that "the co-op they're talking about is going to be heavily subsidized by the federal government." He then claimed, "Remember that the public option, the government-run plan now masquerading as a co-op, is going to set rates below market rates. It will be subsidized with your and my tax dollars."

Claim 3: "It's all a public option." During the December 24, 2009, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh stated:

It's all a public option. It's all about the federal government controlling every aspect of every human being's life in this country, that's what this bill's about, with health care and costs as the mechanism to achieve that goal. This is the way totalitarian systems seek to cement their power. They've all tried it with health care. The Nazis did it, long before the Holocaust.

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