Last week, the Washington Post reported on a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll:
The poll found that misconceptions about the legislation persist, including the "death panel" falsehood propagated by opponents of the legislation.
"A year after the town meeting wars of last summer, a striking 36% of seniors said that the law 'allowed a government panel to make decisions about end of life care for people on Medicare', and another 17% said they didn't know," Kaiser Family Foundation chief executive Drew Altman wrote.
Brendan Nyhan argues that "motivated reasoning appears to play an important role in the persistence of the misperception ... 55% of seniors with an unfavorable view of the law believed in the death panel myth, while only 17% of those with a favorable view did so."
I would argue that something else surely plays a role: The failure of the media to consistently and clearly explain that the "death panels" claim was false. Sure, most major news organizations made that clear at least once. But they didn't do so consistently.
Let's take the Washington Post, for example, since it reported on the persistence of the myth.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has praised his paper's "death panels" coverage, writing on March 22: "One stellar moment for the press was the refusal to perpetuate the myth of 'death panels.' ... journalists at The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and ABC News, among others, said flatly that this was untrue." And Post political reporter Perry Bacon said in June 21 Live Q&A: "If you recall, the death panels issue got traction in conservative media, even as papers like ours did not cover it very much."
But this year alone, Post readers have encountered more than a dozen references to "death panels" that failed to explicitly state that such panels didn't exist. The following articles and columns mention the "death panels" claim without stating its falsity:
"The doctor is (finally) in; Medicare administrator must usher in low-cost, efficient care," David Ignatius, July 9
"A patriot's second act," Dana Milbank, June 3
"Under the new health-care law, what will happen when providers' morals conflict with patients' rights?," Rob Stein, May 11
"History shows that Democrats aren't exactly the boys of summer," Al Kamen, March 26
"44: Grassley touts provisions he authored in health bill he voted against," Michael Shear, March 24
"Three points for conservatives," E.J. Dionne, March 23
"The Republicans who stirred the tea," Dana Milbank, March 22
"Would Reagan vote for Sarah Palin?; He's their hero, but Palin and the tea partiers need to understand his true legacy," Steven F. Hayward (AEI) March 7
"Political theater with a point," Kathleen Parker, March 3
"Obama ready to advance on health care; In radio address, GOP compromise still offered but has limited shelf life," Anne Kornblut, February 28
"Trig and political calculus," Kathleen Parker, February 14
"How can apple pie suddenly turn bad?; To learn what's gone wrong with health-care reform, go back to 1994," Abigail Trafford, February 2
"Funding for health-care interest groups often fuzzy," Dan Eggen, January 7
"Leader without a cause," Richard Cohen, January 5
Yes, some of those are opinion columns, including one written by an AEI staffer rather than a Post employee. That isn't a relevant defense: Opinion columns have the ability to influence readers, too -- otherwise, why would they exist? And the Washington Post is responsible for everything that appears in its pages.
And, to be sure, some of those references are critical of the "death panels" rhetoric. The March 23 E.J. Dionne piece, for example, read:
In its current incarnation, conservatism has taken on an angry crankiness. It is caught up in a pseudo-populism that true conservatism should mistrust -- what on Earth would Bill Buckley have made of "death panels"? The creed is caught up in a suspicion of all reform that conservatives of the Edmund Burke stripe have always warned against.
But it didn't say the "death panels" claim wasn't true. (To Dionne's credit, his July 26 column was explicit: "There were no 'death panels' in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow 'the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly.' That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.")
No such credit is owed to Kornblut's February 28 news article, which simply stated "Death panels became part of the debate last summer, after prominent Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, claimed the government would set them up to decide who could live or die." Or Kamen's misleading statement that "the tea partiers got their operation in gear at the usually dull town hall meetings with lawmakers, berating them for supporting those death panels." Really? "those" death panels? Which death panels are "those"?
Washington Post readers shouldn't be surprised to learn that many people still believe in "death panels" -- not when the Post has repeatedly mentioned the death panel claim without debunking it.
Incidentally, Washington Post reporters and editors won't answer this simple question: Does the Post think it is sufficient to occasionally debunk falsehoods, or does the paper believe it should do so every time it prints those falsehoods?
I'm not sure how else to understand Kathleen Parker's Washington Post column today. Parker says Obama communicates like a woman (He's a "chatterbox") and that "[t]he BP oil crisis has offered a textbook case of how Obama's rhetorical style has impeded his effectiveness." From the column:
When Morrison wrote in the New Yorker about Bill Clinton's "blackness," she cited the characteristics he shared with the African American community:
"Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."
If we accept that premise, even if unseriously proffered, then we could say that Obama displays many tropes of femaleness. I say this in the nicest possible way. I don't think that doing things a woman's way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.
Nevertheless, we still do have certain cultural expectations, especially related to leadership. When we ask questions about a politician's beliefs, family or hobbies, we're looking for familiarity, what we can cite as "normal" and therefore reassuring.
Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.
Obama is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan.
The BP oil crisis has offered a textbook case of how Obama's rhetorical style has impeded his effectiveness. The president may not have had the ability to "plug the damn hole," as he put it in one of his manlier outbursts. No one expected him to don his wetsuit and dive into the gulf, but he did have the authority to intervene immediately and he didn't. Instead, he deferred to BP, weighing, considering, even delivering jokes to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner when he should have been on Air Force One to the Louisiana coast.
His lack of immediate, commanding action was perceived as a lack of leadership because, well, it was. When he finally addressed the nation on day 56 (!) of the crisis, Obama's speech featured 13 percent passive-voice constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century, according to the Global Language Monitor, which tracks and analyzes language.
Granted, the century is young -- and it shouldn't surprise anyone that Obama's rhetoric would simmer next to George W. Bush's boil. But passivity in a leader is not a reassuring posture.
When last we heard from Lou Dobbs he was busy pushing his anti-immigrant hysteria on Fox News, preparing for his address at the upcoming National Tea Party (Birther) Convention and considering a run for the White House.
Now TVNewser is reporting that Dobbs has offered up his opinion to Gail Shister on CNN's new 8pm show featuring former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker:
After a few moments of laughter he told [Shister]:
"All I can say is, Good Lord almighty." (more laughter) "It's something to behold. I'll leave it at that."
Frankly, I'm surprised Dobbs didn't request copies of Spitzer and Parker's birth certificates.
Say what you will about CNN's new 8pm show but the real joke at CNN for years was Lou Dobbs and he's probably still smarting that he no longer has that enormous perch from which to attack immigrants and advance loony conspiracy theories.
Conservative media have invoked Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's Judaism in order to suggest that she may be a radical or that the court would not represent mainstream America if she is confirmed.
"[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
-- United States Constitution, Article VI
In April 2004, right-wing activist Manuel Miranda baselessly complained that Democrats had invoked a "religious test" against Bush judicial nominee William Pryor.
In April 2005, Miranda reportedly "distributed talking points to Republicans" claiming that Democrats had created an "abortion litmus test" for judicial nominees that was "nothing but a surrogate for a constitutionally prohibited religious test."
Anti-Semitism marred the confirmation battles of associate justices Abe Fortas, Louis Brandeis, and Benjamin Cardozo, but it was unpronounced and hidden. John Roberts will be only the 11th Catholic (out of 109 justices) to serve on the Supreme Court in its 215-year history. But his confirmation may be a historic first. It marks the introduction, on the record, of a constitutionally prohibited religious test for a Supreme Court nominee. We are going in the wrong direction.
Of course, the claims about Democrats invoking a "religious test" during the Bush years were largely fabrication. Moreover, it was generally conservatives and Republicans -- not Democrats and progressives -- who obsessed over the religious views of President Bush's judicial nominees.
But Miranda did get one thing right: we indeed appear to be "going in the wrong direction" on religious tests.
In a May 12 podcast for the right-wing Accuracy in Media, Miranda warned listeners about Elena Kagan's "background" in the "Jewish socialist culture in New York":
Conservative media figures have attacked Elena Kagan for having grown up in New York City, arguing that her New York origins indicate she "has no clue how real Americans live."
From Parker's April 18 column:
Is the political environment becoming so toxic that we could see another Timothy McVeigh emerge?
No one knows the answer, but fears that anger could escalate into action beyond the ballot box are not misplaced. Ninety-nine percent of angry Americans might be perfectly satisfied to rail at their television sets -- or to show up at a Tea Party rally -- but it takes only one.
The biggest concern for security folks in Washington is the lone operator, the John Hinckley, who tries to take out a president for his fantasy girlfriend. Or some variation thereof.
This is why "Don't retreat. Reload," Sarah Palin's recent imperative to her Tea Party audience, felt so off. Obviously, she wasn't suggesting that people arm themselves, as she has explained several times since. Hunting and military vocabulary are hardly new to politics. We "target" audiences or "set our sights" on policies and politicians all the time. In the world of healthy competition, trophies are victories, not dead people.
But words matter, as we never tire of saying. And these are especially sensitive times, given our first African American president and unavoidable fears about the worst-case scenario. If Jodie Foster could bestir the imagination of Hinckley, a Sarah Palin in the Internet age could move regiments.
All of the above have put the nation ill at ease. Add to the mixture of organic anger and grass-roots momentum the heckling language of Beck, Limbaugh & Co., and one fears that volatility could become explosive. What's next, militias?
From a discussion on washingtonpost.com:
Indianapolis Indiana: I am seeing comments from all over the map on what the GOP will do concerning Obama's Supreme Court selection. Go nuts? Fight like the devil? Pretend to be mad? Do nothing? What is your take on this?
Kathleen Parker: In public, they'll be open-minded; behind closed doors, they'll try to figure out how to derail the nominee. I hope the president will go moderate on this one. I think the nation is suffering battle fatigue and could use a respite. If he does, Republicans will have no basis for opposition.
Right-wing media sources have falsely claimed that funding for community health centers (CHCs) included in the recently-passed health care reform legislation will fund abortions. In fact, CHCs do not perform abortions, and the Department of Health and Human Services states that federal regulations ban the use of the CHC funds for abortions except in cases already allowed under current law.
From Kathleen Parker's March 3 Washington Post column [emphasis added]:
What do people remember from the summit, to the extent they watched? They surely remember Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan hammering the Republican message about deficit spending in the health-care legislation. And, they remember New York Democrat Rep. Louise Slaughter telling about a woman who, because she had no insurance, had to wear her deceased sister's dentures.
There's nothing to laugh at here, obviously. If true -- and she dared us not to believe her -- it's a pathetic tale. Right-wing talk show hosts who have made sport of Slaughter's story don't get much credit for cleverness, but truly, sometimes an anecdote is too strange to be effective.
Maybe Republicans can trade Sarah Palin's "death panels" for Louise Slaughter's dentures and call it a draw.
As a political point, however, the contrast between personal anecdote vs. mastery of health-care economics is stark and telling. If you're in the market for competence, which vendor gets your attention?
In her nationally syndicated Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker echoed Glenn Beck's guilt-by-association efforts to link the SEIU and ACORN. Parker further attempted to link the SEIU to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and suggested that this "dot-connecting" might "stall" health-care reform.
On September 22, conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough announced an "honor roll" for conservatives who are willing to denounce Glenn Beck's "hatred," making specific reference to Beck's statement that President Obama is "a racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people." Several media conservatives in addition to Scarborough have denounced Beck's rhetoric as "harmful" and "race-baiting."
From the September 20 edition of The Chris Matthews Show:
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In her Washington Post column, Kathleen Parker described an amendment to the House's health care reform bill by anti-abortion members of Congress merely as a proposal "to exclude abortion from the bills" and suggested that a compromise provision in one of the versions of the House bills would change current law by allowing federally subsidized insurance plans to cover abortion as long as federal funds are not used. In fact, the anti-abortion proposal would effectively ban abortion coverage for those participating in health insurance plans that would be part of the proposed health insurance exchange -- including those who currently have such coverage -- and contrary to Parker's suggestion that "[s]egregating funding" would reverse current law, Medicaid already allows states to cover abortion so long as they don't use federal funds.
In his forthcoming book, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge reportedly claims that politics may have played a role in the question of whether to raise the terror threat levels on the eve of the November 2004 presidential election -- echoing contemporaneous allegations made by several progressives. Media Matters for America presents a sampling -- by no means exhaustive -- of media personalities who at the time portrayed those progressives as suffering from "cynicism" and "paranoia" and obsessed with a "conspiracy theory," despite credible evidence that the Bush administration was using the War on Terror for political gain, particularly in the months before the 2004 election.