Conservative media outlets including The Washington Times and Fox News have pushed the claim that health care reform proposals under consideration by Congress are unconstitutional. However, legal scholars -- including one who recently served as a special counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) during Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation proceedings -- have pointed out the flaws in conservatives' arguments, including the facts that regulation of the health care sector falls under Congress' broad power to regulate interstate commerce and that Congress has repeatedly passed laws regulating health care and health insurance.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Betsy McCaughey misrepresented remarks by Dr. Jeffrey Borer to suggest that he is opposed to treatment guidelines when, in fact, he stated that guidelines are "needed" and "very valuable" while noting that "they have important limitations." McCaughey further advanced the claim that White House health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel supports rationing of health care and attributed the claim to a doctor who belongs to a conservative-leaning group that holds several controversial views and has promoted the right-wing conspiracy theory that Vince Foster didn't commit suicide.
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens advanced the claim made by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics -- which has recently come under criticism by economists and climate scientists for what they say are distortions in the book's climate change chapter -- that, in Stephens' words, "sea levels will probably not rise much more than 18 inches by 2100." However, this claim is apparently based on projections made in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that did not include future changes in ice flow and therefore do not represent recent developments in climate science observations indicating that increased and accelerated ice sheet loss will cause sea levels to rise by more than previously projected.
From Rush Limbaugh's October 16 Wall Street Journal op-ed, headlined "The Race Card, Football and Me: My critics would have you believe no conservative meets NFL 'standards.' ":
The sports media elicited comments from a handful of players, none of whom I can recall ever meeting. Among other things, at least one said he would never play for a team I was involved in given my racial views. My racial views? You mean, my belief in a colorblind society where every individual is treated as a precious human being without regard to his race? Where football players should earn as much as they can and keep as much as they can, regardless of race? Those controversial racial views?
The NFL players union boss, DeMaurice Smith, jumped in. A Washington criminal defense lawyer, Democratic Party supporter and Barack Obama donor, he sent a much publicized email to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying that it was important for the league to reject discrimination and hatred.
When Mr. Goodell was asked about me, he suggested that my 2003 comment criticizing the media's coverage of Donovan McNabb -- in which I said the media was cheerleading Mr. McNabb because they wanted a successful black quarterback -- fell short of the NFL's "high standard." High standard? Half a decade later, the media would behave the same way about the presidential candidacy of Mr. Obama.
It's nice to see that some media outlets are starting to pay attention to deliberation in the Senate over the reauthorization of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions. It's less nice when, as in this FOX News report, "paying attention" means "peddling outrageous falsehoods." To be sure, the issue can be dauntingly complicated, but these are enormous howlers that the most elementary fact checking ought to catch. Many of the false claims appear to echo this Wall Street Journal op-ed by former attorney general Michael Mukasey, which is similarly misleading. Let's review.
I think it's telling that opponents of common-sense civil liberties safeguards don't seem to think they can make their case without wildly misrepresenting the facts about both investigations and the changes legislators have actually proposed. They have to make it sound as though people are trying to eliminate important investigatory powers altogether—which nobody is arguing for—because it's awfully hard to argue against reasonable and carefully crafted privacy protections if you're honest about what they actually entail. And isn't it a little rich that a network that is forever warning us that we're on the verge of descending into fascism should be so hostile to any suggestion that there ought to be some moderate limits on government surveillance? I'd have thought having a Democrat in the White House might make it acceptable to care about the scope of executive power to spy on Americans again.
After the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) instructed Humana and other Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations to cease sending health care reform mailings to Medicare beneficiaries, numerous conservative media figures -- including several Fox News hosts -- have advanced the talking point that the Obama administration is "threatening" or "suppress[ing] free speech" rights of reform opponents, in a manner Glenn Beck said "sounds like Joe McCarthy," often failing to note CMS' rationale. In fact, CMS expressed concern that the mailings -- which directed beneficiaries to contact Congress in opposition to Medicare Advantage payment cuts -- is "misleading and confusing to beneficiaries, represents information to beneficiaries as official communications about the Medicare Advantage program, and is potentially contrary to federal regulations and guidance."
University of Chicago political science professor Charles Lipson and The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, each of whom has previously pushed conservative talking points, have recently suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate ACORN in the wake of the recently released videos exposing improper behavior at several ACORN offices. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, have suggested that an investigation of ACORN by the Justice Department will not be valid because of the group's ties to Democrats and the Obama administration.
During the health care debate, The Wall Street Journal's op-ed pages have provided a forum for serial misinformers Betsy McCaughey, Jim Towey, and Sarah Palin to spread false claims of mandatory end-of-life counseling, a "Death Book for Veterans," and "death panels," respectively. Most recently, the Journal published an op-ed by Palin, in which she backtracked from her initial claim that a provision in a House reform bill would create death panels, but maintained that reform opponents are justifiably concerned that "Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead" to death panels.
In his Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove attacked the idea of using the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform with a simple majority of Senate votes, referring to the procedure as a "parliamentary trick." But as a senior adviser in the Bush White House, Rove supported the use of reconciliation to pass major Bush administration initiatives.
The Wall Street Journal uncritically quoted Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) saying "there'll be a minor revolution in this country" if Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to pass health care reform. The Journal did not note that, during the Bush administration, Alexander voted to use the reconciliation process to pass tax cuts and voted against amendments that would have stripped reconciliation language from budget resolutions.
Serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey, who The New York Times reported has "largely quot[ed]" White House health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel's "past writings out of context this summer," did so again -- and at length -- in an August 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Indeed, she distorted various passages of Emanuel's writings and interviews by cropping and misrepresenting his remarks -- some of which the Times had described in context only days earlier -- to smear him as "Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief."
Arguing that President Obama "needs a believable business plan" for the deficit, Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel falsely claimed that the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) "has been told to move the tax burden around, not to raise more money." In fact, in announcing the board's Task Force on Tax Reform, Peter Orszag emphasized that the task force would be charged with finding "ways of being even more aggressive on reducing the tax gap" -- the difference between the amount of taxes that are owed and the amount that are voluntarily paid on time -- which Orszag said could potentially increase revenue by $300 billion a year or more.
Serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey again backtracked on a false claim she made about health care reform, now writing in The Wall Street Journal that White House adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel believes reform must include "redefining" the Hippocratic Oath; in May, Media Matters for America noted McCaughey had falsely claimed Emanuel wanted to "eliminate" the oath. McCaughey's claim is the latest in a series of instances in which she was caught making an outright false claim about health care reform and backtracked, but nonetheless continued to attack and distort progressives' policies without acknowledging her backtrack from her prior falsehood.
Yesterday, Howard Kurtz was bewildered that the public believes lies about health care. Today, he (accidentally) shows why they do.
Here's Kurtz today, again expressing exasperation that the media's debunking of lies hasn't worked:
When something is clearly and factually inaccurate, journalists should say so. And the supposed euthanasia panels under the Obama plan was a rare instance in which news organizations did just that. And yet it didn't matter, with 45 percent of Americans saying in an NBC poll that they believe the plan includes government panels that would make end-of-life decisions.
What Kurtz fails to consider is that news organizations have done an sporadic and ineffectual job of declaring falsehoods to be false, as I pointed out yesterday. And they have done an even worse job of holding the liars accountable. If you're a health care critic, you can make up whatever damn fool thing you want, secure in the knowledge that even if a few news organizations debunk your lies, they'll still quote you the next time you say something.
Here's an example: Later in today's column, Kurtz quotes Fred Barnes' latest Wall Street Journal column. In that column, Barnes promotes the death panel nonsense that Howard Kurtz knows and says is false. Yet not only does Kurtz quote the Barnes column, he doesn't write a single word of criticism of Barnes. (He does quote Time's Joe Klein blasting Barnes, but doing it this way sets up a he-said/she-said in which some readers will dismiss Klein's views.)
This, Mr. Kurtz, is why people like Barnes feel free to spread lies: They know people like you will keep quoting them as though they are serious thinkers who deserve a place at the center of the public dialogue.
For weeks, the punditocracy -- Chris Matthews and Jonathan Alter come immediately to mind -- have been saying liberals are foolish for insisting on the inclusion of a public plan in health care reform. Liberals, they say, are letting the perfect* be the enemy of the good, and risk getting nothing by insisting on everything*.
Well, here's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, via today's Wall Street Journal:
Sen. Charles Grassley signaled growing skepticism about the likelihood of Democrat-led health-care legislation passing this year, telling a town-hall meeting here Monday, "Now is the time to do this right or not do it."
In an interview, he vowed not to vote for an "imperfect bill" that includes a public option or gives the government too much control over end-of-life issues.
I wonder if we'll see the same amount of media hand-wringing over Grassley's refusal to vote for what he considers an "imperfect bill." Will he be denounced for being willing to do nothing at all rather than something he considers imperfect? Will he be portrayed as stubborn and unyielding and reckless?
* Never mind that the public option is, for many liberals, neither "perfect" nor "everything," but a huge concession to the Right -- it isn't single-payer.