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.
From The Wall Street Journal's August 21 article, "AARP Takes Heat Over Health Stand":
WASHINGTON -- AARP thinks U.S. health care needs a sweeping overhaul. Problem is, a lot of its members don't agree.
That is putting the 40-million-strong organization of older Americans in a tight spot. It is fielding a flood of calls from worried seniors and battling rumors about President Barack Obama's health push, which it supports.
"They try not to enrage one group, while still being a player and pushing for progressive reforms," said Rick Mayes, a public-policy professor at the University of Richmond who once worked for AARP. "They're constantly trying to walk this tightrope."
Mr. Obama cites AARP's backing as an irrefutable seal of approval, saying the group is "on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors." But in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 46% of people over 65 were against the Obama health plan, with 28% favoring it.
AARP concedes that 60,000 members have resigned since July 1 over the health-care push. "This effort hasn't been easy," Chief Operating Officer Tom Nelson wrote in a memo to staff last week. "In fact, it's often rough emotionally when some people have been hostile."
Yesterday, a variety of progressives -- from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Health Care for America Now to this blog -- criticized NBC and the Wall Street Journal for a change in the wording of their poll questions about the public plan for health care reform.
As I explained last night, the NBC/WSJ poll dropped the word "choice," and shifted the focus of the question from the impact a public plan would have on consumers to the impact it would have on insurance companies.
NBC's Chuck Todd claimed that the word "choice" made the original question "biased," but didn't explain how.
Feeling the heat, NBC released a statement last night from the pollsters who conduct their poll. But that statement did not explain what was wrong with the original wording, or address the change in focus of the question.
Now NBC says its next poll will include both wordings:
NBC's White House correspondent Chuck Todd told the Huffington Post on Wednesday afternoon that pollsters Bill McInturf and Peter Hart will ask respondents two questions regarding the public plan for their September study.
Todd's decision to put both questions in the mix also should placate a host of progressive health care proponents who were critical of the NBC pollsters.
On Wednesday, Todd defended the decision to drop "choice" from the survey, calling the word a "trigger" that sent a certain "message" to respondents. And while he argued that the revised way of asking the question was "very neutral" he admitted that the idea of putting both options side by side was "something we wanted to test."
So far as I've seen, neither Todd nor the pollsters nor anybody else connected with the poll has yet explained how describing a plan that gives people a choice as giving people a "choice" is "biased" -- or why the new wording was better.
Given the decision to reinstate the choice wording, it seems safe to assume we'll never see such an explanation.
Health Care For America Now (HCAN) argues that a change in the NBC/Wall Street Journal's wording of a key poll question about health care reform produces skewed results.
In June, the NBC/WSJ poll asked:
In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance--extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?
76 percent said it was extremely or quite important to include such a plan in health care reform.
In July, NBC and the Journal changed their wording:
Would you favor or oppose creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies?
That produced a much more negative response. There are indications that the new NBC/WSJ out this evening will repeat that July wording, with similar results.
Here's HCAN's take, backed up by quotes from two pollsters:
These polls are not comparable. The first poll (June) accurately framed the question - should people be able to choose a public health insurance option. The second poll (July and August) pushed them towards an answer by leaving out the essential question of choice and asking a yes or no question.
On Hardball earlier this evening, NBC's Chuck Todd claimed that they changed the wording because the word "choice" "biased" the question.
Todd didn't explain what is "biased" about describing a plan that offers people a choice between a public plan and private insurance as offering a choice between a public plan and private insurance.
Aside from the absurdity of describing the original question as "biased," it is important to note that the first question frames the topic of a public plan in terms of its effect on consumers -- it indicates that they would have a choice between a public plan and private insurance. The new wording frames it in terms of the plan's effect on private insurance companies by emphasizing that they would face competition. The new wording is only passingly about consumers.
It should come as no surprise that a poll question that adopts the insurance companies' point of view yields results less favorable for a public plan than one that focuses on the impact on consumers.
UPDATE: NBC posts a response -- sort of:
NBC pollsters Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R) released the following statement: "The only agenda that we have is to accurately measure changes in public opinion. To that end, we selected two questions which we think are the best barometers of how and if attitudes on health care are changing in view of the robust public debate that is occurring."
Peter Hart and Bill McInturff have forgotten more about polling than most of us will ever learn -- but their response is, well, non-responsive. First, they make no effort at all to defend the new wording, or to explain why they think it is better than the old. Second, if you're trying to measure "changes in public opinion," it helps to have a consistent question to track over time.
It should also be noted that NBC's Chuck Todd and Mark Murray misrepresent the wording change in their introduction to the Hart/McInturff statement:
Liberals and progressives -- including Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and the group Health Care for America Now -- have raised questions why our poll measured whether Americans supported the "choice" of a public/government option in June, while in July and this month it removed "choice" and simply asked whether Americans favor or oppose the option.
The July and August polls didn't simply remove the word "choice," as Todd and Murray claim. It completely changed the perspective of the question, as I explained above. The original question focused on impact on the consumer; the new question ignores that in favor of a focus on impact on insurance companies.
From the August 15 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report:
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Claiming that it's "[n]o wonder so many seniors rebel" at President Obama's health care proposals, a Wall Street Journal editorial misrepresented a New York Times interview of Obama to claim that Obama seems to believes that end-of-life "medical issues are all justifiably political questions that government or some panel of philosopher kings can and should decide." In fact, in the interview the Journal cited, Obama made clear that an advisory panel that would issue guidance on end-of-life issues would "not [be] determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed that the House Democrats' health care reform bill is "a jobs killer," citing as evidence the bill's "5.4-percentage point income surtax," which it baselessly asserted "would hit small business especially hard." In fact, according to House Democrats, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) has concluded that only 4.1 percent of small businesses would be affected at all by the surtax -- which, as currently drafted, affects household income exceeding $350,000 -- while an even smaller number would presumably be affected at the surtax's 5.4 percent level, which applies only to income exceeding $1 million.
Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Goldberg notices that John Bolton has been getting an awful lot of ink lately:
If you feel like you have been reading a lot of John Bolton recently, it's because you have. A Nexis search reveals that over the past 12 weeks, John Bolton has been published on the op-ed page of a major American publication nine times. That's three times in the Washington Post, once in the New York Times, once in The Los Angeles Times, twice in the Wall Street Journal and three in the Washington Times. This is an average of just under one op-ed a week, per week, for the last three months.
That means the Washington Post has been running a Bolton op-ed once a month. Way to give your readers a diversity of viewpoints...
In an August 5 editorial, The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed that the health insurance lobbies are "helping Democrats by keeping quiet" during the health care reform debate, adding that if they "were any quieter, they'd be Trappists." In fact, the insurance industry reportedly significantly increased its spending on lobbying this year, and, as the Journal itself reported in a news article, insurers are "wag[ing] an aggressive campaign against Democrats' proposals to create a public health-insurance plan."
Several media figures on Fox News and Fox Business -- including Glenn Beck -- have blasted the National Endowment for the Arts for awarding Recovery Act grants to San Francisco arts organizations, claiming the grants will pay for "porn." However, those personalities ignored significant facts: Direct grants were only made to organizations that were screened to receive funding in the past, and every group they criticized previously received tens of thousands of dollars from the Bush administration.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed the House Democrats' health care reform bill will "pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely." McCaughey frequently appears in the media to advance falsehoods about progressive health care reform proposals.
A Wall Street Journal article about NRCC ads criticizing Democrats who voted for the House cap-and-trade bill did not mention the ads' original factual inaccuracy about the amount cap and trade would cost per household.
Karl Rove falsely claimed that "[President] Obama never said if his stimulus were passed things might still get significantly worse." In fact, Obama said in January that the economy was likely to worsen even after the stimulus had been passed.
On July 14, five major newspapers reported on Jeff Sessions' opening statement at the confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor without noting that, in 1986, Sessions' nomination as a U.S. district court judge was rejected following allegations that Sessions had a history of making racially charged comments.