Friday, August 14, 2009

Bigfooting Healthcare

Last night, on the teevee, I saw a 60 second, fact-free ad distorting the health care proposals beyond recognition, designed to scare the beejeesus out of the elderly. I was fuming. Immediately after that ad, I saw an ad from the AARP, telling us that people were out to scare the elderly with lies. Good. Which leads to this morning's QOTD from the New York Times :

But as Congress developed its legislation this summer, critics seized on provisions requiring Medicare financing for “end of life” consultations, bringing the debate to a peak. To David Brock, a former conservative journalist who once impugned the Clintons but now runs a group that monitors and defends against attacks on liberals, the uproar is a reminder of what has changed — the creation of groups like his — and what has not.

“In the 90s, every misrepresentation under the sun was made about the Clinton plan and there was no real capacity to push back,” he said. “Now, there is that capacity.”

Rachel remembers Terry Schiavo and coins the delicious phrase: bigfooting end of life decisions.
Making painful decisions Aug. 13: Rachel Maddow is joined by George Felos, the former attorney for Michael Schiavo, about the difficulty families face in dealing with end-of-life decisions.

The NYTimes commits journalism. No false balance, no buried lede.
JIM RUTENBERG and JACKIE CALMES - False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots

WASHINGTON — The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.

Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.

But the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.

Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).

There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure. But over the course of the past few months, early, stated fears from anti-abortion conservatives that Mr. Obama would pursue a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda, combined with twisted accounts of actual legislative proposals that would provide financing for optional consultations with doctors about hospice care and other “end of life” services, fed the rumor to the point where it overcame the debate.

On Thursday, Mr. Grassley said in a statement that he and others in the small group of senators that was trying to negotiate a health care plan had dropped any “end of life” proposals from consideration.
Rachel commits more journalism - but it is no surprise with her. She always does. This is a terrific segment, that points out the astonishing hypocrisy of the republicans on this issue. .
Even they don't believe what they're saying Aug. 13: Rachel Maddow talks about the prominent Republicans have suddenly sudden reversed their positions on the role of the government in end-of-life matters from what they argued in the case of Teri Schiavo.
Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum: Investor’s Business Daily Short-Arms Correction

Investor’s Business Daily corrected an embarrassing boo-boo in an editorial and in the process made another huge error.

In an editorial ginning up fear over Obama’s health-care plan and comparing it to the dread National Health Service in the UK, IBD wrote that the famed physicist Stephen Hawking would have been toast had he lived in the UK because, IBD said, ridiculously, the country’s eugenics-like health policies deem handicapped people worthless.

Of course, Hawking is British and has lived there his whole life. He’s a professor at Cambridge for crying out loud.

Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught the whopper and it was picked up by other outlets, including Talking Points Memo.

Here’s the original line, which is now stricken from the editorial:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

This is sick, dishonest stuff, so it’s sweet that Hawking himself calls it out, telling a TPM blogger “I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”

But IBD’s correction creates another problem. Here is its entire text:

Editor’s Note: This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK.

It has removed the Hawking reference from the story (even, apparently, in Factiva, which doesn’t have it either), but short-arms the correction, which should have read something like: “This version corrects the original editorial which falsely implied that physicist Stephen Hawking would be dead as a doornail if he lived in the UK and had to use the National Health. Hawking has lived in the UK his entire life, and as of press time, is still alive.

In my dream world they’d also tack on an “Also, this basically kills the premise of our entire editorial, which never should have been written. We resign in disgrace.”

Alas, that’s not going to happen. But IBD ought to go ahead and correct the false information contained in its quote of the notorious Betsy McCaughey, who says the House’s bill “compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years,” which is an easy-to-figure-out fact error, as The Atlantic’s Conor Clarke makes plain. I’m sure there are a few other fact errors in there. Send me an email or post a comment if you see one.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Obama’s health-care plan. I do think we ought to have the debate on the facts and not on fallacious and dangerous talking points about “death panels” and the like.

And if you correct a serious mistake, you have to be clear about what you’re really correcting, no matter how embarrassing or how much it kills your argument.

This may look like more of the same. It is not. And Rachel remains amazed that most of the media is failing to cover the truth behind the shouting.

Political outrage for hire Aug. 13: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, joins Rachel Maddow to talk about an anti-health care reform Web site that is actually run by a high profile Republican P.R. firm.
Krugman: Republican Death Trip

“I am in this race because I don’t want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America.” So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.

Some of us were skeptical. A couple of months after Mr. Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

So, how’s it going?

Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.

Right now, the charge that’s gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create “death panels” (in Sarah Palin’s words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It’s a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican — yes, Republican — of Georgia, who says that it’s “nuts” to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for “advance directives” for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That’s exactly what was being proposed — and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it’s not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates. I’m not sure where his centrist reputation comes from — he did, after all, compare critics of the Bush tax cuts to Hitler. But in any case, his role in the health care debate has been flat-out despicable.

Last week, Mr. Grassley claimed that his colleague Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor wouldn’t have been treated properly in other countries because they prefer to “spend money on people who can contribute more to the economy.” This week, he told an audience that “you have every right to fear,” that we “should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”

Again, that’s what a supposedly centrist Republican, a member of the Gang of Six trying to devise a bipartisan health plan, sounds like.

So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years — the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia — are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.

So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.

What, then, should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

So can Mr. Obama, who can be so eloquent when delivering a message of uplift, rise to the challenge of unreasoning, unappeasable opposition? Only time will tell.

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