Media, healthcare, and calling a lie a lie
Newspaper industry insiders are great at projection, but poor at self-critique. When their revenues began to free fall, everything from flighty advertisers to blogs were blamed for newspapers’ woeful figures, but what the industry has never considered is that they are failing to produce a compelling product that serves as a useful tool to the American consumer.
This is clear in the media’s coverage of the healthcare debate. Newspapers are not alone in their dismal coverage of this issue, but they are certainly contributing to the misinformation campaign spawned by the healthcare industry and disseminated by members of the GOP and Blue Dog Democrats. The issue has been framed as a war between Democrats and Republicans instead of what it really is: a war between the private health industry and the American citizens.
The real solution, universal healthcare, was dead on arrival, and yet the mainstream media missed that story. They skipped right over it in favor of a superficial war between the Republicans, who have always been in the pocket of the private healthcare industry, and the Democrats, who are also in their pockets (though they occasionally jump out to shout something about a public option.)
The circus reached its zenith when former governor Sarah Palin delivered the latest disinformation sound bite by claiming President Obama’s healthcare reform bill includes a provision to kill her baby. Of course, this is a lie. There are no “death panels” in Obama’s plan. Rather, Palin is referring to living wills. One imagines discrediting such an irresponsible and ludicrous claim would prove a simple task, and yet FOX News personalities soon adopted the “death panel” term, Media Matters reports.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) then repeated the lie. Suddenly, the “death panel” thing was a valid talking point. Meanwhile, the real issue, healthcare reform, remained vague in Americans’ minds. No one seems to understand what Obama’s plan entails, and how many Americans it will really help, or how he intends to pay for the program. All we know is it’s not universal, nor single-payer, as Obama explained in today’s healthcare town hall. It’s something, though, and it may have mandates.
The details are no where to be found partly because the media hasn’t demanded them. They’ve been too busy calling Sarah Palin a moron instead of asking meaningful questions about possibly the most important government reform plan in recent memory. By granting the death panel lie unchallenged air time, the mainstream media contributes to the lie’s credibility. Even if Palin’s absurd claim is reported with an eye roll and a “Can you believe what she said this time?” sneer, the lie becomes part of the healthcare debate when it should be swiftly squashed by the nation’s media.
Very real issues like astroturfing, private healthcare industry donations to members of Congress, and Big Pharma’s private meetings with Obama go unreported or at best, underreported. The whole idea behind having a free media is to educate the populace. Unfortunately, what we have is a pack of oversized children that can’t focus on a single issue for more than five minutes, and constantly genuflect before the God of Personality that demands they obsessively document what strange amalgam of words Palin managed to string together this week. Meanwhile, Americans are uninsured, underinsured, and sometimes waiting in animal pens in to receive healthcare.
Last week, The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman wrote an article in defense of Matt Taibbi’s coverage of Goldman Sachs, though Starkman also threw in an unnecessary jab about Taibbi’s “hyperbolic” style. Digby responded with an anecdote about a panel she spoke on with David Sirota and Taibbi a couple of months ago about the forces that are standing in the way of the progressive agenda.
As I listened to [Taibbi] speak, I realized it wasn’t just that he had attitude (which he has) or that he takes a point of view (which he does.) A good part of his talk was spent explaining the arcane mechanisms that fueled the crisis, much of which I think is terribly confusing to lay people and makes it hard to grasp exactly what happened and why we should care. And I realized that in all of his discussion, Taibbi didn’t use any of the usual journalistic conventions and he never uses jargon, ever, in his speech or in his writing. Yes, he’s funny and profane, but he’s also very, very clear.
That ability to cut through propaganda and clearly explain an issue is a basic requirement for journalists. However, in their rush to secure ratings and readers, the mainstream media has lost site of the target. Pundits and editors now think that presenting both sides of an issue (Living Wills VS. Death Panels) is “good journalism.” It’s not. It’s presenting the truth and the lie as equal halves of reality. The mainstream media has become a platform for private industry propaganda, and utter lunacy in the case of “Death Panel” claims, instead of a place of education for the citizenry about a gravely serious issue: the future of their healthcare.
Failing to call a lie “a lie” is not balanced or fair. By failing to call the “death panel” myth what it is — pure bullshit — the media is not behaving as a watchdog, but rather as a propaganda appendage for the private healthcare industry and its army ranging from unwitting soldiers like Palin to the Blue Dog lieutenants that can’t stuff their pockets with healthcare industry cash fast enough.
Maybe the American people would have started paying for newspapers again if they felt the papers were providing a service. If newspapers contained real, clear facts, and presented issues in a useful fashion, Americans may have fought to save them. Instead, the media has chosen to report the news like a horse race where truth and lies compete for the attention of the citizenry, and Americans (rightfully) refuse to pay for that crap.