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Aug. 11 2009 - 3:32 pm | 6 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    “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.”

    I think the word ‘health’ can be filled in with just about any private industry for any American political issue of consequence?

    I have to say. Going from AP/network news to this site, is like coming out of the Sahara desert to the Nile river delta for the first time. Bravo Allison! Tell it like it is!

  2. collapse expand

    This is somewhat off-topic, but the whole Democrats vs. Republicans thing makes me think about something I’ve been mulling over a lot recently. I guess it’s sort of an obvious point, but one thing we really need in this country is a Labor party. Both parties are trying to cover/represent too wide a spread of the population, which I have to think is partly why they’re so ineffectual (and I think makes them more susceptible to corruption and lobbying, but it would take several paragraphs to explain why I think so).

    We need a party that actually represents the left in the U.S. It’s so unrepresented now that huge chunks of the population think the idea of a “liberal” is nothing more than a joke. The only ones they’ve ever seen are people on TV – movie stars and such. That’s probably why they think liberals are all rich people from Hollywood. They don’t seem to realize that liberalism has a rich and venerable tradition (yes, that’s right) in their own country that helped to secure them the rights we all take for granted today. I think most human beings have a rather heterogeneous mixture of nuanced opinions across a range of political issues, but in this country we’re so polarized that people have to stifle themselves in order to fit in with one of the two parties. It’s like only certain ways of looking at the world are allowed to even be thought about.

    • collapse expand

      We need a party that actually represents the left in the U.S

      Absolutely. I was interviewed by a journalism student from Chicago a while ago, and he asked me what changes in policy would lead to reform most quickly, and I said election reform via publicly-funded elections and relaxing restraints on third-party candidates. Election reform is the only way we’re going to get new blood with exciting ideas in politics. Otherwise, the Corporatocracy will prevail.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Ironic, I was going to make the same proposal of needing a party that actually represents libertarian and true conservatives views. The Republicans are busy playing an inch off the Democrats side, hording lobbying money, and doing what it takes to get re-elected. And if they can’t get input on bills, they stuff them with pork-barrel.

      I like the idea of electoral reform. I say we start a “stay no to incumbent” campaign.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    “By granting the death panel lie unchallenged air time, the mainstream media contributes to the lie’s credibility. ” — written by you on Aug. 11, 3:32 p.m.

    The Associated Press, the world’s largest news-gathering cooperative, debunked Palin’s claims the day before your post but released the story for the PM cycle.

    Aug 11, 3:04 AM EDT

    FACT CHECK: No ‘death panel’ in health care bill

    By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
    Associated Press Writer

    The AP was slow. CNN interviewed Howard Dean on August 9 saying Palin death panel claims were “totally erroneous. She just made that up.”

    CNN was actually slow. The New York Times ran this on August 8: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/sarah-palin-has-weighed-in-on/

    The New York Times was, in fact, beaten by the St. Pete TImes on July 23: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jul/23/betsy-mccaughey/mccaughey-claims-end-life-counseling-will-be-requi/

    NPR ran a report debunking the claims on either the 8th or the 9th, but I can’t find it.

  4. collapse expand

    …and in today’s NYT, page 1, above the fold, is a rigorously sourced analysis of where the “death panel” meme began and how it spread…

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