Catastrophic Coverage of the Health Care Debate
Above the Fold
Last Wednesday, the CBS Evening News managed to capture almost everything that is inadequate about the MSM’s coverage of the health care debate in a single broadcast.
CBS ran reports from three different correspondents that night, including a “fact-check segment” narrated by “investigative” correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. On the question of whether or not a new health care reform bill would cover illegal aliens, Attkisson said the answer was “unclear”, even though the bill specifies that coverage would only be available to people in the US legally. But Attkisson chose to accept the Republican talking point that because there is “no provision for verification,” no one could be sure whether illegal immigrants would be covered. Then she added, with no basis in fact whatsoever, that if one member of undocumented family was covered, the rest of them could be too.
But far worse was the profile by correspondent Cynthia Bowers of Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee.
The big news on the morning of the broadcast had been Grassley’s willingness to feed the flatly false rumor that one of the bills before Congress would give the government the right to kill your grandmother. All the bill actually does is authorize Medicare to pay for consultations so that anyone can write a living will laying out what kind of care the individual wants to specify at the end of his or her life. If you don’t want a living will, there is nothing in the legislation that would require you to get one.
Nevertheless, Grassley waded knee-deep into the Republicans’ chief scare tactic by declaring “We should not have a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.” As the indispensable Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly pointed out, Grassley was “no doubt aware of the fact that his comments were patently nonsensical.”
Benen also noted that Grassley added, “I don’t even think it’s right for me to call [the Finance discussions] negotiations. We’re talking.”
“Got that?” asked Benen. “The leading Republican negotiator on health care reform doesn’t even want to admit that ‘negotiations’ exist. Grassley is willing to concede that he’s ‘talking” to other senators, but according to the Roll Call report, the Iowa Republican ‘downplayed the ongoing bipartisan Finance Committee talks, saying his decision to stay at the table allows him to keep his constituents and fellow GOP Senators informed.’
Grassley added that no matter what the final bill looks like, unless the reform legislation enjoys the broad support of the Republican Party, he’ll vote against it. It’s remarkable. The chief Senate health care negotiator in the Republican Party wants his constituents to know that he doesn’t even consider himself to be part of “negotiations,” and is only there to acquire information. Grassley is also, apparently, negotiating the details of a bill he’s likely to vote against. Democrats, in other words, are trying to strike a deal on health care reform with someone who doesn’t support health care reform. That Grassley has cultivated a reputation for being a sensible moderate isn’t just wrong, it’s ridiculous.”
What makes all of this even more obscene? Amy Sullivan discovered that Grassley was one of 42 GOP Senators and 204 GOP House members who voted for the 2003 medicare prescription drug bill, which mandated funding to evaluate “the beneficiary’s need for pain and symptom management, including the individual’s need for hospice care; counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.”
The only difference between the 2003 provision and the infamous Section 1233 that threatens the very future and moral sanctity of the Republic is that the first applied only to terminally ill patients. Section 1233 would expand funding so that people could voluntarily receive counseling before they become terminally ill.
Somehow none of this managed to penetrate the brain of Cynthia Bowers or her CBS producer. Someone had decided to air a puff piece about Grassley, and a puff piece it would be, regardless of the facts. Bowers’ two-minute report didn’t even mention that Grassley had been promoting the “deathers” rumor a few hours before it aired–which was the most important news Grassley had made that day. (Bowers did not respond to a phone message requesting comment on that failure.) Instead her story was determined to portray Grassley as an admirable moderate, committed to bi-partisanship.
Bowers piece included this memorable sound-bite from Politico’s Mike Allen: “both sides trust him; he’s not a kool-aid drinker for Repubicans; and he’s not a sellout.”
Since Allen seemed to be speaking on the very same day that Grassley had indeed drunk deeply from the Republicans’ Kool-Aid, FCP asked Allen if he had made his comment before or after Grassley had embraced the rumor that the new bill might be promoting the death of the elderly.
“We taped before that statement,” Allen told FCP by e-mail. Asked if he would have said something different if he had been interviewed after Grassley’s statement, Allen would only say, “That was a general statement about his past positioning - since then, he’s made a number of statements critical of Democrats.”
The CBS broadcast was emblematic of a general failure to characterize the Republican talking points as the outright lies they really are. (CBS’s fact check segment that night didn’t mention the euthanasia canard at all.)
Even Salon’s Washington correspondent, Mike Madden, did a sloppy job of clearing things up in a fact-check piece of his own. Referring to the rumors about Federally sponsored euthanasia, Madden wrote “There is a kernel of truth at the root of this attack,” because “the legislation would order Medicare to pay for consultations between patients and doctors on end-of-life decisions, which it currently doesn’t cover. But the consultations wouldn’t be mandatory; if your grandmother doesn’t want to go talk to her doctor about end-of-life care, she won’t have to.” Obviously if the consultations aren’t mandatory, there is no “kernel of truth” here whatsoever–just another flat-out lie from the Republicans.
The sad truth is, for decades, the GOP’s only consistent tactic has been fear mongering, whether the topic is national security, gay marriage, or health care. The only hope for passing reasonable health care reform lies in Barack Obama’s capacity to convince a majority of Americans of the truth–that all of the opposition of Republicans in Congress is rooted in their addiction to the obscene profit margins of the health care industry.