Nbc's Struggle To Be Fair And Balanced

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THE PLANK AUGUST 12, 2009

Nbc's Struggle To Be Fair And Balanced

I understand news organizations' terror of being charged with "liberal bias" or with being the president's lapdog. I also realize that, in the frothing madness previously known as the health care debate, all sides are increasingly desperate to present the most compelling case possible. But this fact-check compilation offered by NBC's "First Read' comes across as a sad example of one-the-one-hand one-the-other-hand faux journalistic balance:

First Read: 8/12

*** Rampant
Misinformation: As it turns out, one of the
most striking things watching the town halls yesterday--Obama's, Specter's,
and McCaskill's--was how misinformed the public was about the health-care
debate. It's no wonder that Obama spent much of his time yesterday explaining
what his plans WOULDN'T do versus what they WOULD do. Here’s one question that
Specter received: “President Obama has stated more than once that his goal is to
have a single-payer system. Are you for a single-payer system? (While Obama
expressed support for a single-payer system before becoming a U.S. senator, he
campaigned against it during the presidential contest, and every bill that has
cleared a congressional committee doesn't establish a single-payer system.)
Here’s another: “I reviewed [H.R.] 3200 the best I could. To me it was obviously
written with the assumption that government has the right to control our lives
from pre-birth to death.” (As PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and the AP have
written, there is nothing in any piece of legislation that has a say in
end-of-life decisions. The provision that has caused the uproar authorizes
Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the
patient wishes.)

 *** More Fact-Checking: Another
question: “I do not want to pay on my health care plan that includes the right
for a woman to kill her unborn baby. Is it true that this plan is in the health
care bill?” (In the House legislation, no federal funds would be used to pay for
abortions; if a woman wants an abortion under her plan, the money would come
from her insurance premiums. Also, Americans would have the choice of choosing
an insurance plan that covers abortion and one that does not.) And here was this
question Specter received: “I have a question on page 58 and 59 of this bill,
which gives the government access to private individual bank accounts at their
free will.” (What?) As McCaskill noted on TODAY, “There are just so many people
who are hearing things that aren’t just true.” Still, McCaskill said she was
proud of the people who showed up at her town hall. “They don’t trust government
right now… I get that distrust.”

 *** And
Fact-Checking Obama: But the president also
made some misleading statements of his own at his town hall yesterday. “I have
not said that I was a single-payer supporter because, frankly, we historically
have had an employer-based system in this country with private insurers, and for
us to transition to a system like that I believe would be too disruptive.” But
Obama did advocate a single-payer system back in 2003, although since then he
has a said a single-payer wouldn’t work. Obama also repeated this line: “If you
like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” However, there
is nothing in any bill moving through Congress that would enforce
that. (In fact, it's surprising the White House continues to push this
line -- there is NO way the government can guarantee that a business won't
change health care providers. They just can't.) And then Obama said, “We have
the AARP on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors.” But
AARP put out a statement yesterday saying that it hasn’t officially endorsed any
of the bills moving through Congress, although it has said some encouraging
words about them.

In this corner, we have conservative objectors who have either been grossly misled or have simply begun spontaneously spreading the most outrageous, totally false, highly inflammatory bullshit you can imagine. (On this note, Sarah Palin deserves a giant kick in the ass for maliciously (or ignorantly) hawking this "death panel" nonsense--and once again ickily referencing her children to make a political point.)

In the other, we have a president whose fact-checking sins qualify at worst as middling spin: 1. Obama did indeed years ago abandon the possibility of a single-payer system. 2. As someone whose employer has had to change insurance providers multiple
times in recent years in search of manageable premiums, let me point
out that "there is NO way the government can guarantee that a business
won't change health care providers" even if reform fails--and that this
is not really the point. The central apprehension the White House needs to fight is that reform will enable  "government-run health care" to force people into this or that plan (and then euthanize their elderly parents!)--long a favorite scare tactic of reform opponents. 3. And the AARP? The president is hardly the only person to assume that the group is on board with reform even if it has yet to endorse a specific bill. (Certainly, the right-wing American Family Association believes this to be the case.)

To its credit, The Note doesn't suggest an exact equivalence between the two sides. But any lumping together seems a bit of a stretch.

--Michelle Cottle

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posted in: the plank, business, entertainment, environment, health, labor, law, politics, social issues, mccaskill, president

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