Daily Howler logo
EZRA SI, FROOMKIN NO! Ezra Klein obeyed a great rule. Froomkin never did: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2009

Kinsley rations the data: Is human life what Homer imagined—just a practical joke of the gods? Michael Kinsley’s column today raises that age-old question.

Kinsley starts with a very good question: Can we make American health care less costly? As he starts, he seems to say yes. Yes, we actually can:

KINSLEY (6/26/09): The Obama administration believes that health care can be made cheaper without any reduction in quality. It has evidence to back this up. According to the famous Dartmouth studies, health care costs two or three times as much per person in some places in America as it does in others, with no measurable difference in results. Atul Gawande's deservedly admired recent essay in the New Yorker makes a similar point. So in theory it's easy: Just figure out how the cheap places do it and apply this knowledge to bring down the cost in the pricier places.

But quickly, Kinsley moves to a rather odd place—a rather odd place for a liberal/progressive, which is the role in which he’s still cast in our alleged public discourse. Simply put, Kinsley says “rationing” as much as he can; he says “rationing” over and over. (Headline: “Health Care Faces the ‘R’ Word.”) And he doesn’t make much sense when he does—especially for a liberal/progressive who’s supposed to be very smart. Before long, the columnist—or the toy of the gods—is suggesting that, under Obama’s reforms, wealthy people may be barred from buying the health care they want:

KINSLEY: It may seem absurd to worry about whether wealthy or well-insured people get every last test and exotic or speculative treatment when millions of Americans have no health insurance and millions more have gaping holes in their coverage. But the well-insured happen to include virtually all the people making the key decisions about health-care reform—members of Congress and their staffs, the White House staff, Washington journalists, and so on. These people's fears that they would lose the right to "choose my own doctor" (code for getting treatment with all the bells and whistles) helped kill Hillary Clinton's attempt to reform health care in the early 1990s. Fear of rationing could kill Obamacare for the same reason.

But hold on! Does “Obamacare,” in any way, mean that wealthy people—those Washington journalists—would be barred from “getting treatment with all the bells and whistles?” Kinsley never says it does—but then, he never says it doesn’t! Like a tool of some corporate god, he simply spreads this insinuation through this morning’s column. By the time he’s done, he’s even citing that rationing blather from last week’s New York Times. And he’s quoting Mickey Kaus with a true-but-irrelevant thought:

KINSLEY: David Leonhardt of the New York Times recently noted that spending so much on health care squeezes out spending on other things that we might prefer, and that is a form of rationing. On the other hand, the blogger Mickey Kaus argues that it makes perfect sense for a society growing richer (as ours soon will be again, we hope) to spend a growing share of that wealth on improving our health and longevity.

Leonhardt’s right! That really is a form of rationing—in much the way a planet like Mars is really a form of a golf ball. (Everything’s a form of everything—if we just stretch the language enough.) And Kinsley approvingly cites Kaus’ picture, in which our society decides to spend more for its health care. But it’s funny, ain’t it? In the course of all this bullshit, Kinsley never quite mentions this:

United States: $5711
Denmark: $2743
France: $3048
Germany: $2983
Italy: $2314
Japan: $2249
United Kingdom: $2317

That’s how much money a bunch of developed nations spent per person on health care in 2003. For additional numbers, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/09.

Funny, ain’t it? Kinsley is asking if the United States could possibly spend less money on health care. He mentioned those “famous Dartmouth studies”—studies which involve health care costs in this country alone. But he forgot to mention these remarkable figures from those foreign lands!

Is your life a joke of the gods? That’s what Homer thought.

Kinsley of course is no average bright boy. More than a decade ago, he was purchased by Bill Gates and relocated to Seattle. This was at the time when Gates was deciding, for purely philanthropical reasons, to get involved in the news business. He hired Kinsley to edit Slate (AKA, the Washington Post West). He teamed with Jack Welch to invent MSNBC—“news” as the billionaires see it.

Today, Kinsley is still cast as the very-smart liberal in the drama we describe as a “national discourse.” But it’s weird, ain’t it? When he writes a column on health care costs, he keeps saying rationing/rationing/rationing; he even suggests that “Obamacare” will somehow keep wealthy people from purchasing upper-end health care. And sure enough! He forgets to mention those remarkable international numbers—numbers which always seem to disappear from our “mainstream” health care debate.

Looking at those remarkable numbers, any damn fool would wonder where all those extra dollars are going. Any damn fool would start to think this: Of course we can do this for less!

Alas! It seems to be much as we’ve told you: We aren’t allowed to think about those remarkable numbers here in this country. Our lives may not be a joke of the gods. Increasingly, though, it seems that our lives are a practical joke of the bosses.

Krugman posts the basics: “Bottom line: this is the most important domestic policy issue we face.”

So wrote Paul Krugman, in this post from last Sunday, referring to health care reform. We assume the truth of that assessment. For that reason, we’ve been more struck each passing day by the “managed” nature of our public discussion of health care.

How do other countries do it? What really goes on in England or France when it comes to health care? In Sicko, Michael Moore offered a funny, intriguing introduction to this fundamental question. We thought it was as good an “opening argument” as we’ve seen, on any question.

And of course, that’s right where the matter died. (Except for Sanjay Gupta’s embarrassing attempt to contradict factual statements by Moore.) We’ve never see a big newspaper or a major journal offer an expert view of such questions. Our current attempts at health care reform seem to be hopelessly complex. How have they done it in other countries—countries which spend much less than we do, but seem to have better outcomes?

In this country, you can’t find out! To all appearances, we have a thoroughly “managed” discussion. Consider this contrast, for instance:

The American press has no general instinct against international comparisons. In international educational assessments, the United States tends to score around the middle among developed nations. But these comparisons are constantly hyped in the press. Typically, journalists are quite upset that we don’t rank right at the top.

Compare that to the treatment of international comparisons concerning health care:

When it comes to health care costs, the US is the absolute, off-the-charts, worst-in-show. And yet, those thoroughly remarkable international comparisons are constantly ignored in the press. No one asks why our costs are so high—or even shows the public the numbers. No one profiles other countries, explaining how they manage to run their systems at half the cost.

By the force of some invisible hand, you are simply not allowed to think about such questions. Two things seem remarkable here: First, the fact that our discourse can be so thoroughly “managed.” Second, the fact that no one seems to notice.

Back to Krugman. We’ve never quite understood what lies behind the claim that countries like Italy and France have better health care systems than ours. (As the World Health Organization judged in 2000, for example.) In Sunday’s post, Krugman seemed to say that these other countries don’t really have better health outcomes. He seems to say their health outcomes are similar to ours—at roughly half the cost:

KRUGMAN (6/21/09): Not many serious advocates of reform use the life expectancy differences to argue that health care is clearly better in other advanced countries than it is in the United States; when it comes to care, the general assessment seems to be that it’s comparable, with no advanced country having a clear advantage. The reform argument actually goes like this:

  1. Every other advanced country has universal coverage, protecting its citizens from the financial risks of uninsurance as well as ensuring that everyone gets basic care.
  2. They do this while spending far less on health care than we do.
  3. Yet they don’t seem to do worse in overall health results.

“When it comes to care, the general assessment seems to be that...no advanced country ha[s] a clear advantage.” Other countries “don’t seem to do worse [than the U.S. does] in overall health results.” (The other countries all have full coverage, of course. That’s different from overall outcomes.)

Is that the general assessment? Our outcomes are similar to those of the Euro tigers—but we’re spending twice as much? Amazingly, we don’t really know. The blackout on discussing this issue has long been quite pervasive. (Krugman has been an exception, of course.)

Final note: We understand why pols might defer to industry. Why do big newspapers clam?

We’re all Ceci Connolly now: Well, not quite. No one has ever displayed as much skill at misleading us rubes as Connolly did in Campaign 2000, during the twenty months when she covered Gore for the Washington Post.

No one has ever been quite so skilled. But on Tuesday night, Connolly might have said, “Hey—not bad!” If she watched Our Own Rhodes Scholar offer some stage-managed bull-roar.

The question: Had Obama toughened his rhetoric toward Iran at that day’s press conference? Everyone was saying he had—everyone but Obama himself, and Our Own Rhodes Scholar. She played tape of Obama giving “rhetorical wedgies” to a pair of reporters (Todd and Garrett). Then, she stated her premise:

MADDOW (6/23/09): Wow! The president at his press conference today giving rhetorical wedgies to reporters who asked what he plainly thought were ill-informed or off-base questions about his position on Iran.

In addition to the questions on Iran, the president led today’s press conference with a lengthy statement about the uprising in Iran that didn’t necessarily go further than anything he had said previously. But it did inexplicably, nevertheless, earn him headlines and questions from reporters that implied that he had gone significantly further.

It was inexplicable, Our Scholar said. Reporters implied that Obama had gone significantly further than before—even though his opening statement “didn’t necessarily go further than anything he had said previously.”

Didn’t necessarily go further. That’s slick, Ceci might well have said.

At any rate, Our Own Rhodes Scholar now began to prove her point. She played tape of what Obama had said. She then said little had changed:

MADDOW (continuing directly): Here’s some of what he said today:

OBAMA (videotape): I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran`s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, they must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people.

MADDOW: That was a statement being billed everywhere as a dramatic escalation of the president’s stance on Iran. Except, when you look back at his previous statements, he was saying pretty much the same thing even more than a week ago.

Correction: That was some of what Obama had said. Pretty slick, Ceci might have said.

Too funny! That was indeed just some of what Obama had said that morning. In fact, those were the second and seventh paragraphs of the president’s opening statement. But uh-oh! The alleged escalation of Obama’s language had largely occurred in his first paragraph! This is the actual way he opened that morning’s press conference. The highlighted paragraph represents the start of his prepared statement:

OBAMA (6/23/09): Hello, everybody. Good afternoon, everybody. Today I want to start by addressing three issues, and then I'll take your questions. First, I'd like to say a few words about the situation in Iran:

The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

Obama’s alleged escalation had largely occurred in that highlighted paragraph. He said the United States was “appalled and outraged” by Iran’s conduct in recent days. He said the United States “strongly condemned such unjust actions.”

Did Obama escalate? We’d say that he did—and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have. But whatever your own judgment might be, the alleged escalation largely came in the opening paragraph of his prepared statement. Result? Our Own Rhodes Scholar omitted that paragraph when she showed what Obama had said! She fed us rubes his second paragraph—then played tape of earlier statements where he’d said similar things.

The press corps’ judgment was “inexplicable,” she said. And sure enough! By the time she finished her air-brushing, her statement was pretty much true.

Ceci would have known what to do—but then, so did Our Own Rhodes Scholar! In our view, this sort of thing often occurs at the “news” network GE has built.

One distinction: It’s clear that Connolly typically worked from design. We’ll guess that Maddow’s presentation might largely represent inept staff work. Remember: The brains behind this channel, Bill Wolff, got his preparation running sports programs for Fox.

To watch this segment, just click this. For the full transcript, click here.

EZRA SI, FROOMKIN NO: Our analysts cried and covered their eyes as they read Professor Rosen’s interview (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/09). But hold on there, we admonished the youngsters. Glenn asks a very good question at one point. Why is Dan Froomkin gone from the Post when they employ other liberals?

GREENWALD (6/19/09): Let me ask you this: I imagine if Fred Hiatt were here, he would make the following defense, adopt the following response, which is—and he's already said this actually in his very vapid and meaningless form statement: “Oh, no, our firing of Froomkin had nothing to do with his political views, and in fact the proof of that”—he didn't say this, but I'll make this argument for him—“is that we have plenty of liberals at the Washington Post, we have Eugene Robinson, and E.J. Dionne and we just hired Ezra Klein as a Washington Post blogger.” They hired Greg Sargent away from TPM. So what is it about Froomkin that, in your view, made him intolerable to Fred Hiatt whereas those other individuals I just named at least as of yet are still there?

ROSEN: Because he's not a liberal columnist. That was a complete lie, a description that sticks to him by Harris, the national staff, and ultimately by Fred Hiatt. He's an accountability journalist who practices his craft at the level that the Web makes possible.

Greenwald asked a perfectly decent question: Why did Froomkin get dumped at the Post, even as the paper was hiring other liberals, like Ezra and Greg?

Rosen gave a typically hopeless, rambling reply. This seems to be his role when he visits this part of the solar system. The Q-and-A goes on and on. To read the full exchange, just click here.

You can read Rosen’s replies for yourself. For ourselves, we’ve been looking for an excuse to discuss Ezra Klein’s move to the Post. This is a good day for it.

For starters: We of course have no way of knowing why the Post has dumped Dan Froomkin. Let’s repeat that: We simply don’t know.

But if we were going to write a novel, as Rosen did—if we wanted to pretend that we knew—our novel would look like this:

Dan Froomkin criticizes the press corps. In the press corps, if you’re a liberal, that just isn’t done.

Duh. We’ve explained this bone-simple point for years. If there’s one thing you’ll never see Dionne or Robinson do, it’s criticize their cohort—the coven, the clan. Dionne established this point quite brilliantly all through Campaign 2000. Of course he knew that his cohort was talking all manner of bullsh*t about Gore. (On one or two very tiny occasions, he even tinily said so.) But in the mainstream press corps, liberals don’t discuss the mainstream press. That’s the price of getting those (very good) jobs. It’s also the price of holding them.

We have been telling you this for years. Year after year after year.

This brings us around to the recent hiring of Ezra Klein, a smart young liberal who just may know how to keep his big trap shut. (Froomkin doesn’t do that.)

A few years ago, Ezra broke all the rules! Behaving much like Froomkin himself, he actually wrote something highly important—and perfectly accurate—about the mainstream press corps.

By now, what Ezra wrote that day has become a part of history. But when he wrote it, it was still extremely relevant to an upcoming White House campaign. And omigod! He even wrote it right at the start of an American Prospect cover story! (To read Ezra’s piece, just click this.)

In his cover story, Ezra was trying to figure out if Gore might run for the White House again, in 2008. As he started, he described a recent speech by Gore. We told you then what we tell you today. By the rules of the Washington mainstream press, this simply cannot be done (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/21/06):

KLEIN (4/06): The address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.

Good God. He’d broken the largest rule in the book! Right at the start of a Prospect cover story, he accurately described what the “media establishment” did in Campaign 2000! He even named three famous news orgs! We don’t know why he picked the three he did; NBC News, and the Washington Post, had been much more culpable. But name three orgs he did.

Every establishment journalist knows it: This simply isn’t allowed. You’re not allowed to tell the truth about what the coven has done.

Ezra was just a kid in those days; he may not have understood. At any rate, we yodeled and yelled about what he had done, praising him for his bad etiquette. And you may recall what happened next. Ezra went on C-Span’s Washington Journal to discuss his cover story. And sure enough! He didn’t say a freaking word about the way his story began.

Ezra’s statement was perfectly accurate. It was also highly relevant to any possible run by Gore. (At the time, we said Gore almost surely wouldn’t run, precisely because of what Erza described.) But Ezra’s statement was also highly relevant to a run by Hillary Clinton. If she had become the Dem nominee, she would quite likely have faced the same treatment Gore got in Campaign 2000.

Voters deserved to be told about that. But so what? On C-Span, Ezra didn’t repeat what he’d said—and he never discussed it again.

Go ahead: Reread what he wrote. In a rational world, is that remarkable statement the sort of thing a person says just once?

In our novel, here’s what had happened: Someone took this bright kid aside and told him he was crazy. You can’t write things like that, they said, if you want to advance in this press corps!

That what happens in our novel. It may not have happened in real life. But why is Ezra at the Post? This is what it says in our novel: Ever since making that rookie mistake, he’s kept his big trap shut.

Liberals get to write about policy. They aren’t allowed to tell the truth about the “mainstream” press corps’ conduct. Dionne and Robinson know that rule. They know they must never disrespect it.

Froomkin never played by that rule. Today, he’s on the street.

In our novel, that’s why Froomkin is gone. Unlike the good professor from Neptune, we won’t huff and puff and thunder and roar and assert that we actually know that.

But if you think it doesn’t work that way, you may be from a far planet too. Reread the remarkable thing Ezra wrote. What he wrote was blatantly accurate. Why does no one say it?