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Daily Howler: They won't discuss health care, Edwards said. Once again, Toner proves it
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TONER TAKES A PASS! They won’t discuss health care, Edwards said. Once again, Toner proves it: // link // print // previous // next //

LETTING RUDY BE RUDY: Does it even matter what candidates say? According to the Post, Sunday’s GOP debate began with the day’s “sharpest exchange;” the dispute concerned an automated telephone call the Brownback campaign is running in Iowa. During this “sharpest exchange,” Brownback and Romney seemed to contradict one another, quite directly. But readers, which of the hopefuls was telling the truth? Here’s how Michael Shear reports this exchange in this morning’s Post:
SHEAR (8/6/07): The sharpest exchange was sparked by the first question of the morning, when Stephanopoulos played for viewers a recording of an automated phone call by Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) attacking Romney's antiabortion credentials. The call said, in part, that Romney's wife had contributed to Planned Parenthood.

Asked whether he stands by the call, Brownback said, "I certainly do. There's one word that describes [the call] and it's 'truthful.' " A clearly agitated Romney said that "virtually nothing in that ad is true" and added, "The single word I'd use would be 'desperate' or perhaps 'negative.' "

Later, Romney attempted to explain his recent conversion from supporting abortion rights to being antiabortion as sincere, and angrily said that "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have."
That was Shear’s full account of this “sharpest exchange.” In Shear’s account, Brownback says that his campaign’s phone call is “truthful;” Romney says "virtually nothing in [it] is true!" But Shear makes no attempt to help readers know who might have been telling the truth. The Brownback phone call makes three different charges; Shear only mentions one (the most trivial), and doesn’t explain if it’s true or false. Readers can’t even begin to evaluate the facts of this “sharpest exchange.”

Simply put, Shear—and the Post—don’t seem to care if these candidates’ statements were true or false. But then, big news orgs rarely seem to care about the things candidates say. In a rare exception, Adam Nagourney does some modest “fact-checking” in today’s Times. He seems to question Giuliani’s claim that, when he was mayor, he raised extra revenue by cutting taxes:
NAGOURNEY (8/6/07): In response to questions, the candidates said they would not support raising the gasoline tax to finance spending on the nation's roads and bridges in response to the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis last week...

Mr. Giuliani said that as mayor of New York, he had increased revenues to pay for bridge and road repair by cutting taxes, thereby jolting the economy, and that he would do the same thing as president. The city's treasury in that period was flush largely with revenues produced by the stock-market boom of the late 1990s.
Nagourney seems to imply that the actual source of the added revenue was unrelated to the mayor’s tax cuts. But during this debate, a number of candidates went on at some length about the wonders of raising revenue by cutting taxes. As we’ve long noted, modern news orgs routinely wink at this iconic talk-show fantasy, letting the public be badly misled in the process. Will any news orgs “fact-check” this part of Sunday’s debate? Yes, they will—on the same day that the cow jumps over the moon.

Then too, there was “socialized medicine.” Candidates blathered on about the horrors of European-style health coverage. As usual, Giuliani bull-roared the most. (“I know the Democrats get upset when you say this, but they are taking us toward socialized medicine. If we want to have the kinds of results they have in England or France or Canada or Cuba, then we should go in that direction. But that would be a terrible thing to do.”) Will any news orgs present the simple, elementary facts about the actual “kind of results” produced by these low-cost, single-payer systems? The cow will have to jump the moon—and Neptune too—before you see such a thing happen. (More on this topic below.)

In short, it doesn’t matter what candidates say! In our current arrangements, GOP candidates are allowed to say the darnedest things—and big news orgs just sleep-walk and stare. Yesterday, viewers were told that cutting taxes yields extra revenue—and they were told that the world’s top-ranked health care systems get horrific results. But so what? Our biggest news orgs will sleep-walk and stare, as they have done for so many years now. Your big news orgs will let Rudy be Rudy. After all, he’s America’s mayor.

Does it matter what candidates say? In our sleep-walking press corps, the answer is obvious. They simply don’t care what’s true and what’s false. Hopefuls can say the darnedest things; the “journalists” don’t seem to care.

Special report: Edwards speaks!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: In Iowa, Edwards spoke—and he seemed to define the work of the press. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Off in Iowa, Edwards spoke. This morning, the punishment starts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/1/07.

PART 2: On the day that Edwards spoke, Collins typed tangerine trivia. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/2/07.

PART 3: Collins “deferred” on Rudy’s health plan—so she could beat up his wife. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/3/07.
In Part 4, we review the Times’ latest health care report—and we see the Times taking a pass.

PART 4—TONER TAKES A PASS: Did Edwards say they love to talk trivia? This weekend, we think he was wrong about lobbyists. But he certainly got that one right!

Item: Good grief! Gail Collins does it again! In Saturday’s column, she threatened to talk about Romney’s proposals—then talked about his dog instead! Her tribute to our ADD-style press corps: “Most politicians acquire weird little bits of biography that you just cannot shake out of your mind.”

Item: On Sunday, the Post goes front-page about Fred Thompson’s wife! At the Post, the following counts as a news flash: “[I]n 2005, the Internal Revenue Service won a $270,000 judgment against him.” “Him” is Chip Alvey, Jeri Thompson’s former boy friend! Alvey tells the Post that he hasn’t spoken to Thompson “in four or five years.”

Item: On Sunday, the Times goes front-page about Wife of Rudy! “Drawing Fire, Judith Giuliani Gives Her Side,” says the headline. In part, this may be a response to Collins’ previous inane column—the one before her new column about Romney’s dog, and after her disingenuous, Edwards-bashing column about those tangerines.

Item: On Sunday, the Post “Outlook” section continues its slide into Twilight Zone status, printing bizarre articles about 1) Scientology and 2) “the world of black talk radio”—and printing the latest otherwise pointless attempt to help us understand the fact that Fred Thompson = Ronald Reagan. On its front page, it prints this piece about how great it would be have Michael Bloomberg as president. This follows earlier front-page pieces about how great it would be to have Thompson as president—and about how great it would have been to have Jeb Bush in the White House.

You could possibly tolerate all this nonsense if these newspapers did some substantial reporting. But:

Item: In Sunday’s Times, Robin Toner takes another stab at the growing health care debate. (Last month, Toner penned a bizarre report, claiming that Republican candidates are stressing this issue as much as Democrats are.) As always, the Times directs light jibes at Michael Moore, even in the new report’s headline. As always, Toner quotes Giuliani and Romney mocking “socialist health care”—without letting her readers know the world’s most obvious facts:
TONER (8/5/07): On the presidential campaign trail, similar ideological lines are being drawn. Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, announced a plan last week to use tax breaks to encourage Americans to buy private health insurance. The major Democratic alternatives—proposed by Mr. Obama, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York—amounted to a ''trap,'' he asserted, a slide toward a socialist health care system.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, has also been warning about the dangers of a Western European-style system. ''The right answer for health care isn't government, and the new secretary of health and human services should not be Michael Moore,'' he argued, referring to the filmmaker and his documentary ''Sicko.''
Absent-mindedly, Toner forget to tell her readers the things that very few of those readers know: That 1) those “European-style systems” are much higher rated than their American counterpart. And 2) they deliver that higher level of care for roughly half the cost. Better health care at half the cost! To state the obvious, these facts are simply remarkable—and nobody knows them! In Sunday’s report, Toner absent-mindedly forget to cite them again.

Once again, Toner forget to give her readers the world’s most obvious facts. As we read her piece, we thought, once again, of what Edwards had said when he spoke:
EDWARDS (7/26/07): This stuff's not an accident. Nobody in this room should think this is an accident. You know, I'm out there speaking up for universal healthcare, ending this war in Iraq, speaking up for the poor. They want to shut me up. They want—that's what this is about.

Let's distract from people who don't have health care coverage. Let's distract from people who can't feed their children. Let’s distract from people who can’t pay for their medicine. Let's talk about this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff so that America won't pay attention...

EDWARDS: If we don't stand up to these people, if we don't fight them, if we don't beat them, they're going to continue to control this country. They're going to control the media. They're going to control what's being said. They do not want to hear us talking about health care for everybody.
Was Edwards thinking of the Post and the Times when he spoke? We don’t have the slightest idea. But over the weekend, the nonsense continued. They fed us more of their “silly, frivolous, nothing stuff”—and kept refusing to provide basic facts about health care.

But then, increasingly, the rules are clear: No one (but Krugman) is allowed to mention the things that matter. Last month, it was Krugman who responded to Sicko in the obvious manner—by giving readers access to the world’s most obvious facts about health. Few Times readers know such facts—because no one but Krugman reports them:
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): [E]very available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.
Omigod! The World Health Organization ranks the British health system 18 in the world—and the US system is ranked 37! And the Brits get those better results at about 40 percent of the cost!

Almost no one knows these facts—because people like Toner refuse to report them. It’s just as Edwards said when he spoke. Tomorrow, we’ll review what Krugman said when he spoke, back in 2005.

TOMORROW—PART 5: Krugman speaks.