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Daily Howler: When Fox pushed back against Dunn's claims, it pimped absurd distinctions
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BUT IT’S ONLY OPINION! When Fox pushed back against Dunn’s claims, it pimped absurd distinctions: // link // print // previous // next //

What’s (not) the matter with Hawaii: On the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, Gardiner Harris’ presentation was almost refreshing.

How does Hawaii manage to provide such low-cost health care? No one really knows, Harris said.

Here are the facts, as Harris presents them:

Hawaii has a very high cost of living. Despite that fact, Hawaii has the lowest Medicare spending of any state in the union. A typically bewildering New York Times graphic shows Hawaii spending about $5300 per Medicare beneficiary in what may have been the year 2006—as compared to a national average of $8300.

That is a major distinction.

And not only that! “Hawaii’s health insurance premiums are nearly tied with North Dakota for the lowest in the country,” Harris reports. Turned into English, this means that Hawaii has the second lowest insurance premiums among the fifty states—although Harris never says how low Hawaii’s premiums are as compared to the national average.

Good lord! Hawaii would seem to hold the answer to one of the central questions driving the health care pseudo-debate! How can we reduce our nation’s absurdly bloated health care spending? It seems that Hawaii has already accomplished this task—has done so to a substantial degree, to judge from that Medicare figure. But how has Hawaii accomplished this task? Harris is almost refreshing:

HARRIS (10/18/09): Why is Hawaiian care so efficient? No one really knows.

In dozens of interviews, doctors and hospital and insurance executives in Hawaii offered many theories...

By now, you’d almost think that some health care expert would know how Hawaii has managed to do this—would have some major “theory.” No such luck, Harris quickly says.

For ourselves, we thought Harris’ presentation nicely captured the “What, us worry?” aspect of the current pseudo-discussion—a discussion in which we pretend to be concerned by our massive health care costs. No one knows how Hawaii has done this, Harris quickly says. He doesn’t seem to be struck by the hints of idiocracy found in this situation.

What’s not the matter with Hawaii? Refreshingly, Harris seems to take it for granted that no one much knows or much cares.

Special report: Pushing back liberally!

PART 4—BUT IT’S JUST OPINION: Kathleen Parker wrote a Standard Press Corps Column in yesterday’s Washington Post. (David Carr penned a somewhat similar piece in yesterday’s New York Times.) The White House is wrong to go after Fox News, Parker said. Explaining, she voiced a time-honored howler:

PARKER (10/18/09): Americans really aren't stupid, someone should tell the president, though they do enjoy a good sideshow.

Americans really aren’t stupid? Actually, yes, we pretty much are—some of us a bit more so. (So are people all over the world.) You might not want to call us “stupid.” But we humans are incessantly gullible—available for being misled.

Here in America, we Americans have believed every damn fool thing on the face of the earth over the past twenty years. And of course, many of these almost-stupid beliefs have been pushed on the public by Parker’s own “press corps.”

No matter! “The American people are pretty sharp” is one of the press corps’ most-honored bromides. Scribes like Parker assert it incessantly, along with the corollaries which litter Sunday’s column:

  • People listen to Limbaugh and Beck for entertainment—“for their entertaining takes on things.”
  • Not being stupid, Americans are “not necessarily going to buy everything they’re selling.”
  • The White House only boosts Fox’s ratings when they criticize Fox.

Early on, Parker adds an additional ludicrous note, suggesting that mainstream pundits like herself have been all over the Limbaughs and Becks. “The names on the right are by now familiar, thanks in part to columns like this,” she self-approvingly writes. “We in the media can't stop talking about them.”

Alas! Even though we Americans really aren’t stupid, Limbaugh has been deceiving many of us for more than two decades—as when he started the ugly idea, in 1994, than Hillary Clinton was involved in the death (the killing) of Vince Foster. During the bulk of that period, Parker’s gang has run in fear from these “entertaining takes.”

Today, we’re told that the White House is foolish to take up the job from which Parker’s “press corps” has fled.

That said, we’d prefer that the job was being done by someone other than the White House. And we’re not huge fans of Anita Dunn, the White House spokesperson who was sent onto CNN to carry the warfare to Fox. In 1999, Dunn was top TV spokesperson for the Bill Bradley campaign, which was spreading all manner of recycled RNC bullsh*t against its opponent, Al Gore. By the end, the Bradley campaign was even pretending that Gore was the man who introduced Willie Horton to the American people—an astonishing slander which earned Bradley the obscurity into which he has chosen to slide. But during that period, Dunn showed the ability to be deeply aggrieved on even the most ridiculous bases. And sure enough! Last Sunday, when she went forth about Fox, she showed up with some extremely weak claims. They even fact-checked one of our spokespersons, she said—deeply aggrieved once again.

Don’t be surprised when someone like this shows up inanely praising Mao—at a high school graduation, no less!

That said, it’s high time that someone from the Democratic Party began pushing back, out loud, against press corps misconduct. In the other party, Nixon and Agnew helped create this tradition long ago; today, their claims are deeply embedded in the marrow of the American discourse, tilting almost all our discussions. But so what? People like Parker come thundering forth, insisting that this is bad strategy for this White House.

Question: Are Republicans only boosting the New York Times’ circulation when they challenge the New York Times?

On balance, it’s good to see someone from the Democratic Party pushing back, at long last, against press corps misconduct. But alas! Predictably enough, absurd “rebuttals” emerged from Fox—and these rebuttals were often taken seriously within the mainstream press corps. Americans may not be stupid—but their “press corps” frequently is. In hope of promoting future clarity, let’s look at some of the bungled concepts the press corps will often purchase.

On October 12, Brian Stelter presented a New York Times news report in which he described the Fox rebuttals. (We quote from our hard-copy Times. One passage is AWOL on-line.) Groan! At the heart of the Fox push-back was a classic groaner: But it’s only opinion!

STELTER (10/12/09): Fox contends that the administration is confusing its news programs with its opinion programming.


Fox argues that its news hours—9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays—are objective. The channel has taken pains recently to highlight its news programs, including the two hours led by Shepard Smith, its chief news anchor. And its daytime newscasts draw more viewers than CNN or MSNBC's prime-time programs.

“The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” [Fox spokesperson Michael] Clemente said.

Clemente makes an inane distinction. In a newspaper, an editorial—or an opinion column—can spread bogus facts just as much as a news report can. A newspaper’s editorial page should be fact-checked, just as its news pages should. Beyond that, editorials—or opinion columns—can promote a skewed, misleading focus. They can direct our attention to trivial topics, at the expense of topics which matter.

Editorials should be fact-checked/truth-squadded hard. So should Fox opinion programs.

A bit later, Stelter captured another dodge which often comes from Fox, and from others on the right:

STELTER: The White House rejects the news and editorial page comparison, and officials there can rattle off any number of perceived offenses. They date to the month before Mr. Obama formally started his presidential campaign, when one of the network’s morning hosts falsely claimed that he had attended a madrassa, an Islamic school. (The incident happened on what Fox calls an entertainment show, “Fox and Friends”; the mistake was corrected on the air later.)

But it’s only entertainment! Limbaugh constantly offers this dodge when he gets caught in some misstatement. This recalls the recent eye-rolling when CNN fact-checked a comedy sketch performed on Saturday Night Live.

SNL had presented one of its typically under-informed sketches, complaining that Obama has accomplished nothing to this point in his presidency. In the process, SNL said or implied various things which are at odds with basic facts. (Example: Did Obama ever say we’d be out of Iraq at this point? It’s easier to come up with “jokes” if you cheat on your premise.) On Fox, and on other cable networks, major pundits rolled their eyes at the foolishness involved in fact-checking comedy. But guess what, losers? “Comedians” can spread bogus facts, and a skewed focus, just like Glenn Beck can.

Yes, losers! “Comedians” should be truth-squadded too, when their work helps spread false facts. So should editorial writers. So should loud screeching clowns like Beck.

In yesterday’s column, Parker keeps implying that Beck is a fool. But so what? “As Beck’s hyperbole expands,” it seems there is little to worry about! After all, the American people are pretty sharp! And the press corps is all over Beck!

The American people may be pretty sharp—but their “press corps” constantly isn’t. Trust us: As we move forward, you will see many major pundits buying Fox’s dim-witted distinctions. It will fall to liberals and Democrats to explain a few basic facts:

“Opinion” purveyors do need to be fact-checked. So do our “entertainers.”