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NAMING SHELBY! Who has disinformed us rubes? As usual, Kristof won’t tell: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2009

Are these the sons of Acorn: Yesterday morning, we gave the analyst permission to chuckle. They were reading Robert Pear’s soft-soap account, in the New York Times, of the GOP’s newly-released health care proposal. In paragraph 5, they hit the presentation we have highlighted. We let them take a few moments:

PEAR (11/4/09): The Republican bill differs from the Democratic measure in that it would not require people to obtain insurance or require employers to offer it. It is almost surely cheaper than the House Democrats' bill because, unlike that proposal, it would not expand Medicaid or offer federal subsidies to low- and middle-income people to help them buy insurance. Nor would the Republican bill impose new taxes.

The House Republican bill would not explicitly prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people because of pre-existing medical conditions, even though many Republicans have said they agree with Democrats that the federal government should outlaw such denials.

After chuckling, the analysts worried. Could the bill for all that soft soap possibly bankrupt the Times?

Too funny! Would this GOP bill prohibit insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions? It wouldn’t explicitly do so, Pear wrote—making the analysts wonder how else a bill can “prohibit” something. Meanwhile, Pear threw in a second dollop of soap: Many Republicans want to do that, he helpfully said—even as he seemed to fudge the fact that their bill wouldn’t do so.

What in the world does Pear’s statement mean? We don’t know, but one day earlier, the Washington Post had been a good deal less nuanced. “Boehner said Monday that the [GOP proposal] would not include language banning insurance companies from denying coverage to consumers with preexisting conditions,” the Post reported. “Explicitly” didn’t come into it.

Was Pear just kissing Republican keister? Playing perhaps by those Acorn Rules? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/4/09.) We have no way of knowing. But the analysts chuckled at Pear last week when he mentioned the number of pages in the House Democratic bill (1,990). Is that a normal type of reporting? Or was Pear just kissing conservative keister? Sorry: Was he eschewing his newspaper’s “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio?”

Another point from yesterday’s Pear report: As he continued, the scribe reported the following. He made no attempt to offer context about this familiar proposal—familiar if you watch Fox:

PEAR: The bill would also make it easier for insurers to sell insurance across state lines. Policies would be subject to laws in a company's home state, but would be exempt from many of the consumer protection laws, rating rules and benefit mandates in other states where the company sold coverage.

In a boxed, three-point summary of the “Republican Vision of Health Care,” this proposal was included in the first and third points. As anyone who watches Fox will know, this has been a constant conservative proposal for health reform. But do you know what the downside to this proposed change would be? Of course you don’t! Despite the ubiquity of this proposal, we have never seen any newspaper explain the pluses and minuses.

Remember: The New York Times has vowed to keep abreast of the “bubbling controversies” which are “dominating Fox News and talk radio.” So far, this seems to mean that the hapless newspaper will present these bubbling controversies from the conservative point of view. As we saw in Tuesday’s front-page report about Gore, the Times will make these bubbles sound grand. When the Times treats these controversies, you won’t be told about the bull-roar which often lies at their base.

The Republican bill would make it easier to sell insurance across state lines? Pear’s editors stressed this familiar proposal in their three-point boxed presentation. But do you know what’s wrong with that proposal? That proposal sounds like a sweet idea—but it does have a clear downside.

Do you know what that downside is? We’ve never seen anyone explain it! You hear this proposal on Fox all the time. Yesterday’s New York Times stressed this proposal, while leaving it bubbly and new.

NAMING SHELBY: Nicholas Kristof writes a fairly good column today. Then again, he writes a bad column.

On the plus side, Kristof’s column rattles facts about our nation’s unimpressive health outcomes. What follows has all been said before. But there’s nothing wrong with (snore) saying it all again:

KRISTOF (11/5/09): The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures. We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.

Canadians live longer than Americans do after kidney transplants and after dialysis, and that may be typical of cross-border differences. One review examined 10 studies of how the American and Canadian systems dealt with various medical issues. The United States did better in two, Canada did better in five and in three they were similar or it was difficult to determine.

Etc., and so forth and so on. Kristof even addresses the claim that the U.S. gets worse health outcomes because of “unhealthy lifestyles and a diverse population with pockets of poverty.” Not so, the columnist claims, citing a McKinsey study which found that “over all, the disease burden in Europe is higher than in the United States, probably because Americans smoke less and because the American population is younger.”

This is all well and good. But then too, there’s the familiar, unfortunate way Kristof started this column.

Kristof starts his column by describing something he calls a “distortion.” This distortion may, in fact, be “the single greatest myth in the health care debate,” he says. We agree with Kristof about this distortion. But that’s where our affirmation ends.

This is how Kristof’s column starts. The italics are drawn from his column:

KRISTOF: The moment of truth for health care is at hand, and the distortion that perhaps gets the most traction is this:

We have the greatest health care system in the world. Sure, it has flaws, but it saves lives in ways that other countries can only dream of. Abroad, people sit on waiting lists for months, so why should we squander billions of dollars to mess with a system that is the envy of the world? As Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama puts it, President Obama's plans amount to ''the first step in destroying the best health care system the world has ever known.''

That self-aggrandizing delusion may be the single greatest myth in the health care debate. In fact, America's health care system is worse than Slov—er, oops, more on that later.

That’s the way this column starts. As he so often does, Kristof takes the easy way out.

In our view, that italicized paragraph does represent a gigantic public distortion. Voters hear versions of that claim all the time—of the claim that we enjoy the greatest-in-the-world health system. It’s clear that many voters believe this claim. It’s hardly surprising that voters believe this claim, given the frequency with which they hear it.

When voters believe this inaccurate claim, it gets harder to achieve health reform. We’d be inclined to call this claim a large “deception,” not simply a large distortion.

That italicized paragraph represents a vast, destructive deception. But who has been peddling this “myth” to the public? Who has been deceiving the voters? At this point, Kristof runs and hides.

Richard Shelby has done this bad thing, the cowardly columnist declares.

In fairness, Kristof quotes Shelby with perfect accuracy. Shelby did make that silly quoted statement; he did so five long months ago, on June 7. But in making that statement, Shelby simply joined the ranks of a legion of deceivers.

The time has come—has long since passed—to tell the public who these deceivers are. But Kristof ducks that challenge today. Shelby said it! the columnist says. And that represents his only attempt to name the evil-doers.

We know, we know: Kristof never says that Shelby is solely responsible for this “myth”—for peddling the “distortion that perhaps gets the most traction.” But if the public is being grossly disinformed, shouldn’t someone tell the public who is disinforming them? In today’s column, Kristof takes the classic way out, High Manhattan style: He names the deepest-south figure he can find, then drops the question of blame altogether.

Life is easier in the fast lane when you duck and dodge in this manner. You get fewer nasty e-mails. You get name-called less often. The conservative world doesn’t make you a target.

You continue apace as a Serious Person. But you’re treating the public like rubes.

Who has been disinforming the public? Sorry, it isn’t just Shelby. In fact, the whole Republican establishment has between doing this, for decades now—but Kristof isn’t the type of fellow who makes such shrill statements. (The GOP has done this as its serves the nation’s Big Corporate Interests.) No one did this more in the last campaign than a famous fellow who isn’t from Alabama—a famous New Yorker named Giuliani. Here was Gotham’s Great Dissembler at a GOP debate:

GIULIANI (8/5/07): 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.

As a presidential candidate, Giuliani paraded all about, deriding “the kinds of results they have in France.” But uh-oh! Like others at his famous newspaper, Kristof forgot to react. Today, he names Shelby alone.

In 2009, Giuliani is largely out of the news, of course. But Kristof’s column is the latest example of a type of cowardice that typifies modern mainstream journalism—on the pseudo-liberal end.

Does America have “the best health care system the world has ever known?” Actually, no—we don’t. Yet millions of voters believe that we do, because they have been systematically disinformed, for decades. Health reform is very hard, in part because so many voters have these mistaken beliefs.

Wouldn’t you think someone would want to write a column explaining who has deceived us?

That someone wouldn’t seem to be Kristof, who takes the safe approach to this matter today. He names the deepest-red southern rube he can find, then sails ahead to safer precincts. Surely, Kristof knows that this massive deception has been authored by one of our major parties (with the help of the other party), and by the large corporate groups which fund so much of our upper-end culture.

Kristof knows this—but voters don’t. That’s because people like Kristof keep refusing to tell them.

We’d call this column Classic Kristof. Kristof is very good at several things. He’s good at echoing Expert Opinion. He’s good at posing himself as a moral exemplar. But then, he’s good at a third thing too:

He’s good at keeping himself out of trouble. He’s very good at playing it safe—naming Shelby, then moving right on.