During an online Q&A today, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon gave a pretty good demonstration of how the media does a lousy job of holding politicians accountable.
Bacon was first asked why, after "The Republicans, media talking heads, and some conservative Democrats, have focused intensely on the cost of health care (to taxpayers and to the deficit)" CBO estimates that show a public health insurance option would "save the country money" have been all but ignored. The questioner also asked whether the dynamic in which politicians who oppose a public option claim to be concerned about costs shows that they're really just "bought and paid for by the insurance industry."
In response, Bacon essentially denied the politicians in question have talked about costs. Here's his whole answer:
Perry Bacon Jr.: I think people have reported on the public option saving money. I think conservative Democrats and Republicans have said they don't want such as an intervention of the government into the health care system, an argument more about philosophy than about cost saving.
Now, anybody who has paid the slightest bit of attention has heard countless "conservative Democrats and Republicans" invoking costs and deficits as reasons for being skeptical about a public health insurance option. In early July, for example, members of the self-described "fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition" sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer a letter about health care reform. Their very first demand? That reform contain "deficit neutrality."
Here's another example: "Lincoln: Public Option Too Expensive" -- that's the headline on an article about conservative Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln. The article quotes Lincoln declaring: "I would not support a solely government-funded public option. We can't afford that."
That's pretty explicit. And, with no real effort at all, you could easily find many more examples of conservative Democrats and Republicans -- not to mention media figures -- saying similar things.
But Perry Bacon pretends that never happened; that those politicians opposed a public option because of "philosophy" rather than making arguments about "cost saving." In doing so, he lets them off the hook for making giving factually incorrect reasons for opposing a public plan.
This is not exactly an arcane concept. It's been obvious for months. Paul Krugman spelled it out in July, and even then it was already understood by many who had been paying attention. Here's Krugman in July:
So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs?
Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. ... even as they complain about the plan's cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.
There has been a lot of publicity about Blue Dog opposition to the public option, and rightly so: a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.
Anyway, another reader called Bacon on this:
What's that "philosophy," Perry: They're fiscal conservatives only until it's a -government- plan that saves the most of their constituents' tax money over the long haul? They want things to be revenue neutral, until it means their insurance-industry backers have to make changes and act competitively in a free market with a private option? What kind of twisted "philosophy" is that?
Perry Bacon Jr.: Not sure what to say about to you public option advocates, who have frustated with the Blue Dogs and other Dem opponents of the public option for months. I feel like these arguments have been aired for months, and the conservative Democrats simply feel they can't back the public option for political reasons.
Again, Bacon refuses to acknowledge the obvious: that one of the primary reasons given for opposing a public option is simply false -- and he appears exasperated with readers who ask him about that obvious truth. Note, however, that he shifts his explanation for the conservatives' opposition to a public option -- it's no longer about "philosophy"; now it's "for political reasons."
That, too, lets them off the hook. Polling has shown that a public option is popular in the home states of people like Sen. Lincoln. So what are the "political reasons"? Maybe it has something to do with the campaign contributions from the insurance industry Bacon was asked about, and ignored?
Instead of doing his job -- holding politicians accountable for their statements and assessing whether those statements square with reality -- Bacon just keeps ignoring the obvious and inventing excuses for them.