Howard Kurtz's low standards

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

During a March 28 online Q&A, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz again defended the media's coverage of the health care debate:

Q: ... I have read news articles quoting a politico and know immediately that what they're reporting is untrue. Ex. death panels by govern. beaurocrats to determine who can live or die , then move on to another topic as if that were a fact. ...

A: Politicians get to say what they want, and then the media have a heavy responsibility to hold them accountable by providing the facts. Death panels is a particularly bad example for your argument, since as I noted last summer, lots of mainstream news organizations said flatly that this was pure fiction. Here's what Ceci Connolly wrote in The Post last Aug. 9: "There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills." [Emphasis added]

In fact, "Death panels" is a particularly strong example of the questioner's point. Kurtz keeps saying the media did a good job of debunking the lie that the health care bill contained "death panels" -- and he keeps being wrong.

Kurtz doesn't seem to understand that debunking a lie occasionally isn't good enough; you have to make clear that it is a lie every time you mention it. And the media, including the Washington Post, have not come close to doing that. So it's true that on August 9, 2009, a Washington Post article by Ceci Connolly "said flatly" that death panels were "pure fiction" -- but it's also true that many, many other Post articles (some of them written or co-written by Connolly, by the way) have failed to do so.

A review of Washington Post articles in the Nexis database finds that the Post ran articles on the following dates that mentioned "death panels" without flatly stating that they didn't exist:

August 14, 2009

August 16, 2009

August 18, 2009

August 19, 2009

August 20, 2009

August 26, 2009

September 9, 2009

September 10, 2009

September 16, 2009

September 29, 2009

October 22, 2009

October 24, 2009

November 3, 2009

November 19, 2009

January 7, 2009

February 28, 2009

On some of those dates, multiple articles mentioned death panels without making their falsity clear. Some of the articles in question treated the issue as a he-said/she-said, while others failed to do even that much to suggest the falsity of the allegations. Take, for example, this passage from a February 28, 2010 article: "Death panels became part of the debate last summer, after prominent Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, claimed the government would set them up to decide who could live or die." There is no indication in the article that the "death panel" claims were false. None.

And those are the Post's news articles. Over on the Op-Ed pages, the Post ran things like Danielle Allen's absurd defense of death panel fear-mongering.

Oh, and that August 9 Ceci Connolly article Kurtz thinks did such a good job of debunking the lie? It didn't, as I explained the first time Kurtz praised it.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
The Washington Post
Howard Kurtz
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.