Mark Levin Hoax Caller's "Death Panel" Lie Sets Off Right-Wing Echo Chamber
Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER
Back in November, a man referring to himself as "Jeff" called right-wing radio host Mark Levin's show claiming to have information about President Obama's health care law. Jeff claimed to be a "brain surgeon" who had just "returned from Washington, D.C.," where he and other neurological doctors had reviewed a document allegedly issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding "Obama's new health care plan for advanced neurosurgical care."
Jeff went on to claim that the document "did not call [patients older than 70] patients, they called them units" and stated that "if you're over 70 and you'd come into an emergency room and you're on government-supported health care that you get comfort care" instead of medically necessary neurological surgery. Jeff further claimed the document mandated "ethics committee[s]," to which Levin replied: "So, Sarah Palin was right. We're going to have these death panels, aren't we?" Jeff responded, "Oh, absolutely," and made a comparison to Nazi Germany.
The interaction was picked up by the usual right-wing media outlets, hungry for new fodder to keep their long-debunked "death panel" myth alive. On November 29, Fox Nation posted audio of thecall on Levin's show under the headline, "Neurosurgeon Dishes on Obamacare 'Death Panels', Administration Calls Patients 'Units.' " From Fox Nation:
The claim also jumped to WorldNetDaily, which published a January 3 article about the call headlined, "Hear Brain Surgeon's 'Death Panel' Warning," claiming that the man "confirmed to Levin that those panels will exist." In an interview with WND, Levin stated, "I have no basis to disparage anything he said."
Of course, as anyone with even cursory familiarity with the right-wing "death panel" myth will be entirely unsurprised to find out, the entire story was false -- from the man's profession to the absurd claims he made about neurological care.
First, "Jeff" is reportedly not a "brain surgeon" at all. In a January 5 post, FactCheck.org reached out to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) and reported:
Alison Dye, a spokeswoman for the groups, told us that they know who the caller is and that he is not a brain surgeon or a neurosurgeon. "One of our neurosurgeons knows who he is, and they had a conversation," she said. AANS/CNS declined to give the full name of "Jeff," the caller, saying that he had asked the groups not to identify him. Dye did say he was in the medical field but was not registered at a recent CNS meeting in Washington, D.C., since he isn't a neurosurgeon and isn't part of the organization.
Second, the document that Jeff claimed to have reviewed does not exist. The AANS recently issued a statement noting that the call "contained several factual inaccuracies" and that it has requested the audio be removed from Levin's website:
The AANS and CNS are unaware of any federal government document directing that advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 years of age will not be indicated and only supportive care treatment will be provided. Furthermore, in conducting our own due diligence, the caller who identified himself as a brain surgeon is not actually a neurosurgeon, nor was there any session at the recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons' scientific meeting in Washington, DC at which a purported government document calling for the rationing of neurosurgical care was discussed.
Neurosurgeons are committed to providing timely, compassionate, and state of the art treatment for all patients -- regardless of age -- who have neurosurgical conditions. As such, we have requested numerous times that this podcast be removed from Mark Levin's website as it portrays inaccurate information which could potentially be harmful to the patients that we serve.
Third, as we all know by now, the persistent "death panel" claim is a lie, no matter how it may change to suit the current needs of the right-wing media's health care attack machine. Sadly, the fact that the right-wing media uncritically promoted such wildly false health care misinformation from an unknown radio show caller is simply par for the course.