Fox News personalities advance Palin's "death panel" claim

››› ››› HANNAH DREIER

In a Facebook posting, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin claimed that under Democratic health care reform, "Obama's 'death panel' " would "decide" whether her parents or her son Trig, who has Down syndrome, were "worthy of health care." Since then, several Fox News anchors, hosts, and contributors have adopted Palin's "death panel" term or advanced or expressed support for her assertion -- which is based on the widely debunked claim that the House health care reform bill would require end-of-life counseling -- while others have termed it "crazy" or "over the top."

Palin's claim based on debunked end-of-life counseling myth

Palin suggested that under Democratic health care reform, "[M]y baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' "

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion. [Sarah Palin Facebook post, 8/7/09]

Palin's spokesperson reportedly said Palin's assertion was a reference to House bill's "Advance Care Planning Consultation" provision. On his blog, ABC's Jake Tapper reported:

Asked specifically what the former governor was referring to when painting a picture of an Obama "death panel" giving her parents or son Trig a thumbs up or down based on their productivity, Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton responded in an email: "From HR3200 p. 425 see 'Advance Care Planning Consultation'." [Political Punch, 8/7/09]

Provision Stapleton pointed to requires Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. Section 1233 of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 -- which includes "p. 425" -- amends the Social Security Act to ensure that advance care planning will be covered if a patient requests it from a qualified care provider [America's Affordable Health Choices Act, Sec. 1233]. According to an analysis of the bill produced by the three relevant House committees, the section "[p]rovides coverage for consultation between enrollees and practitioners to discuss orders for life-sustaining treatment. Instructs CMS to modify 'Medicare & You' handbook to incorporate information on end-of-life planning resources and to incorporate measures on advance care planning into the physician's quality reporting initiative." [waysandmeans.house.gov, accessed 7/29/09]

Numerous media conservatives have advanced myth that provision provides seniors mandatory counseling to end their lives. On July 16, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed that the House health care reform bill would "absolutely require" end-of-life counseling for seniors "that will tell them how to end their life sooner." Since then, numerous media figures -- including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh -- have echoed McCaughey's claim -- even after the falsehood was debunked and McCaughey herself backtracked.

Fox News personalities have advanced Palin's "death panel" claim

Gingrich on Palin's assertion: "[P]eople are very concerned" because "you're asking us to trust the government." Interviewing former House Speaker and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich on ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos cited Palin's Facebook comment as an example of "opponents ... spreading the idea that the president's plan will encourage euthanasia," even though "[t]he only thing in the bill is that it would allow Medicare to pay for what they say is voluntary counseling on end-of-life issues." Gingrich responded, in part: "I think people are very concerned when you start talking about cost controls, that a bureaucracy -- we don't -- you're asking us to trust the government. Now, I'm not talking about the Obama administration. I'm talking about the government. You're asking us to decide that we believe that the government is to be trusted. We know people who have said routinely, well, you're going to have to make decisions. You're going to have to decide. Communal standards, historically, is a very dangerous concept." Gingrich later added, "[T]he bill's 1,000 pages of setting up mechanisms. It sets up 45 different agencies. It has all sorts of panels. You're asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in -- in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards." [ABC's This Week, 8/09/09]

Malkin: "What death panels? Oh, yeah, those death panels." Conservative columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin wrote on her website: "Sarah Palin's warning about the effects of Obamacare on the elderly and infirm have been met with derision and ridicule. William Jacobson has a good round-up. Meanwhile, the effects of socialized medicine in Britain -- engineered by government-run cost-cutting panels on which Obamacare would be modeled -- continue to wreak havoc on the elderly and infirm." Malkin concluded, "Death panels? What death panels? Oh, yeah, those death panels." [MichelleMalkin.com, 8/9/09]

Kilmeade adopts Palin's "death panel" terminology to advance end-of-life care myth. On Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "[E]veryone's talking about seniors, and they're talking about the middle class and affordable health care. If the upper class is paying for the next two classes, and are seniors going to be in front of the death panel? And then just as you think, OK, that's ridiculous, then you realize there's provisions in there that seniors in the last lap of their life will be sitting there going to a panel possibly discussing what the best thing for them is." [Fox & Friends, 8/10/09]

Beck on Palin's "death panel" claim: "I believe it to be true." On his radio show, Fox host Glenn Beck stated, "So, why is there no more discussion than there is on Sarah Palin and what she said over the weekend that there would be ... [a] death panel for her son Trig. That's quite a statement. I believe it to be true, but that's quite a statement." [The Glenn Beck Program, 8/10/09]

Napolitano called Palin's claim "a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill." On his Fox News Radio show, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said:

NAPOLITANO: I mean, at first, I thought that Governor Palin was a little over the top over the weekend when she put on her Facebook the potential for panels of health care professionals from the government to talk to you about suicide and euthanasia. But if you read segments of this bill, the language is so loose, it allows the Department of Health and Human Services to set up panels of experts to advise doctors and patients on various things.

Think about it. If it's federal money, the federal government can say, we're not gonna give Grandma a new knee, or Grandma a new kidney. We're just gonna give her painkillers. We're gonna save that money for that knee or that kidney for somebody who's 25 instead of somebody who's 85. That is power that Americans have never conferred on the government. That was Governor Palin's concern, and that is a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill, which most members of Congress have not done. [Brian & The Judge, 8/10/09]

Other conservatives have dismissed Palin's claim

David Brooks: "That's crazy." On NBC's Meet the Press, host David Gregory said to conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, "There is the rhetoric; there's also the question of what's true and what's false in what people are arguing about this notion of a death panel." Brooks responded, "Again, that's crazy. If the -- the crazies are attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that -- that's simply not true. That simply is not going to happen." [Meet the Press, 8/9/09]

Larry Elder: Palin's "death panel" comment is "over the top," "irresponsible," "incendiary." Libertarian radio host Larry Elder said of Palin's comment, "I don't know what she was referring to; I suspect she was referring to one proposal that had a voluntary panel that would look at certain kinds of health care decisions. But to call it a death panel, I agree with Ron [Reagan], is over the top." Asked whether "saying things like that takes away from the debate," Elder replied: "I think any kind of irresponsible comment takes away from the real issue here, and that is whether or not you can provide universal coverage, high quality, at low cost. Any kind of incendiary comment takes away from that debate." [CNN's American Morning, 8/10/09]

From the August 10 edition of CNN's American Morning:

KIRAN CHETRY (co-host): This is what Sarah Palin said -- or wrote -- "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's," quote, "death panel." She also called it "evil." What is your reaction to what she said on Facebook?

RON REAGAN (radio host): You know, Sarah Palin only needs a red rubber nose and some exploding shoes, and she could go to work for Barnum and Bailey. The fact that we give this clown any time at all is shocking and silly and a little bit stupid. So, you know, I find that offensive, frankly, and Larry, it's a perfect example of the sort of dishonesty that's being peddled out there in this debate.

CHETRY: Larry, were you -- what did you think of Sarah Palin's comments?

ELDER: Well, I think, certainly, it is unfair to call her a clown and stupid.

REAGAN: Oh, I don't think so.

ELDER: There are about four or five competing programs -- competing programs in the Congress, and we don't know what's going to come out. So I don't know what she was referring to; I suspect she was referring to one proposal that had a voluntary panel that would look at certain kinds of health care decisions. But to call it a death panel, I agree with Ron, is over the top -- especially since we don't know what's going to come out of Congress, what's going to come out of the House, what's going to come out of the Senate, and then they have to reconcile the two bills when they do come out.

CHETRY: But I'm just saying, Larry, as a conservative --

ELDER: So we're a long way to finding out what the details are.

CHETRY: As a conservative commentator, do you think that saying things like that takes away from the debate -- just feeds into the argument on the other side that, at times, perhaps, people are greatly exaggerating what may or may not happen?

ELDER: I think any kind of irresponsible comment takes away from the real issue here, and that is whether or not you can provide universal coverage, high quality, at low cost. Any kind of incendiary comment takes away from that debate, just as throwing pies at people like Ann Coulter and my good friend David Horowitz and William Kristol takes away from their debate.

From the August 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Every single member of Congress should be held to some sort of a level up here, and they should all be asked whether or not they have read this bill. If, in fact, this op-ed is true and it's the most important domestic debate out there.

KILMEADE: It's 17 percent of the economy, $2.4 trillion in costs are out there, and basically everyone's talking about seniors, and they're talking about the middle class and affordable health care. If the upper class is paying for the next two classes, and are seniors going to be in front of the death panel? And then just as you think, OK, that's ridiculous, then you realize there's provisions in there that seniors in the last lap of their life will be sitting there going to a panel --

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Sure.

KILMEADE: -- possibly discussing what the best thing for them is.

From the August 10 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge:

NAPOLITANO: I mean, at first, I thought that Governor Palin was a little over the top over the weekend when she put on her Facebook the potential for panels of health care professionals from the government to talk to you about suicide and euthanasia. But if you read segments of this bill, the language is so loose, it allows the Department of Health and Human Services to set up panels of experts to advise doctors and patients on various things.

Think about it. If it's federal money, the federal government can say, we're not gonna give Grandma a new knee, or Grandma a new kidney. We're just gonna give her painkillers. We're gonna save that money for that knee or that kidney for somebody who's 25 instead of somebody who's 85. That is power that Americans have never conferred on the government. That was Governor Palin's concern, and that is a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill, which most members of Congress have not done.

From the August 10 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:

BECK: So, why is there no more discussion than there is on Sarah Palin and what she said over the weekend that there would be death -- what did she call it? -- a death squad? Or a death --

STEVE "STU" BURGUIERE (executive producer): Death panel.

BECK: A death panel for her son Trig. That's quite a statement. I believe it to be true, but that's quite a statement. She also called health care this -- Obama health care -- "evil." Did she not? Am I misquoting her, Pat?

PAT GRAY (radio host): Let's see. I think she -- yes, she did.

BECK: OK.

BURGUIERE: She did.

PAT GREY: Former -- yeah, called health plan "downright evil."

BECK: Downright evil.

PAT: Hm-mm.

BECK: That's quite a statement. But, again, I believe -- I believe she at least should be listened to and you should question, "Is it evil?" Would there be -- what would make her say that there would be a death panel?

I mean, tomorrow on Fox at 5 o'clock, make sure you're joining us, because we'll ask some of those same questions. We will show you some of the reasons why you could read it this way. It'll be up to you whether or not you find it credible enough to say, "Well, now, wait a minute. Those are really bad seeds that have been planted before. Maybe we shouldn't plant those seeds." But it's up to you to decide.

From the August 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other claims being made about the bill, and it's related to cost control, is -- and opponents are spreading the idea that the president's plan will encourage euthanasia.

Most recently, Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page yesterday -- I think it was Friday night, actually -- said, "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Now, as you know, Mr. Speaker, the president called that outlandish. He said --

GINGRICH: But why -- why didn't you put up what Dr. Zeke Emanuel said? Because Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who's the chief adviser to the president and brother of the chief of staff, said, in writing --

STEPHANOPOULOS: He's not the chief health care adviser. He's written three articles between 1996 --

GINGRICH: OK.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- and 2008 that include some of those phrases --

GINGRICH: Include communal standards.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those phrases appear nowhere in the bill.

GINGRICH: But you --

STEPHANOPOULOS: The only thing -- but let me just explain what's in the bill and then get you to respond to that.

GINGRICH: All right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The only thing in the bill is that it would allow Medicare to pay for what they say is voluntary counseling on end-of-life issues.

GINGRICH: I think people are very concerned when you start talking about cost controls, that a bureaucracy -- we don't -- you're asking us to trust the government. Now, I'm not talking about the Obama administration. I'm talking about the government. You're asking us to decide that we believe that the government is to be trusted.

We know people who have said routinely, well, you're going to have to make decisions. You're going to have to decide. Communal standards, historically, is a very dangerous concept.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not in the bill.

GINGRICH: But the bill's -- the bill's 1,000 pages of setting up mechanisms. It sets up 45 different agencies. It has all sorts of panels. You're asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in -- in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.

From the August 9 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

GREGORY: David, Sarah -- Sarah Palin on Facebook, to the point of the opposition, this is what she writes: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide ... whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

There is the rhetoric; there's also the question of what's true and what's false in what people are arguing about this notion of a death panel.

BROOKS: Yeah. Again, that's crazy. If the -- the crazies are attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that -- that's simply not true. That simply is not going to happen. The real reason for public skepticism is that Obama very eloquently and very truthfully said, "We've got to bring down health care costs." Everybody's health care costs are rising. It's eaten into your wages, it's eaten into the budget, it's eaten into everything. And the problem with the House plan is that instead of bending the cost curve down, it would increase the cost curve so inflation would be 8 percent a year when it's all implemented, and that's just a disaster.

So what the Obama administration has got to do, and I agree with Jon [Meacham] about this, is make this Obama-like; which is to say, "We're going to produce a plan." And from what I hear, by the end of this month, they will have a plan. And they are going to say, "This is what we stand for." And you can't sell anything without a plan. But it's got to be a plan that actually cuts costs so you can have a rational discussion instead of the scare stories about cutting off Grandma.

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