Conservative media's culture of "death" poisons health care debate

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

Radio host Laura Ingraham, guest-hosting Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, and conservative columnist Andrea Tantaros asserted that the Democrats are "playing the death card," using Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's death to promote health care reform in his name. Ingraham and Tantaros' comments are the latest in a long line of attempts by conservatives to attack Democrats and progressives by attaching the word "death" to progressive initiatives, most recently in the debate over health care reform.

"Death Card"

Ingraham: "[T]he Democrats are playing the death card again." During the August 27 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Ingraham stated, "Remember when the funeral service for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was under way and it turned into a raucous Democratic campaign rally for Walter Mondale? It was embarrassing and exploitative, and we know how that one turned out." She continued: "Now the Democrats are playing the death card again, wrapping their wildly unpopular health care bill in the sentimental gauze of Ted Kennedy's memory."

Tantaros: "[L]ast week, they played the God card. Now ... they're playing the death card." Later in the program, following Ingraham's statement that "what's happening with the Democratic Party and the attempt to use his death to ram this bill through, I think is frankly disgusting," Tantaros said: "Well, that's absolutely right. I mean, last week, they played the God card. Now, as you said in your memo, they're playing the death card. And I think it is pretty pitiful when you have to invoke the memory of a deceased senator to get your bill through."

"Death Panel"

Palin introduced false "death panel" smear. In an August 7 Facebook post, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin claimed that under Democratic health care reform, "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."

Conservative media ran with "death panels." Numerous conservative media figures either adopted or promoted 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.

Conservative media retreated to "de facto death panels." After the "death panel" attack had been debunked in the media more than 40 times, conservatives turned to claiming that the health care reform plans include "de facto death panels." For instance, in his August 17 New York Post column, Fox News contributor Dick Morris wrote: "The whole 'reform' scheme is one giant death panel in its own right."

"Death Book"

Towey: VHA manual pushing a "hurry-up-and-die message." Following false accusations that the Democrats' health care reform legislation would institute "death panels," former Bush administration official James Towey claimed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Obama administration has revived a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) booklet on advanced planning directives that will "steer vulnerable individuals to conclude for themselves that life is not worth living," calling the booklet a "death book."

Conservative media ran with "death book." As with the death panel smear, conservative media have promoted Towey's false "death book" claim, ignoring facts that undermine his rhetoric. For instance, The Washington Times asserted that "the Death Book is instructive as a reflection on Obamacare priorities and perspectives and what the administration might view as a 'waste.' " [The Washington Times, 8/26/09]

"Death Care"

Conservatives use "Death care" term for voluntary end-of-life counseling provision. In an August 7 Facebook post promoting Palin's "death panel" attack, radio host Tammy Bruce asserted: "Palin Comes Through, Slams DeathCare."

Other conservative media figures have referred to Dems' health care plans as "death care." After a caller referred to the end-of-life counseling sessions as "death care," Rush Limbaugh stated: "I will be damned if it's going to become federally mandated law that the government tells every doctor -- not doctor, hires a bunch of counselors that has these death-care -- as you call it -- death-care discussions, end-of-life discussions." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 7/30/09] Other conservative media figures have also advanced the "death care" term.

"Death Tax"

Luntz found "death tax" polls better than "estate tax" for conservatives. As Media Matters for America has noted, many conservatives refer to the estate tax as the "death tax," a name that, as Republican consultant Frank Luntz found, polls better for conservatives.

Several media figures have adopted term "death tax" for estate tax. Several media figures have used the term "death tax" while discussing the estate tax, which is the official name of the tax in the U.S. Code. For instance, Fox News' Molly Henneberg stated on April 1, "[I]f you're going to die, I guess next year's not the year to do it, as some people were thinking. You know, the death tax was supposed to go away next year. The death tax had been 55 percent last year, but then President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts had decreased it -- or had planned for it to decrease -- and it will decrease to 45 percent this year, and then eliminate it altogether next year. But it appears that will not happen now." [Fox News' America's Newsroom, 4/1/09]

"Party of Death"

Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru wrote the book "The Party of Death." In 2006, National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a book titled, "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life" (Regnery Publishing, April 2006). In a Q&A about the book, Ponnuru stated that "the Democratic party has become the party of unrestricted abortion, lethal research on human embryos, and euthanasia. The way I put it is that the party of death has largely taken over the Democratic party and has an outpost in the Republican party too." [National Review Online, 4/24/06]

Transcript

From the August 27 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

INGRAHAM: It only took a few hours after the death of Ted Kennedy for Democrats to begin using his death to guilt lawmakers and the public into supporting ObamaCare. Poll after poll shows us that the people don't want this massive government intrusion into our medical choices, yet Democrats don't seem to care -- slap the Kennedy name on the bill and fast-forward to the signing ceremony.

This is emotional manipulation of the rankest order. Democrats have tried this tactic before. Remember 2002? Remember when the funeral service for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was under way and it turned into a raucous Democratic campaign rally for Walter Mondale? It was embarrassing and exploitative, and we know how that one turned out.

Now the Democrats are playing the death card again, wrapping their wildly unpopular health care bill in the sentimental gauze of Ted Kennedy's memory.

[...]

INGRAHAM: Ladies, look, this is a tough subject because, obviously, the country's remembering the contributions of Senator Kennedy. Whether you're Republican or Democrat, you honor the man's memory and what he tried to do for people -- whether you disagree with him or agree with him. But what's happening with the Democratic Party and the attempt to use his death to ram this bill through, I think is frankly disgusting. Andrea, your take?

TANTAROS: Well, that's absolutely right. I mean, last week, they played the God card. Now, as you said in your memo, they're playing the death card. And I think it is pretty pitiful when you have to invoke the memory of a deceased senator to get your bill through.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Laura Ingraham, Andrea Tantaros
Show/Publication
The O'Reilly Factor
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