Yesterday, I noted that the problem with Betsy McCaughey isn't that she's a liar -- it's that the media gives her a platform to lie.
Let's be clear about this: it isn't just FOX News and the New York Post that are guilty of promoting someone whose claim to fame for 15 years has been spreading falsehoods about health care reform.
As I write this, McCaughey is on MSNBC, talking about health care. Why? What has she ever done to deserve such a platform?
(And remember MSNBC's promotion of McCaughey next time someone tells you it is a "liberal" cable channel.)
UPDATE: McCaughey and MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan just had this exchange:
McCAUGHEY: You're not a very fair moderator.
RATIGAN: Well, you're not a very fair answerer, so there you go.
Right. McCaughey isn't a very fair answerer. in fact, she's a liar. We've known she's a liar for 15 years. She's famously a liar about the very topic MSNBC is hosting her to discuss. So why is she on television? Why is Ratigan interviewing her?
UPDATE 2: Ratigan ended the segment by telling McCaughey: "Betsy it was a pleasure, again, I thank you for spending some time with us, and I do hope you will come back."
Why? McCaughey is a proven liar. Ratigan spent the entire interview trying to get her to answer questions and saying she wasn't doing so and saying she wasn't being "fair" in her responses; McCaughey spent the interview attacking Ratigan and basically behaving like Betsy McCaughey. And Dylan Ratigan wants to put her on television again.
This is why public discourse in America is broken.
The New Republic's Michelle Cottle examines "the never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey," including a lengthy examination of the largely-forgotten hilarity and insanity that marked McCaughey's time as Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Cottle's article seems to be part of TNR's continuing efforts to make up for inflicting McCaughey's lies on the rest of us in the first place. Just this morning, for example, Politico's Michael Calderone quotes TNR editor Franklin Foer saying of the magazine's publication of McCaughey's falsehood-riddled attack on the Clinton health care bill "an original sin that I hope we can expunge."
Cottle pulls few punches in her profile of McCaughey, beginning with a description of Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron's opening statement during a recent debate with McCaughey, which Aaron used to make clear his opponent's dishonesty:
So it is that Aaron finds himself standing in the Crystal Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, running through PowerPoint slides that detail--quote by excruciating quote--McCaughey's reputation as among the most irresponsible, dishonest, and destructive players on the public stage. He starts with Politifact.com's categorization of her commentary as "Pants on Fire," followed by New York Times articles debunking her assertions, followed by complaints from economist Gail Wilensky (adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign and head of Medicare financing under the first President Bush) that "these charges of death panels, euthanasia and withholding care from the disabled give rational, knowledgeable, thoughtful conservatives a bad name." Next comes a denunciation of McCaughey's "fraudulent scare tactics" by John Paris, professor of bioethics at Boston College; AARP executive vice president John Rother's protest that her statements are "rife with gross--even cruel--distortions"; a scolding editorial by The Washington Post about McCaughey's characterization of White House health policy adviser Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel as "Dr. Death"; and, to wrap it all up, Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, expressing dismay that the "personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person's name is beyond the pale." At one point, the debate moderator felt moved to reach over and give McCaughey's hand a comforting pat.
Cottle concludes that McCaughey's refusal to acknowledge her own dishonesty is what makes her infuriating:
Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions--and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior--that makes McCaughey so infuriating.
I don't think that is actually what makes McCaughey infuriating. There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about -- because their lies don't drive major media coverage about an important issue. That's what's infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she's a liar.
That's what's infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn't address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don't they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn't they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That's the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
But she isn't. And as Calderone notes, TNR owner Martin Peretz still stands by her:
"I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all," Peretz wrote in an email.
"I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that," he continued. "But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate."
Also, Peretz wrote, "their [the Clinton administration's] worst tactical error was to do up what was I think [was] an eleven-page memo 'rebutting' the New Republic article, a sign of its importance and weight."
The owner of a magazine that published a deeply dishonest attack on the Clinton health care reform efforts thinks it's appropriate for him to lecture the Clinton administration on why they were unsuccessful in combatting the lies he published?
That's the story here. Not Betsy McCaughey's shamelessness -- the irresponsibility of the news organizations that promote her, and the arrogance of someone who lectures others for failing to properly clean up his own mess.
Rolling Stone recently revealed that in 1994, tobacco giant Philip Morris implemented a "strategy to derail Hillarycare," which included an "effort to 'work on the development of favorable pieces' with 'friendly contacts in the media'" -- specifically mentioning the company's collaboration with serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey on her 1994 New Republic hit piece on the Clintons' health care reform bill. This latest disclosure, combined with a previously exposed conflict of interest, should destroy any remaining credibility she has with the media as an expert in health care reform acting in the public interest.
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson reports that Betsy McCaughey's mid-1990s lies about health care reform -- lies that helped torpedo the Clinton administration's efforts to provide universal health care -- were, in effect, the result of tobacco-industry propaganda:
McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:
"Worked off-the-record with [The] Manhattan [Institute] and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."
Now, it isn't necessarily shocking that a reporter would talk off-the-record with business interests while writing an article about legislation that would affect them. But McCaughey's relationship with Big Tobacco was merely not that of "reporter" and "source."
See, McCaughey was working for The Manhattan Institute at the time. And The Manhattan Institute was funded by -- you guessed it -- tobacco companies.
While Phillip Morris was "working with" McCaughey in 1994, the tobacco giant was also budgeting $25,000 for The Manhattan Institute for 1995. The Manhattan Institute has also taken tobacco money from Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard.
So that's where McCaughey's dishonest New Republic article -- the article that did more than any other to kill health care reform in the 1990s -- came from. The tobacco companies that funded the "think tank" that employed McCaughey "worked off-the-record" with her to shape the article.
The New Republic eventually "recanted" McCaughey's article, a decade after the damage was done, and apologized for it (though then-editor Andrew Sullivan stands by the decision to publish the article.)
So, now that Betsy McCaughey is again trying to kill health care reform, you have to wonder -- who is paying for her deception this time? And which news organizations will eventually have to apologize for promoting her dishonest work?
From the September 9th edition of CNBC's coverage:
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Looks like somebody has been reading Betsy McCaughey's awful column. MSNBC's Contessa Brewer adopts McCaughey's the-bill-is-too-long nonsense, complete with a highly misleading prop:
That stack of paper sure is intimidating. But maybe Brewer should have let her viewers know that it's twice as high as it would be if legislation was printed the way pages are typically printed? After all, your twelve-year-old's Social Studies report can look intimidatingly long, too, if you print out one letter per page.
Brewer's stunt with the printout of the bill was deeply dishonest -- the kind of demagoguery that is annoying but expected from partisans trying to kill a bill, but not from journalists.
And Brewer's next step was just as bad. Since when does journalism consist of portraying complex issues as even more complex than they are, rather than explaining them?
Maybe people would understand health care a little better if MSNBC explained it to them, rather than exaggerating how incomprehensible it is.
An op-ed by serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey is, indefensibly, featured in today's New York Post:
When President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, he should pledge to do three things.
First, he should announce that he will discard the 1,018-page health bill drafted in the House of Representatives and replace it with a 20-page bill in plain English. Twenty pages should be sufficient. The framers of the US Constitution established an entire federal government in 18 pages.
This is absolute nonsense.
First, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows -- though most of her readers do not -- the number of pages is wildly misleading. See, legislation is printed on pages with very wide margins. Text is double-spaced -- and lines are numbered. Here, for example, is what page 483 of the House bill looks like:
Page 483 -- a typical page -- contains only 151 words. That's about half as many words as appear on a page in a typical book. So it's more useful to think of the health care legislation as running about 500 pages. That's quite a bit shorter than a Harry Potter book. Surely it isn't unreasonable for legislation governing the nation's health care and insurance systems to run two-thirds as long as a children's book, is it?
Next: McCaughey says the bill should be written "in plain English." But legislation is written in highly precise and technical legal language for a reason: If it were written in "plain English," it would introduce more ambiguity, not less. Enforcement of laws would be more dependent upon judge's interpretation, and less dependent upon the intent of the elected representatives who wrote the law. (A prospect that would make a conservative like McCaughey twitch, if she were honest.)
Think about a "plain English" agreement between you and your daughter: If she cleans her room, she can have ice cream. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Now, think of all the complications that could arise: Who decides what qualifies as "clean"? What if she enlists the help of a friend? How soon does the room need to be cleaned? What kind of ice cream is she entitled to -- the stuff in your freezer, or the soft-serve chocolate-vanilla twist at her favorite ice cream stand, three towns over? How much ice cream? Et cetera. Those details need not be spelled out when you're dealing with your daughter -- at the end of the day, you can impose your will on the situation easily enough. It isn't so easy when you're trying to get your insurance company to cover your prostate exam.
Next: McCaughey says "20 pages should be sufficient" to revamp the nation's health insurance system. That's nothing short of crazy, as the ice cream comparison probably makes clear. Some things need to be elaborate and complicated. Next time you get on an airplane, think about whether you want the pilot's dashboard controls to be as complex as they are, or whether you'd prefer it to consist of an on/off switch, a steering wheel, and a break pedal. Think about whether you'd prefer the mechanics who service the plane to work off detailed step-by-step instructions making clear the 300 safety tests they must perform before each flight, or whether you'd be more comfortable if they were just told "Check it out."
Finally, as Betsy McCaughey surely knows, the Constitution did not establish an entire federal government in 18 pages. It laid out the basic framework for such a government. Betsy McCaughey understands the difference -- she just hopes her readers don't.
McCaughey's dishonesty and fundamentally-flawed thinking make the rest of her argument impossible to take seriously, but let's look briefly at her next demand:
Secondly, the president should announce that the purpose of his 20-page bill is to cover the truly uninsured. Period.
And do nothing for the already-insured, whose health care costs are skyrocketing? Nothing to stop health insurance companies from doing everything they can to avoid paying for necessary medical care so they can maximize profits? Nothing for people who are locked-in to their current jobs for fear that if they change jobs, they will be unable to get insurance due to "pre-existing conditions"? Nothing to force insurance companies to compete? Nothing to lower costs? Nothing to prevent insurance companies from placing caps on health care payments, which can -- and does -- result in people with top-of-the-line health insurance going bankrupt due to health costs?
Well, at least McCaughey made her perspective clear: She doesn't want to do anything to stop insurance companies from denying payment for necessary procedures. Good to know.
In a press release issued over the weekend, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey responded to New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg's article on her often fact-free commentary about health care reform. She did so, of course, with a falsehood about the House health bill:
The bill's partisans say the consultation sessions are voluntary. But if there is a penalty for noncompliance, then it is not voluntary, regardless of whether the word mandatory used. The penalty is on page 432. Doctors' quality ratings will be determined in part by the percentage of the doctor's patients who create a living will and the percentage who adhere to it. (And quality ratings affect a doctor's Medicare reimbursement)
Jon Stewart disputed this claim during his interview with McCaughey, saying that "It would be really wrong if that was in any way what this said." As we noted at the time, the bill's language does not impose a "penalty" on doctors, but rather provides incentive payments for doctors who provide the Department of Health and Human Services with "data on quality measures" for end-of-life care – regardless of the results they report. Media outlets who consider offering McCaughey a platform to discuss health care reform should be aware that she is just going to spout falsehoods.
From a September 4 New York Times article, headlined "Resurfacing, a Critic Stirs Up Health Care Debate":
For the last few years, Ms. McCaughey has worked in a relatively quiet, noncontroversial fight against hospital infection death. Her campaign has drawn a broad coalition of support and has included the passage of a law in New York requiring hospitals to report infection rates.
But, she said in an e-mail exchange, Mr. Obama's health care proposals compelled her to weigh in. She said she keeps the effort separate from her organization and has not coordinated with any political groups. (Ms. McCaughey resigned as a director at the medical supply company Cantel last month amid accusations of conflict of interest, which she denied.)
Her work has, however, proved to be a boon to Mr. Obama's political opponents, giving explosive fodder for their accusations that his Medicare cuts will eventually adversely affect care (the administration says they will not) and frequently going over the line even by the standards of some conservative opponents of his health care plans.
She incorrectly stated in July that a Democratic bill in the House would mandate "people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner," drawing a "Pants on Fire" rating from the Politifact fact-checking Web site; her false assertion that the presidential health adviser Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel believes "medical care should be reserved for the nondisabled" helped form the basis for former Gov. Sarah Palin's discredited warning that Mr. Obama would create "death panels" to decide who is "worthy of health care."
Far from isolating her, it has all seemed to raise her profile to levels not seen since she left office, making her a regular guest on cable, radio and even last month, on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. (The host, Jon Stewart, said he found her analysis "hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous.")
Admirers and foes say Ms. McCaughey's loud re-emergence in the health care debate is a testament to the same singular drive - and unabated media appeal - that catapulted her from the obscurity of academia to the near-top of New York politics more than a decade ago.
But even to some friends, her criticisms are reminiscent of a trademark style of argument that, while effective in grabbing attention on national issues, frequently comes into dispute as out of bounds.
And so it was that Ms. McCaughey, who earned a doctorate in constitutional history at Columbia University, in 1994 wrote a scathing critique in The New Republic of President Bill Clinton's plan while a scholar at the Manhattan Institute.
The piece, credited with helping to kill the plan, won a National Magazine Award. It also won the attention of Mr. Pataki, who tapped her to run as his lieutenant governor.
But in short order, critics seized on the article for flaws, like its assertion that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," though the House bill specifically stated it would not prohibit "an individual from purchasing any health care services." The magazine, with a traditionally liberal bent, eventually repudiated the article, a move Ms. McCaughey described in an e-mail exchange as "political sour grapes."
Her renewed prominence has alarmed old opponents.
"I'm dismayed at her re-emergence as an agent of dangerous misinformation," said Judith Hope, the former New York State Democratic chairwoman.
From the August 31 edition of WOR's The Steve Malzberg Show:
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From the August 31 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:
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On CNBC, serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey again advanced a falsehood about health care reform, claiming that the "legislation that's now in Congress will force everyone under age 65 to buy the same one-size-fits-all government plan" and that "Page 16" of the House bill "says you must be enrolled in a qualified plan." In fact, McCaughey's claims are false; the provision she referred to does not require anyone to give up their private individual health insurance plan.
Serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey, who The New York Times reported has "largely quot[ed]" White House health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel's "past writings out of context this summer," did so again -- and at length -- in an August 27 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Indeed, she distorted various passages of Emanuel's writings and interviews by cropping and misrepresenting his remarks -- some of which the Times had described in context only days earlier -- to smear him as "Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief."
Serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey again backtracked on a false claim she made about health care reform, now writing in The Wall Street Journal that White House adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel believes reform must include "redefining" the Hippocratic Oath; in May, Media Matters for America noted McCaughey had falsely claimed Emanuel wanted to "eliminate" the oath. McCaughey's claim is the latest in a series of instances in which she was caught making an outright false claim about health care reform and backtracked, but nonetheless continued to attack and distort progressives' policies without acknowledging her backtrack from her prior falsehood.
From the August 26 edition of WNYW's Good Day New York:
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