Right-wing media seized on Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-MI) recent announcement that three airports in his district received federal grant money in order to baselessly claim the Obama administration bribed him for his vote on health care reform. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that the airport funds are related to Stupak's vote, and indeed, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded grants in 47 states -- including one in Minority Leader John Boehner's district -- as part of a decades-old airport improvement program.
From the March 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity
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Serial health care reform misinformer Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed that, under the Senate health care reform bill, "for the first time in history, government officials are given power over how doctors treat privately insured patients." In fact, through criminal law -- including the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act -- federal drug laws, and other methods, states and the federal government currently regulate the relationship between doctors and patients, privately insured or not.
Media Matters for America presents its first-ever Health Care Misinformer of the Year award to Betsy McCaughey.
In a November 24 New York Post column, Betsy McCaughey suggested that both "women -- and men" would "lose" under the Senate health care bill because preventive care would be limited by the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, and quoted medical professor James Thrall stating: "I fear we are entering an era of deliberate decisions where we choose to trade people's lives for money." But insurers operating under the Senate health care reform bill are not required to adopt recommendations against preventive screening, only to adopt those recommendations supporting preventive screening.
In a November 7 Wall Street Journal op-ed, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey purported to provide "details you need to know" about the current version of health care reform legislation slated for a vote that same day in the House of Representatives. As with her previous descriptions of reform legislation, many of her claims are falsehoods or distortions, such as McCaughey's claim that illegal immigrants are exempted from a fine imposed by the bill.
Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is holding an anti-health care reform protest today on Capitol Hill to revive the largely manufactured fervor of the August town halls and to tell Congress "to vote no to a government take-over of one-fifth of our economy." The slate of speakers and attendees include Republican congressional members, far-right radio host Mark Levin, who has equated the Senate Finance's health reform bill with "economic slavery," actor and frequent Fox News guest Jon Voight, and... Betsy McCaughey.
McCaughey's participation and consequent endorsement of the Bachmann-led opposition to health care reform really shouldn't come as much of surprise given the falsehoods, distortions, and outright lies that she has told about health care throughout the year. However, this event should serve as final notice to any in the media who still believe she is a credible health care expert.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Betsy McCaughey misrepresented remarks by Dr. Jeffrey Borer to suggest that he is opposed to treatment guidelines when, in fact, he stated that guidelines are "needed" and "very valuable" while noting that "they have important limitations." McCaughey further advanced the claim that White House health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel supports rationing of health care and attributed the claim to a doctor who belongs to a conservative-leaning group that holds several controversial views and has promoted the right-wing conspiracy theory that Vince Foster didn't commit suicide.
Here's The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:
In my field, we have something called the National Magazine Awards. Magazine writers tend to be both obsessed with who wins and convinced the process is a pathetic joke. This isn't just sour grapes, either. The last time The New Republic won a National Magazine Award, it was for publishing Betsy McCaughey's infamous anti-Clintoncare screed "No Exit," which is probably the worst article in the history of TNR. It's as if the last American to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Timothy McVeigh.
Which, of course, raises the question of why TNR hasn't given back the award -- and why its editor claims the magazine has "recanted" and "apologized" for "No Exit," even though it has done nothing of the kind.
In her latest op-ed, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey quoted Dr. David McKalip -- infamous for forwarding to fellow members of a Google listserv a picture of President Obama dressed as a witch doctor -- to support her claim that the Senate Finance Committee health reform bill would institute the "most extreme change to Medicare ever." McCaughey also mischaracterized a statement by Obama appointee Dr. David Blumenthal to claim that one of her prior falsehoods -- that a Health Information Technology (HIT) provision in the stimulus act would lead to government "interfering in doctors' treatment decisions" -- was accurate.
After granting health care liar Betsy McCaughey a national television platform she doesn't deserve, MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan is going to get eviscerated by conservatives for the sin of trying to make her actually answer his questions.
Howard Kurtz will point to Ratigan's aggressive questioning of McCaughey as evidence of MSNBC's supposed liberalism -- conveniently overlooking the fact that Ratigan was giving a platform to a proven right-wing liar.
And Ratigan and MSNBC will be defensive about the criticism. Rather than apologizing for hosting a proven liar to talk about the topic she has lied most about, they will redouble their efforts to convince conservatives they can get a fair shake on MSNBC
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?