Media conservatives try to resurrect “death panel” myth

Linking to an Associated Press article about Medicare coverage for voluntary end-of-life counseling in the House health care bill, conservative media outlets such as Fox News and have featured misleading headlines to revive the widely debunked “death panel” smear. Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. also stated during an interview with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “So with regard to the death panel, nothing much has changed.”

Fox & Friends, BigGovernment, misleadingly refer to “death panels”

Andrew Breitbart's runs headline, “AP: 'Death Panels' in Health Care Bill.” On October 30, linking to an AP article titled, “It's alive! End-of-life counseling in health bill,” conservative news outlet BigGovernment ran the misleading headline, “AP: 'Death Panels' in Health Care Bill”:

deathpanel1 " 'Death Panel' measure survives." also used “death panel” terminology, linking to the AP article with the headline, " 'Death Panel' measure survives":


Fox & Friends' Peter Johnson Jr.: “With regard to the death panel, has anything changed?” On the October 30 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Johnson -- who has repeatedly fearmongered about end-of-life counseling -- asked Cornyn, “With regard to the death panel, has anything changed?” When Cornyn did not directly address the question, Johnson stated, “So with regard to the death panel, nothing much has changed.” Cornyn responded, “Well, we haven't been able to read the bill in its entirety yet,” and added that “when the government runs health care, it invariably rations health care, and of course we don't want government intervening in the kind of decisions that ought to be made by family on behalf of their loved ones.”

In fact, the AP article reported that the provision covers voluntary counseling and never said that “death panels” were in the bill

AP headline actually stated, “It's alive! End-of-life counseling in health bill.” The October 29 AP article contains only one reference to “death panels,” attributing the language to former Gov. Sarah Palin. The AP reported, “The Medicare end-of-life planning provision that 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said was tantamount to 'death panels' for seniors is staying in the latest Democratic health care bill unveiled Thursday.” The AP further stated: “The legislation would allow Medicare to pay for a counseling session with a doctor or clinical professional once every five years. The bill calls for such sessions to be 'completely' voluntary, and prohibits the encouragement or promotion of suicide or assisted suicide. The counseling provision is supported by doctors' groups and AARP, the seniors' lobby.”

Health care bill still does not contain death panels. Not only does the House health care bill not contain death panels, it does not make end-of-life counseling mandatory. From Section 1233, “Voluntary Advance Care Planning Consultation,” of HR 3962:

CONSTRUCTION.--The voluntary advance care planning consultation described in section 1861(hhh) of the Social Security Act, as added by subsection (a), shall be completely optional. Nothing in this section shall --

(1) require an individual to complete an advance directive, an order for life sustaining treatment, or other advance care planning document;

(2) require an individual to consent to restrictions on the amount, duration, or scope of medical benefits an individual is entitled to receive under this title; or

(3) encourage the promotion of suicide or assisted suicide.

The media debunked the death panels -- more than 40 times over. Numerous media outlets have debunked right-wing claims that the House health care reform bill would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, including Palin's claim -- forwarded by the conservative media -- that the bill would create a “death panel” and the related claim -- initiated by Betsy McCaughey, who later walked back her claim -- that the bill would “absolutely require” that seniors on Medicare undergo end-of-life counseling “that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” Indeed, Media Matters for America has identified more than 40 instances of media reporting that these claims are false.