The conservative onslaught against progressive health care reform had a surreal quality this week, as talk of “death panels” and Nazism filled the airwaves. Meanwhile, the growing number of advertisers abandoning Glenn Beck provided hope that hate speech won't go unchallenged forever.
The role of rationality in our republic was again called into question this week, as the newest conservative lines of attack against health care reform embraced an equally new level of madness.
As you surely know by now, Sarah Palin loves Facebook, and last Friday, she wanted to make sure her friends knew the terrible secret hiding in H.R. 3200.
“The America I know and love,” she wrote, “is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of [President] 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.”
The idea that government bureaucrats will soon create “death panels” that will encourage the killing of Americans with disabilities as well as the elderly has now officially entered the conservative media's playbook. The notion is apparently rooted in an extremely selective reading of past writings by Ezekiel Emanuel, coupled with a total misreading of Section 1233 of the House health care legislation, which aims only to reimburse doctors who provide voluntary end-of-life counseling for those on Medicare.
As usual, media conservatives didn't let the facts get in the way of fear. Glenn Beck defended Palin's “death panel” statement on Monday, as did Fox News' Andrew Napolitano. That same day, Rush Limbaugh cited an op-ed that, while raising concerns about the end-of-life consultations, called euthanasia talk “rubbish.” Then he ignored that statement and proceeded to talk about euthanasia.
The narratives continued unabated and were repeatedly given attention by Fox's Brian Kilmeade. (Fox & Friends, it turns out, is a bad place to go for accurate analysis of health care reform.) Beck dismissed the unconvinced, warning that they would “laugh all the way to the death panels,” and Ann Coulter said that Emanuel was on her “death list.” Beck and Limbaugh also revisited the Nazi theme of the previous week, equating the principles and tactics of the Third Reich to those being employed by congressional Democrats and the media. When the Senate Finance Committee indicated that the end-of-life counseling provision would be removed from its version of the legislation, The Fox Nation impartially reported the news by declaring victory.
By the way, in case you had any doubt about how hard the conservative media are working to defeat health care reform (and I know you did), just take a look at this study Media Matters for America conducted. Over a two-day period (August 10 and 11), we tallied up the guests on Fox News who discussed health care. The result: 10 supported progressive reforms, and 63 opposed them. As always, fair and balanced.
So what's the good news?
Despite it all, there was actually a host of accurate coverage concerning health care reform this week -- a reminder of just how shockingly irresponsible most conservative media outlets are. ABC's Kate Snow dismissed the end-of-life controversy as misinformation started by Betsy McCaughey, and Joe Scarborough put the smear out to pasture as well. The “death panel” assertion was further debunked by CNN's John Roberts, MSNBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, David Shuster, and Willie Geist, NBC's Anne Thompson, and ABC's chief medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson.
CBS and NBC also ran stories illustrating the urgent need for health care reform, and CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta addressed the right-wing “rationing” canard, explaining how rationing occurs all the time under our current system. There was even pushback against the claim that Democrats were advocating a “Canadian-style” system.
Sadly, there was also some backsliding. USA Today falsely claimed that the “estimated cost of a health care overhaul” would be $1 trillion, and one CNN report cited Heritage Foundation research while ignoring estimates from the CBO. Most telling was an ABC piece that contradicted the network's own reporting and portrayed the end-of-life issue as still being an open question. It was a classic example of the mainstream media's desire to avoid criticism by presenting both sides of a story -- even when one side doesn't make any sense. Let's hope this Sunday's Meet the Press won't follow suit (David Gregory has promised it won't).
Don't show me the money!
There was an encouraging development in the ongoing campaign to get hate off our public airwaves. After a host of progressive groups, among them Media Matters and ColorOfChange.org, publicized Beck's recent rant accusing Obama of racism, multiple companies announced that they would no longer advertise on his program -- among them: ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Radio Shack, GEICO, Travelocity, and Sargento. Reflecting on the development, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart said that it might “pump the brakes on some of these wild statements.” We can only hope.
Anti-democratic Democrats continue hosting public forums
Town hall protests continued this week, all of which were given extensive coverage by Fox News and other conservative outlets (respectful meetings were ignored). Andrew Breitbart attempted to blame any past or future violence on Democrats and their thuggish union allies, while Fox's Megyn Kelly allowed protester Mike Sola to claim that Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer had sent goons to his house to intimidate his family. No, there simply aren't any provocations coming from the right these days. "[W]e need to be very, very careful," Beck warned his audience while appealing for calm. “Somebody's going to do something stupid, and it will change the republic overnight.” Nor does Lou Dobbs want anyone to misinterpret his assessment of Howard Dean ("[H]e's a bloodsucking leftist -- I mean, you gotta put a stake through his heart to stop this guy"). When a guest criticized him for calling Dean a “bloodsucking liberal,” Dobbs defended himself. “I called him a bloodsucking leftist,” he repeated. And just for good measure, Beck and Bill O'Reilly derided an 11-year-old girl's question at Obama's town hall in New Hampshire. Just a normal day at the right-wing office.
Conservatives, seeking to exploit the town halls to full effect, also aimed to portray Democrats as being anti-democratic. In a Monday op-ed, Pelosi and Hoyer made a simple declaration: “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.” It seemed clear enough -- if you attend a town hall, you shouldn't shout people down. But that's not how the right -- as well as the mainstream media -- spun it. The line was twisted, and both representatives were attacked for calling the protesters “un-American.” Dobbs chastised their “hypocrisy.” Kilmeade repeated the distortion, as did Politico and Fox's Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy. Even NBC's Chuck Todd and NPR's Diane Rehm got into the mix. Sean Hannity, of course, wasn't to be topped, saying that “we've had hardworking Americans called Nazis and brownshirts and un-American by Nancy Pelosi.” It seemed as though the CNN's Errol Louis and MSNBC's Contessa Brewer were the only ones who took the time to read the editorial before commenting on it.
Barack Obama is just like Richard Nixon
How, you ask? Why, they both have enemies lists, of course! That's how Beck and Dobbs described the White House's request that supporters pass along emails containing erroneous smears about health care reform. Indeed, Rush nailed the administration's true intent: It's a "snitch website" he declared. It's Obama's "own exclusive, private domestic spying program" -- forget that whole FISA thing. In order to ensure the program's secrecy, the president chose to publicly address the attack during a town hall meeting. Then he asked for everyone's Social Security number and something embarrassing he could blackmail them with.
Down the rabbit hole
At a few points this week, words were exchanged that simply don't fit the rubric of normal conservative misinformation. Specifically: Michael Savage again warned the public of the “internment camps” that Obama is now readying for his political opponents; Hannity derided the “sick, psychotic, twisted individuals in their underwear in a basement” who monitor Fox and right-wing talk radio (he means us!); Limbaugh once again dismissed a report on the growing threat of right-wing militia violence (because there were no consequences the last time that was done); and Beck explained that health care was not a God-given right for all Americans -- not unless Jesus himself is conducting the physicals.
But in the end, it was Beck who truly broke new ground when he said something that was so crazy that even his panel of yes-men were left speechless. He's really hitting his stride.
This week's media columns
This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: Eric Boehlert asks why the media don't care when conservatives cry “Nazi” (only when liberals do), and Jamison Foser reminds us that facts matter.
Don't forget to order your autographed copy of Eric Boehlert's compelling new book, Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, May 2009).
If you use the social networking site Facebook, be sure to join the official Media Matters page and those of our senior fellows Eric Boehlert, Jamison Foser, and Karl Frisch as well. You can also follow Media Matters, Boehlert, Foser, and Frisch on Twitter.
This weekly wrap-up was compiled by John V. Santore, an associate at Media Matters.