Politico twice mischaracterizes Dems' comments to assert they called “protesters” un-American

In an August 7 blog post and an August 10 article, the Politico reported as fact that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had called health care town hall protesters “un-American,” when, in fact, these Democratic figures were referring to disruptive tactics that are “diminishing to the process,” in Lincoln's words, and are “drowning out opposing views,” according to Pelosi and Hoyer. Numerous media figures have similarly claimed that Pelosi and Hoyer called protesters or opponents of health care reform “un-American.”

Politico: Blanche Lincoln “call[ed] protesters un-American”

In an August 7 post on the Politico blog The Scorecard, Josh Kraushaar wrote:

Lincoln sorry for calling protesters un-American

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is backtracking from her comments that protesters who disrupt health care forums are un-American.

She expressed that viewpoint Thursday afternoon after hearing about the angry complaints that Democratic congressmen Mike Ross and Vic Snyder received from constituents at a recent town hall meeting in Little Rock.

“It's so sad, because it's diminishing to the process, it's diminishing to our outcome,” Lincoln said on a conference call with reporters. “I think it's sad that they choose to do that. I think it's un-American and disrespectful.”

Lincoln, who is up for re-election in a conservative state, quickly clarified her comments -- no doubt concerned that they could be used against her in a campaign.

According to report Politico cited, Lincoln was referring to the “efforts to disrupt town hall meetings,” not the protesters themselves. From the August 6 ArkansasNews.com article to which Kraushaar linked:

Efforts to disrupt town hall meetings on health care reform are un-American, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said today, though she later issued a statement retracting the remark.

“It's so sad, because it's diminishing to the process, it's diminishing to our outcome,” Lincoln said in a conference call with reporters. “I think it's sad that they choose to do that. I think it's un-American and disrespectful.”

A few hours later, Lincoln issued the following statement: “Although I do believe that some of these protesters are disrespectful of other citizens in the audience who truly want to ask questions about health care, I shouldn't have used the term 'un-American.' I support the right of every Arkansan to speak out and have their voices heard. I would just ask that we all continue to work in a constructive way to rebuild our economy and fine-tune out health care system so it works for all of us.” [ArkansasNews.com, 8/6/09]

Politico joined numerous media figures in asserting Pelosi, Hoyer “called the protesters 'un-American' ”

From an August 10 Politico article:

[Gov. Sonny] Perdue [R-GA] suggested that media coverage of some of the town halls has been overblown, saying what he has seen at the town halls is “democracy in action.”

“For some Democratic legislators to call it anti-democratic is just ludicrous,” said Perdue, seeming to allude to a column by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) published Monday in USA Today that called the protesters “un-American.”

“These are citizens who are very concerned,” said Perdue. “They just want answers to their questions.”

“To be excoriated for asking those questions is just beyond me,” he added. [Politico, 8/10/09]

Pelosi, Hoyer actually wrote: “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.” From Pelosi and Hoyer's August 10 USA Today op-ed:

[A]s members of Congress spend time at home during August, they are talking with their constituents about reform. The dialogue between elected representatives and constituents is at the heart of our democracy and plays an integral role in assuring that the legislation we write reflects the genuine needs and concerns of the people we represent.

However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland and protesters holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another congressman in Texas, where protesters also shouted “Just say no!” drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion.

Let the facts be heard

These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views -- but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.

Health care is complex. It touches every American life. It drives our economy. People must be allowed to learn the facts. [USA Today, 8/10/09]

CNN contributor Louis debunks claim. After CNN's Lou Dobbs claimed that “we also have now the leadership of the House saying you're un-American to oppose” health care reform, CNN contributor Errol Louis corrected him, stating that “the un-American part was, you know, to shout people down, to stop the conversation is un-American, which I would agree with.” Louis continued: "[T]he words in the article were to shut down debate, to use those kind of disruptive tactics to try and stop the debate from going forward, is wrong. It's just wrong. You call it un-American; you call it whatever you want. I mean, it needs to be denounced. You can't have people tarred and feathered in effigy outside of their congressional office or hung in effigy outside of their office. That's not the way to conduct this debate." [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 8/10/09]

Numerous media figures falsely claimed Pelosi and Hoyer called the protesters un-American. Media figures who have done so include: Chuck Todd, Lou Dobbs, Greta Van Susteren, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, Gregg Jarrett, and Sean Hannity.

Politico article also uncritically referenced Palin's “death panel” claim based on debunked end-of-life counseling myth

From the August 10 Politico article:

Asked about former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin's claim last week that the Democratic health care plan is “evil” and would create a “death panel” to decide the fate of children like her youngest son, Trig, who has Down syndrome, the governors chose not to expound on her remark.

“I didn't hear what Gov. Palin said so I can't judge the characterization,” said Barbour.

“Gov. Palin can speak for herself,” added Perdue.

Palin suggested that under Democratic health care reform, "[M]y baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel.' "

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which 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. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion. [Sarah Palin Facebook post, 8/7/09]

Palin's spokesperson reportedly said Palin's assertion was a reference to House bill's “Advance Care Planning Consultation” provision. On his blog, ABC's Jake Tapper reported:

Asked specifically what the former governor was referring to when painting a picture of an Obama “death panel” giving her parents or son Trig a thumbs up or down based on their productivity, Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton responded in an email: “From HR3200 p. 425 see 'Advance Care Planning Consultation'.” [Political Punch, 8/7/09]

Provision Stapleton pointed to requires Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. Section 1233 of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 -- which includes “p. 425” -- amends the Social Security Act to ensure that advance care planning will be covered if a patient requests it from a qualified care provider [America's Affordable Health Choices Act, Sec. 1233]. According to an analysis of the bill produced by the three relevant House committees, the section "[p]rovides coverage for consultation between enrollees and practitioners to discuss orders for life-sustaining treatment. Instructs CMS to modify 'Medicare & You' handbook to incorporate information on end-of-life planning resources and to incorporate measures on advance care planning into the physician's quality reporting initiative." [waysandmeans.house.gov, accessed 7/29/09]

Numerous media conservatives have advanced myth that provision provides seniors mandatory counseling to end their lives. On July 16, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed that the House health care reform bill would “absolutely require” end-of-life counseling for seniors “that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” Since then, numerous media figures -- including Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Rush Limbaugh -- have echoed McCaughey's claim -- even after the falsehood was debunked and McCaughey herself backtracked.

Fox News personalities have advanced Palin's “death panel” claim. Although the claim has been repeatedly and widely debunked, Fox News anchors, hosts, and contributors, including Newt Gingrich, Michelle Malkin, Brian Kilmeade, Glenn Beck, and Andrew Napolitano have adopted Palin's “death panel” term or advanced or expressed support for her assertion.