Right-wing media set sights on family of 11-year-old who spoke about his mother's death at health care event

Right-wing media have recently targeted 11-year-old Marcelas Owens and his family for attacks after he appeared at a health care reform event to speak about his mother, who reportedly died after losing her health insurance. These attacks follow a history of media conservatives attacking or mocking the uninsured, and previous attacks by right-wing media on the family of a 12-year-old who spoke in support of SCHIP.

11-year-old spoke about mother's death at health care reform event

Marcelas' mother reportedly “died of pulmonary hypertension ... after losing her health insurance because she could no longer work.” According to a New York Times report, Marcelas Owens appeared at a March 11 press conference with Senate Democrats and spoke about his mother's death. The Times reported that Marcelas' mother, “Tiffany Owens, died of pulmonary hypertension in 2007 at age 27 after losing her health insurance because she could no longer work. Ms. Owens had been an assistant manager at a Jack in the Box restaurant.” CNN.com further reported that Marcelas said at the event, “I came out here for health care, I got involved because my mom was a health care activist, she testified and participated in rallies. She wanted people to have health care and not wait till management level to be offered health care.”

Right-wing media target Marcelas and family; portray them as “liberal activists”

Beck: “Where was grandma” when Marcelas' mother was sick? On the March 15 edition of his Fox News show, Glenn Beck attacked Marcelas' grandmother -- who appeared with Marcelas at the health care event -- for her work with the organization Washington Community Action Network. Beck said the group was “all about economic, racial, gender, and social justice for all” -- “pesky phrases” Beck then tied to “the Soviet Union” and the “democratic socialist republic in China.” Beck said of Marcelas' appearance on Capitol Hill: “The trip was paid for by Health Care for America Now -- that's the George Soros-funded, Barack Obama-approved group fighting for health care. Since all of these groups are so concerned and so involved now, may I ask, where were you when Marcelas' mother was vomiting blood?” Beck continued: “Wasn't this the perfect opportunity to help provide a decent quality of life for all -- at least, for one? You had somebody in your own ranks that knew -- her mother knew. Dare I ask: Where was grandma?”

Limbaugh tells Marcelas: “Your mom would have still died, because Obamacare doesn't kick in until 2014.” On the March 12 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh aired a clip of Marcelas' remarks at the health care event and said, “Now, this is unseemly, exploitative, an 11-year-old kid being forced to tell this story all over just to benefit the Democrat Party and Barack Obama.” Limbaugh later said, referring to Marcelas, “Your mom would have still died, because Obamacare doesn't kick in until 2014.”

Malkin: Marcelas is the “new, dubious poster boy for Demcare”; targets Marcelas' family. In a March 10 post, Michelle Malkin wrote that Marcelas is the “new, dubious poster boy for Demcare.” In her syndicated column that day, titled, “Desperate Dems cling to human kiddie shield,” Malkin wrote that Marcelas “admits he doesn't understand the complexities of health insurance reform and doesn't 'think it's anyone's fault' that his mom passed away. 'But they could have done more' for her, he says.” In a March 12 post, Malkin criticized a New York Times article about Marcelas because it “fail[ed] to mention that Owens' grandmother and family have been longtime activists for the left-wing, single-payer advocates of the Washington Community Action Network or that the boy and his grandmother traveled to Washington with sponsorship from the Astroturf lobbyists of the Health Care for America Now outfit, which characterized Marcelas as an 'insurance abuse survivor.' " Malkin continued: “Never mind that there is not a shred of evidence that any health insurer ever 'abused' Marcelas. Never mind that the family has made no claim that Marcelas himself has survived without insurance.”

NewsBusters: Marcelas has “entire family of liberal activists.” In a March 10 post, NewsBusters' Scott Whitlock wrote that “Owens' entire family have been members of the liberal Washington Community Action Network." Further, Tim Graham wrote in a March 10 NewsBusters post -- titled, “Sell Us Marcelas: Fifth-Grade Protester Has Entire Family of Liberal Activists” -- that Marcelas “is a spokesman for a liberal lobby, the Washington Community Action Network.”

Right-wing media -- including Limbaugh and Malkin -- previously attacked family of 12-year-old who spoke in support of SCHIP

Malkin, conservative bloggers attacked 12-year-old boy and his family after he gave Democratic radio address supporting SCHIP expansion. In September 2007, 12-year-old Graeme Frost -- who, along with his sister, was injured in a 2004 car accident -- gave a Democratic radio address criticizing President Bush's veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Following Graeme's radio address, as Media Matters for America noted, conservative bloggers and Malkin in particular, aimed several attacks at his family, from questioning their financial status to referring to Graeme's parents as, in the words of the right-wing blog Riehl World View, “mostly spoiled brats who became parents and never felt compelled to take responsibility for themselves.”

Other media outlets echoed or cited bloggers' attacks. For example, on October 10, 2007, Limbaugh argued that the Frosts “can clearly afford [health insurance]. They just choose not to.” During a report on the October 11, 2007, edition of CNN's American Morning, as Think Progress noted, co-host John Roberts said of the controversy: “Conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin pounced, claiming the Frost family is a fraud, too wealthy for government assistance. One accusation: that Graeme attends a $20,000-a-year private school. The family insists scholarships cover most of that bill.” Nonetheless, Roberts added: “Some of the accusations may be exaggerated or false, but did the Democrats make a tactical error in holding up Graeme as their poster child?” Noting the controversy in an October 12, 2007, column headlined, “Sliming Graeme Frost,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

You might be tempted to say that bloggers make unfounded accusations all the time. But we're not talking about some obscure fringe. The charge was led by Michelle Malkin, who according to Technorati has the most-trafficked right-wing blog on the Internet, and in addition to blogging has a nationally syndicated column, writes for National Review and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

The attack on Graeme's family was also quickly picked up by Rush Limbaugh, who is so important a player in the right-wing universe that he has had multiple exclusive interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Media conservatives have a history of mocking the uninsured

Limbaugh's health care plan: “If you don't have any teeth, so what? What's applesauce for?” Responding to a story Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) told about a woman who wore dentures that previously belonged to her dead sister because she lacked insurance and could not afford to buy her own, Limbaugh stated on February 25:

LIMBAUGH: You know I'm getting so many people -- this Louise Slaughter comment on the dentures? I'm getting so many people -- this is big, I mean, that gets a one-time mention for a laugh, but there are people out there that think this is huge because it's so stupid. I mean, for example, well, what's wrong with using a dead person's teeth? Aren't the Democrats big into recycling? Save the planet? And so what? So if you don't have any teeth, so what? What's applesauce for? Isn't that why they make applesauce?

Beck mocks Slaughter's story: “I've read the Constitution ... I didn't see that you had a right to teeth.” On his February 26 radio show, Beck played an audio clip of Slaughter's account then said, “I am wearing George Washington's dentures right now. I'm wearing his teeth right now.” He later added, “I just like wearing dead people's teeth. But in America -- I'm sorry, I didn't know that that was -- I've read the Constitution before. I didn't see that you had a right to teeth.” Echoing Limbaugh's remarks the previous day, Beck stated, “The environmentalists should be all over Slaughter. 'How dare you say that?' My gosh, they're just recycling. They're just reusing.”

Beck sidekick uses baby voice to mock letters Obama receives. On Beck's February 25 radio show, co-host Steve “Stu” Burguiere stated that Obama “gets 10 letters, Glenn, every night.” Co-host Pat Gray asked, “From 2-year-old girls?” Then, one of the co-hosts started speaking in a baby's voice: “I have no health care, Mr. Pwesident, and I have no feet and no tonsils because doctors took 'em out.”

Conservative blogger Pamela Geller linked to an audio clip of the segment, which she wrote was "[d]a best! the funniest thang evuh!"

Gateway Pundit attacks Slaughter's “sappy lib sob story of the day, hands down.” On his Gateway Pundit blog, Jim Hoft linked to a video clip of Slaughter telling the story about the dentures under the headline, "Horror! Lib Dem Claims Her Constituent Wore Dead Sister's Teeth (Video)." After declaring the account the “sappy lib sob story of the day, hands down,” Hoft wrote: “Will Obamacare buy me glasses and contacts? Will Obamacare buy me a gold tooth in the front of my mouth with a little heart on it?”

Ingraham: “Louise Slaughter won the Olympics of sob stories.” On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, radio host Laura Ingraham said she “liked the dueling sob stories, OK? One Democrat was trying to outdo the next on the sob story about how rotten our health care system is. Louise Slaughter won the Olympics of sob stories by saying one of her constituents had to wear her sister's dentures. OK? It got so bad with the health care system.” She later added, “You had Harry Reid on the cleft palate with his -- I mean, the whole thing was ridiculous.”

Fox Nation labels anecdote “Summit Insanity.” From the Fox Nation, accessed February 25:


Limbaugh mocked story of transplant patient on Medicare who will have to pay own bills after three years. On February 26, referring to a story Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) recounted at President Obama's health care summit, Limbaugh stated:

LIMBAUGH: This patient was about to receive a transplanted organ -- Clyburn didn't specify what it was -- and the horror -- he's gonna get a -- he's gonna get a totally paid-for transplant. The horror is that he was going to have to start paying his post-op bills in three years.

If this is the worst we can say about American medicine, are we really in that bad a shape after all?

I have a different observation on this. I mean, look at where we are with this. This guy is -- he about had an emotional breakdown 'cause he was told he's gotta start paying his own medical bills after three years. He gets a free transplant; he gets a free after-care for three years and then he's on his own, and he's mad and thinks he's getting screwed.

Limbaugh told caller who can't afford $6,000 to treat broken wrist: “Well, you shouldn't have broken your wrist.” In August 2009, Limbaugh had the following exchange with a caller:

CALLER: If we pay for our health care ourselves, would it bring costs down?

LIMBAUGH: Yeah, it would, if -- with other -- yeah, if you get some other players out of the game, yeah -- of course.

CALLER: What do you mean by “other players”? I'm sorry.

LIMBAUGH: Government -- get the government out of it. Get the government -- their stupid regulations. Get the government out of Medicare. You -- look it, the only way that cost or price ratios make sense is based on the consumer's ability to pay. There has to be a direct relationship between the customer and the business at the surface.

CALLER: OK. I just broke my wrist and it's costing me $6,000. I can't afford that.

LIMBAUGH: Well, you shouldn't have broken your wrist.

CALLER: That's true.

LIMBAUGH: You know why it costs $6,000? Because you, technically, aren't paying for it. An insurance policy's paying for it, backed up by some government insurance policy, or what have you.

Conservative media figures have also endorsed health care reform that “treat[s]” people “like dogs”

Doocy: Idea to “treat [people] like dogs” “makes a lot of sense.” On the March 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy reported on a Newsweek column by “very brilliant” veterinarian Karen Oberthaler entitled, “Treat People Like Dogs,” which suggested that the health care system should resemble the veterinary one. Doocy said the idea “makes a lot of sense,” because “we're on the hook” for our pet's medical costs. Doocy said: "[T]here's only 3 percent of Americans who have pet insurance and so we're on the hook for the charges. So, if Americans were on the hook for all the tests and stuff, it would be a lot different." Citing Oberthaler's column, Doocy added: “If you've got a golden retriever ... and you know that the dog has got cancer and it's -- you know, there really is no getting any better, would you order a bunch of tests that are going to be costly and right out of your pocket? Because chances are you don't have the insurance ... it also has to do with, you know, putting the dog through pain at the end of the road.”

Limbaugh: “There's no federal dog health care plan out there, and it's working just fine.” On the June 15, 2009, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh argued against public health care programs, claiming that “there's no federal dog health care plan out there, and it's working just fine,” because the “private market is providing dog owners every option they want for their dogs to be cared for” and that “it's based on the owner's ability to pay, there's no insurance involved.”