Misinformation pandemic: Conservative media use H1N1 to oppose health care reform

Since President Obama declared the H1N1 pandemic a national emergency on October 24, conservative media figures have accused the Obama administration of attempting to, in the words of Rush Limbaugh, “create panic and chaos” in order to “sell health care.” These charges ignore the prevalence of the disease, which, along with the consequent need to “enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans,” were factors Obama specifically cited when he declared the national emergency.

Conspiracy theory: Obama fearmongering about H1N1 to pass health reform

Limbaugh: government might be “hyping the number” of H1N1 cases to "[c]reate panic and chaos, sell health care." During the October 28 edition of his syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted “if that's true” that the government is “hyping the number of” H1N1 cases, “that doesn't surprise me. Create panic and chaos, sell health care, keep general unrest out there amongst the population -- it's right out the Obama formula.”

Limbaugh fill-in Davis suggested White House hyping flu to “make us feel oh-so-good about government handling a health issue.” Filling in for Limbaugh on October 26, guest-host Mark Davis noted that “since the swine flu issue has arisen and it happens to be alongside the massive health care debate,” then asked if there is “an effort on the part of this White House to make it seem worse than it is so that we are all just thinking and worrying and gnashing our teeth and wringing our hands over the kind of coverage we have and to make us feel oh-so-good about government handling a health issue.”

Beck co-host Gray: Obama is “just declaring a national emergency so [they] can take power.” On the October 26 edition of Glenn Beck's radio program, during a discussion of Obama's decision of declare the H1N1 pandemic a national emergency, co-host Pat Gray asserted of the Obama administration: “We're just declaring a national emergency so that we can take power, but we don't really want you to panic.”

Conservative media's charges ignore reality of the H1N1 pandemic

Obama declared “national emergency” to waive federal requirements, facilitating hospitals' emergency operations. Obama announced that he declared the pandemic a national emergency because “the rapid increase in illness across the Nation may overburden health care resources and that the temporary waiver of certain standard Federal requirements may be warranted in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency.”

CDC reported H1N1 has caused at least 20,000 hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attributed at least 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 1,000 deaths to the virus, according to a Washington Post report about Obama's national emergency declaration. From the article:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that the flu was spreading widely in at least 46 states and had already caused the hospitalization of at least 20,000 Americans. More than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus and more than 2,400 additional deaths were probably associated with it, officials said. [The Washington Post, 10/25/09]

Media still using H1N1 vaccine distribution to suggest government can't manage reform

Breitbart, Examiner claimed vaccine distribution indicates government can't handle reform. As Media Matters for America has noted, Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com highlighted a piece by Washington Examiner editorial page editor Mark Tapscott which blamed the H1N1 vaccine shortage on the government and suggested that the shortage is indicative of the government's ability to reform health care.

Fox Nation, Hannity, Pat Robertson follow Breitbart's lead. Like Breitbart, Fox Nation highlighted Tapscott's Examiner piece, linking to it with the headline: “Vaccine Shortage Not Best Advertisement for Obamacare.”


Similarly, on the October 26 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity noted the “severe shortage of the H1N1 vaccine” and asked: "[D]oesn't the government's success at providing the nation with flu vaccines, does it give you a lot of faith about their ability to take over the entire health care system?" Also, on the October 27 edition of The 700 Club, host Pat Robertson suggested that the number of people lining up to get the H1N1 vaccine should be “enough to scare you away from this public option.” He added: “They think the government is now -- is going to handle your health. They can't even get out vaccines for people, and they've had, they've had a good year or better to get the supply together, and they don't have it yet.”

CDC, Sebelius say manufacturers' projections of available vaccines were too high. CDC director Dr. Thomas Friedan said that vaccine supplies were below the number predicted because the estimates from the vaccine manufactures -- presumably the experts in flu vaccine manufacturing -- were too high. Friedan stated: “What we have learned more in the last couple of weeks is that not only is the virus unpredictable, but vaccine production is much less predictable than we wish. We are nowhere near where we thought we'd be by now. We are not near where the vaccine manufacturers predicted we would be.” And Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called the projections the government received from the manufacturers “overly rosy.”

Hannity's anti-reform crusade: Fox host uses H1N1 to fearmonger about rationing

Hannity used H1N1 to fearmonger seniors will be denied care. On September 21, Hannity suggested during both his radio and Fox News shows that the CDC's list of priority groups to receive the H1N1 vaccine places the elderly “last on the list” and thus amounts to “a form of government deciding rationing.” Hannity, who has repeatedly fearmongered that health care reform will lead to rationing of care, linked the H1N1 vaccine to health reform and asked “why would you expect Obamacare to be any different?”