Howard Kurtz, beginning to see the light?

Howard Kurtz is bewildered that people believe falsehoods about health care reform, despite the fact that news organizations like the Washington Post have debunked them:

In the 10 days after Palin warned on Facebook of an America “in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel,' ” The Washington Post mentioned the phrase 18 times, the New York Times 16 times, and network and cable news at least 154 times (many daytime news shows are not transcribed).

While there is legitimate debate about the legislation's funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions, the former Alaska governor's claim that government panels would make euthanasia decisions was clearly debunked. Yet an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly -- a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers.


On Aug. 9, Post reporter Ceci Connolly said flatly in an A-section story: “There are no such 'death panels' mentioned in any of the House bills.”

Ok, let's take a look at that Connolly article:

Conservative talk-radio shows have raised the prospect of euthanasia based on a provision to reimburse doctors through Medicare for counseling sessions about end-of-life directives.

And comments posted on former Alaska Republican governor Sarah Palin's Facebook page Friday said that people would 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.”

There are no such “death panels” mentioned in any of the House bills.

That is not a particularly effective debunking, for several reasons, including:

1) Connolly repeats the false claims for two paragraphs before indicating their falsity.

2) Connolly doesn't explain their falsity in any way -- doesn't explain that the counseling sessions are optional, or that they would not impose outcomes on patients, doesn't indicate that the falsehood comes from people who have a pattern of lying about health care. Connolly's debunking comes down to “Trust me, not Sarah Palin or talk show hosts.” Obviously, many of Connolly's conservative readers are unlikely to do so.

3) Connolly's debunking sentence appears narrowly crafted: It can be read to apply only to the phrase “death panels,” not to the euthanasia in the first paragraph, and it refers specifically to the “House bills,” rather than making clear that nobody is proposing anything like Death Panels.

4) Connolly's article privileges the lie.

If this is what Kurtz holds up as a shining example of the media debunking the false claims, it isn't at all difficult to see why so many people believe them.

Meanwhile, Kurtz has finally discovered the fact that television has done a lousy job of covering the substance of health care reform:

The eruption of anger at town-hall meetings on health care, while real and palpable, became an endless loop on television. The louder the voices, the fiercer the confrontation, the more it became video wallpaper, obscuring the substantive arguments in favor of what producers love most: conflict.

Good to see Kurtz come around: I've written about that repeatedly over the past few weeks, while Kurtz has been defending the media's handling of the health care debate.