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Daily Howler: Republicans haven't said squat about health care. So Toner just fudged basic facts
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SPAWN OF GUPTA! Republicans haven't said squat about health care. So Toner just fudged basic facts: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007

GUPTA/TONER, HEAL THYSELF: Sanjay Gupta had a very bad week—and his week was quite instructive. Last Thursday, we said we hoped that health care experts would amplify Michael Moore’s presentation in his new documentary, Sicko. In his film, Moore makes a brilliant opening argument in favor of single-payer health care. But no such film can include “all the facts;” we’d love to see well-intentioned people extend the debate Moore has started.

But alas! In the mahoganied world of the mainstream press, Hard Pundit Law has long determined what can be said about a Moore film. It’s the law! If you’re a mainstream scribe in good standing, you’re required to say, as Gupta did, that Moore has “fudged his facts.” On CNN, Gupta recited the script—but in fact, it was Gupta who had some basic facts wrong, and it was Gupta who was making absurd comparisons, using outmoded data. To be honest, Moore hadn’t bungled his facts; it was Gupta who had gotten into the fudge. But so what? He recited the guild’s treasured script, much like Philip Boffey before him.

Because yep! Philip Boffey’s “Editorial Observer” in the New York Times had been driven along by this same tired script (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/5/07). In the world of the mainstream press, you’re required to say that Moore fudged his facts. You’re allowed to praise his film after that; you can even claim that you share his outlook—although, almost surely, you don’t. (Boffey and Gupta both adopted this stance.) But you’re required to start with the claim of fudged facts. Doing so, Gupta bollixed badly.

But then, a lot of folk in the mainstream press have been tilting their health care reporting of late. Let’s return to that puzzling front-page report in last Friday’s New York Times. (For our first treatment of this piece, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/10/07).

You may recall Robin Toner’s odd framework: Candidates from both major parties are trying to tackle the health care crisis. “Sixteen months before Election Day, presidential candidates in both parties are promising to overhaul the system,” she wrote, right there in her opening paragraph. “Their approaches are very different,” she acknowledged. “Still, while they argue over solutions, both parties acknowledge the problems and their political urgency.”

As we noted in Tuesday’s post, we were puzzled by Toner’s framework. We knew that several major Dems had been talking about health care in substantial detail. But we were surprised to hear that Republican hopefuls were deeply involved in the topic too. Funny—we really couldn’t recall seeing these candidates talking up health care proposals.

Well, needless to say, Toner was stretching; she had bent over backwards to present a Republican-friendly framework. The New York Times works hard these days to vouch for the good hearts of Major Republicans (see below). And in this piece, there they went again! Toner was doing double back-flips to present the two parties as equals.

Are Republican candidates “promising to overhaul the [health care] system,” “acknowledging the problems and their political urgency?” We read further, wondering if Toner could prove it. Among GOP hopefuls, she discussed Romney first. We tried to spot the sense of urgency we’d been promised just moments before:
TONER: On the Republican side, few candidates have been better prepared to deal with the issue than former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who helped push through that state's health plan with bipartisan support. But Republican primary voters tend to be leery of new government requirements, and, arguably, of Massachusetts as a role model. Mr. Romney, on the campaign trail, talks generally about getting ''everybody inside the health care system,'' through ''market reforms'' state by state to make private insurance cheaper and more available. But not, he says, ''with a government takeover.''

Sally Canfield, policy director for the Romney campaign, says that Mr. Romney is proud of his record, but ''the Massachusetts plan was crafted for Massachusetts,'' and that a national plan would be different. For example, aides said he did not support a federal version of the Massachusetts requirement that individuals obtain insurance.
That was it—and speaking frankly, it didn’t sound very urgent to us. Aides explained what Romney didn’t support; meanwhile, out on the campaign trail, the candidate was found “talking generally.” And uh-oh! In the graphic which accompanied Toner’s report, these words appeared beneath Romney’s picture: “Has not unveiled details of plan.” Get ready to read that again.

For our money, Romney hadn’t quite “acknowledge the problems and their political urgency.” But next up for Toner was Rudy Giuliani. According to Toner, “Giuliani plans to produce a major proposal in the next month, aides say.” Then she offered this halting account of what that major proposal might turn out to be:
TONER (continuing directly): Mr. Giuliani says he wants to give individuals more control over, and responsibility for, health insurance, encouraging them to buy their own coverage on the private market and giving them ''a very big tax deduction'' to do it. Right now, most Americans under 65 get their coverage through their employers, who have the benefit of significant tax advantages, pooled risk and group rates.

Mr. Giuliani's approach echoes President Bush's call for an ''ownership society,'' which was popular with economic conservatives but widely criticized as putting too much risk on individuals. ''Every one of the Democrats wants government-mandated health insurance,'' Mr. Giuliani said recently. ''We have to go in exactly the opposite direction.''
Not a whole lot of information there. (In the accompanying graphic, under Giuliani’s photo, that phrase appeared again: “Has not unveiled details of plan.”) But give them credit! The Times had found a quote from a June 5 debate in which Giuliani had been forced to discuss his urgent feelings. In its graphic, the Times presented this part of the hopeful’s statement:
GIULIANI: The problem with our health insurance is it's government- and employer-dominated. People don't make individual choices. It's your health; you should own your health insurance. We should be giving you a major tax deduction—$15,000 for a family—so you can buy your own health insurance.
That would be helpful for people with upper-end incomes. But would that tax deduction—not a tax credit—help lower-income people, people with small tax liabilities? Giuliani didn’t explain at the debate—and neither did Toner last Friday. We decided to check Giuliani’s web site. We found one sentence on health care.

Toner then turned to John McCain. And sure enough! Under his photo in the Times graphic, that phrase appeared once again:
Has not unveiled details of plan
But so what? Having told us how “urgently” these Big Reps are working, Toner plowed onward:
TONER: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, will also outline a health care plan this summer, aides said. They said it would be intended to make coverage ''affordable and available,'' using tax credits and the expansion of programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program, but would include no new mandates on individuals.
That was it! For the record, McCain’s utterly bungled health care proposal was one of the most comical parts of Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/4/07). But the press corps buried the embarrassing incident back then, and you can be sure they won’t bring it up now.

We’re sorry, but there’s little real parity between the two parties when to comes to the current discussion of health care. As far as we can tell, health care isn’t even mentioned on the “Issues” page of McCain’s web site. (Number two issue: “The sanctity of life.”) It rates one sentence in Giuliani’s “12 Commitments to America;” and no, it isn’t mentioned at all on his 10-issue “Issues” page. It gets three paragraphs on Romney’s web site; he ranks health care as issue 9, on a 10-issue list. And just to show you how vague it all is, here is the governor’s stirring treatment of this urgent issue:
ROMNEY WEB SITE: The health of our nation can be improved by extending health insurance to all Americans, not through a government program or new taxes, but through market reforms.

Governor Romney: "We can't have as a nation 40 million people—or, in my state, half a million—saying, 'I don't have insurance, and if I get sick, I want someone else to pay." (USA Today, July 5, 2005)

Governor Romney: "It's a conservative idea," says Romney, "insisting that individuals have responsibility for their own health care. I think it appeals to people on both sides of the aisle: insurance for everyone without a tax increase." (USA Today, July 5, 2005)
It’s so urgent that Romney’s quotes are both more than two years old! And this is the Big Republican hopeful who gives this issue the most space!

Do you mind if we say it? Romney’s presentation is a bit vague. And yet, that’s the most detailed treatment of health care found on these three Big Republican web sites. By contrast, Edwards and Obama have presented detailed plans, and Clinton—the Big Dem slacker, to judge from the Times graphic (“Has not unveiled details of plan”)—has a 12-paragraph overview of the issue (it comes with a lengthy video),plus this endless “fact sheet.” (Remember: She’s the Dem slacker!) Meanwhile, according to that Times graphic, all three Big Dems have gone on the record about “How to pay for added health costs.” What’s in the graphic for all three Republicans? “Details not available yet.”

Might we make a simple point? At present, there is no comparison between the two parties when it comes to the focus on health care. Big Dems have discussed the issue at length; Big Reps have barely discussed it at all. Of course, there’s nothing automatically “wrong” with the GOP’s focus, and at some point, these Republican hopefuls may come up with real health care proposals. But Toner’s attempt to pretend we have parity reeks of Big Republican spin.

Sorry, but no—at the present time, there’s no comparison between the two parties when it comes to health care urgency. But so what? In recent weeks, the New York Times has been in the business of vouching for the good faith of Big Republicans, and Toner seems to have had that assignment as she assembled this puzzling front-page report. A few weeks ago, a front-page report vouched for President Bush’s good motives on the issue of immigration (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/07). Last week, another report vouched for the good-faith way Bush had decided to commute Libby’s sentence; Eric Boehlert reviewed that piece in this report for Media Matters. And one week ago, Toner also seemed to feel that she had to vouch for Republicans’ hearts. To be honest, these candidate haven’t shown the slightest sign of caring about this topic yet; it’s pure speculation when Toner assures us that they will come forward with big honking plans. But the New York Times is a very strange paper, and one of its ongoing projects was acted out here as we heard again—no real evidence required—about how much these magnificent men care about measles and mumps.

On their web sites, you’re run down by tumbleweed when you search for ideas about health care. But so what? If you read the New York Times, both major parties care, quite deeply, about this urgent part of your life. Why, even the laughable John McCain is going to have a helpful plan! Well—he’s going to “outline” his plan, “this summer.”

Toner knew that because aides told her so. Since then, of course, they’ve been fired.

THERE THEY GO AGAIN: We had planned to spend four days on this general topic, but the Michelle Rhee story is so remarkable that we switched our focus on Wednesday. But there they go again, dear readers! As Campaign 08 unfolds, the New York Times, our most clownish paper, seems determined to keep providing its famously fatuous campaign coverage. On Monday, this front-page overview piece by Adam Nagourney was so utterly silly that it could only have appeared in our paper of record. Last Saturday, meanwhile, we cringed when we saw that fresh-faced Jeff Zeleny has finally become a full-blooded Timesman. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! His piece ran beneath this headline:
In Iowa Yard, Biden Talks (and Talks) About Experience
Ha ha ha! Zeleny, a transplant from the Trib, proved he belongs to the Gotham guild with this carefully crafted complaint. Deftly, he polished a Treasured Old Chestnut. He mocked the way those Big Dem Pols insist on answering citizens’ questions:
ZELENY (7/7/07): The glass door slid open, and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. hustled onto the wood deck of Bob and Maggie Elliott's house on Dover Street here. Throwing his hand in the air, Mr. Biden offered a few paradelike waves and ran down the short staircase.

“'I'm one of the 800 people running for president this year,'' Mr. Biden, Democrat of Delaware, said with a grin, introducing himself to a crowd on Monday. ''I'll be very brief. It's too beautiful of a night for me to talk too long.''

Nearly two hours later, Mr. Biden continued to walk and talk his way across the Elliotts' backyard. He fielded so many questions—methodically moving back and forth—that he started to wear a path in the lush lawn.

More than 70 people remained. They moved in closer and closer, forming a semicircle around Mr. Biden as he articulated a list of challenges facing the nation.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Loquacious Biden had said he’d be brief—but two hours later, he was still talking! (And talking.) Of course, Biden wasn’t still giving his speech, the speech which he had said would be brief; he was now answering citizens’ questions, questions these citizens just kept asking. But the New York Times, like other big papers, has loved this narrative since the fall of 1999, when they began trashing Candidate Gore for staying late, after every town meeting, to answer all citizens’ questions. The press mocked Gore for doing that then. Zeleny mocked Biden now.

Gore had been willing to answer all questions! And there was Biden, doing the same! You’d think it would be a heartfelt portrait, something taken from Norman Rockwell: The Big Pol who’s willing to stand there all night, taking questions from average citizens. But at the Times (and elsewhere), it’s a long running joke. Zeleny, earning his card in the guild, ended his profile at a second event. Biden just wouldn’t stop talking (and talking):
ZELENY: At a second event here, Mr. Biden stood outside a restaurant near the University of Iowa when the crowd grew to more than 100 people. After much of the audience broke up, Mr. Biden kept talking, and a smaller semicircle formed.

He ended with an adage from Delaware politics, saying, ''If you keep people standing for more than 15 minutes, you've lost their vote.''

The crowd laughed.

Mr. Biden pressed on, saying: ''I'll answer any question. I'll be standing right over there. The last plane left. So I'm here.''
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Timesmen know to roll their eyes when signs of democracy appear.

WHY THEY HATE: In New Hampshire, Gore was routinely mocked for staying late to answer all questions. Reason? The “journalists” wanted to get back to the Wayfarer Inn, where they could get sh*t-faced with all their colleagues. Thanks to Gore, they had to work late! At the Wayfarer, it’s inspiring to see them passed out on the floor, bravely voicing their code of conduct. “Must—recite script—about hopefuls,” they’ll say, cheered on by like-minded friends.

Ah, Quackers! Quackers at the Wayfayer! Hard by John Goffe’s Grist Mill! Gay Jervey described all the fun in the Times. You know what to do—just click here.