As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Zombie Liars And The Right-Wing Puke Funnel

Media Matters chronicles the evolution of a wingnut talking point, where Rush reads something, distorts it, bounces it to Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Fox, and then Rush cites the chatter as an "example" of how the talking point is growing. It's all so depressingly familiar.

Wall Street Journal senior economic writer Stephen Moore and Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly promoted on February 10 the falsehood that the economic recovery bill includes a provision that would, in Moore's words, "hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments." Former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey apparently originated the false claim in a February 9 Bloomberg "commentary," which Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge touted that day. Indeed, Moore credited Limbaugh, saying of the provision, "I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just -- it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices." Limbaugh later took credit for spreading this story, saying during the February 10 edition of his radio show: "Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it's all over mainstream media. Well, it's -- it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it."

The name "Betsy McCaughey" may not be totally familiar to you, but it may interest you to know that perhaps nobody is more responsible for the fact that America is the only industrialized nation on Earth without a universal health care system than her. The latest distortion, that because of the health IT provisions in the stimulus - backed by every side of the ideological spectrum from Barack Obama to Newt Gingrich - a National Coordinator of Health Information Technology will

...monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions.

Now, I can't think of anyone who should be more worried about electronic medical records being made public than Rush Limbaugh, but McCaughey is predictably peddling nonsense here. It talks about doctors having "complete, accurate information" to guide patients' care, but nothing about a federal bureaucracy having any authority to do the same. It's a deliberate lie, a misreading of the language of the bill.

But McCaughey, a Hudson Institute Senior Fellow, has a long history of distorting legislation to scare Americans about "socialized medicine." She was the writer of the long New Republic piece, allowed into the magazine by then-editor Andrew Sullivan, that slandered the Clinton health care plan with one lie after another. James Fallows provides the history, with a telling reminder of how the Village worked to screw health care reform in the 1990s:

Much of the problem for the plan seemed, at least in Washington, to come not even from mandatory alliances but from an article by Elizabeth McCaughey, then of the Manhattan Institute, published in The New Republic last February. The article's working premise was that McCaughey, with no ax to grind and no preconceptions about health care, sat down for a careful reading of the whole Clinton bill. Appalled at the hidden provisions she found, she felt it her duty to warn people about what the bill might mean. The title of her article was "No Exit," and the message was that Bill and Hillary Clinton had proposed a system that would lock people in to government-run care. "The law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," McCaughey wrote in the first paragraph. "The doctor can be paid only by the plan, not by you."

George Will immediately picked up this warning, writing in Newsweek that "it would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem 'necessary.'" The "doctors in jail" concept soon turned up on talk shows and was echoed for the rest of the year.

These claims, McCaughey's and Will's, were simply false. McCaughey's pose of impartiality was undermined by her campaign as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New York soon after her article was published. I was less impressed with her scholarly precision after I compared her article with the text of the Clinton bill. Her shocked claim that coverage would be available only for "necessary" and "appropriate" treatment suggested that she had not looked at any of today's insurance policies. In claiming that the bill would make it impossible to go outside the health plan or pay doctors on one's own, she had apparently skipped past practically the first provision of the bill (Sec. 1003), which said,

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services."

It didn't matter. The White House issued a point-by-point rebuttal, which The New Republic did not run. Instead it published a long piece by McCaughey attacking the White House statement. The idea of health policemen stuck.

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose, n'est-ce pas? Gary Wills has more on McCaughey's lies.

This is how the conventional wisdom often gets set in Washington - an article that "the right people" read builds among the chattering class and then is distilled out to the people, no matter its veracity. While zombies like McCaughey are still churning out the lies, there's a whole new set - Rush, Drudge, Fox - of opinion leaders that get to set the agenda on these matters. Drudge still rules their world.

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