While the Democratic leadership is accusing the NBC/WSJ poll of stacking the deck against health care reform, and to an extent they're correct, it's clear that a mountain of misinformation is successfully reaching the public, at real harm to the cause of reform.
One of the reasons why it has become tougher is due to misperceptions about the president’s plans for reform.
Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.
Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly.
This is also in the poll: When Americans are read "actual details of the Obama health care plan, a majority -- 53 percent -- say they are in favor of it."
I think the media needs to look itself in the mirror. I fully expect Fox News to misinform its viewers and tilt toward the status quo. When you have a major news network reaching millions sourcing their research on town hall meetings to conservative blogs, we have a serious problem. Further, the current balkanized media landscape allows the crazies to retreat to their ideological corners, where they feel comfortable yelling Heil Hitler to a Jew.
But this goes beyond Fox News, which even with its reach represents a sliver of the overall population. Steve Benen has this right.
That last one is especially jarring. If the poll is accurate, nearly half the country seriously believes government officials seek the authority to pull the plug on grandma. That's insane, and it points to a political discourse that's badly broken.
But more than anything, it creates an enormous incentive to lie, blatantly and repeatedly, to the public. There are no real penalties, and the number of Americans who'll believe nonsense skews the debate in the liars' direction.
Partisans who aggressively lie on major media don't get thrown off those networks. In fact, the lies are privileged, given more importance and prominence than the truth.
Look what this local paper did to GOP leader Roy Blunt. He was lying, they called him out on it, and forced him to stop the lie.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, knows a thing or two about health care. But some of what he knows just isn’t true.
“I’m 59,” Mr. Blunt said last week during a meeting with Post-Dispatch reporters and editors. “In either Canada or Great Britain, if I broke my hip, I couldn’t get it replaced.”
We fact-checked that. At least 63 percent of hip replacements performed in Canada last year and two-thirds of those done in England were on patients age 65 or older. More than 1,200 in Canada were done on people older than 85.
In a subsequent conversation with the paper, Blunt claimed: “I’m glad you pointed that out to me. I won’t use that example any more.”
I don't know if that's the model. But surely the whole nation need not be ignorant. You have to combat something with something, and Democrats haven't totally done the job. At the same time, the media must live up to their own responsibilities. A fully ignorant nation wouldn't have elected Barack Obama President, given all the smears and lies. That same spirit can dominate again, but it takes some work.
...more on this in the context of NBC trying to pass the media misinformation machine off on Fox, when they do a lot of the same thing.