The staff of The New Republic has begun to flagellate themselves with birch twigs over the reappearance of professional liar Betsy McCaughey as a nemesis to health care reform. Michelle Cottle wrote a long vivisection of McCaughey under the familiar title "No Exit," the same as McCaughey's 1994 article in TNR that managed to set conventional wisdom in the Beltway against the Clinton health care plan. You cannot read the reams of charges without concluding that McCaughey is a horrible woman, which I'm sure was Cottle's directive (though in McCaughey's case, it's not hard). Franklin Foer, the current editor, also threw himself upon the mercy of the court of public opinion:
As Betsy McCaughey returns to the scene for another fight against health care reform, New Republic editor Frank Foer is still thinking about the piece she wrote for the magazine 15 years ago.
“To me, it’s an original sin that I hope we can expunge,” Foer told POLITICO [...]
Indeed, the McCaughey piece has been a sticking point for TNR staffers for some time. And when Foer took over as editor in March 2006, the magazine recanted McCaughey’s article and formally apologized for it. But still, Foer said he “wanted to make it our mission to be on the right side this time” and pointed out that he’s “made health care reform a pretty important issue for the magazine.”
Of course, Marty Peretz still likes her:
“I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all,” Peretz wrote in an email.
“I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that,” he continued. "But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate.”
Aside from Peretz acknowledging he doesn't read his own magazine, there's a bias he displays here toward giving wide latitude to anyone who offers the conservative counter in favor of the status quo against something new and different. Peretz has studiously ignored 15 years' worth of discrediting McCaughey, including the recent charge that she coordinated her piece in TNR with the tobacco industry, who wanted to stop the Clinton plan because cigarette taxes partially financed it. The problem is that other media outlets have done the same. They have not only failed to rebut McCaughey, they have bothered to amplify her claims in the first place, as Jamison Foser points out.
There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about -- because their lies don't drive major media coverage about an important issue. That's what's infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she's a liar.
That's what's infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn't address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don't they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn't they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That's the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
Cottle isn't responsible for McCaughey's 1994 TNR piece - people should direct those inquiries to Peretz and Andrew Sullivan, who as of a couple years ago was still mighty touchy about it. But there's enough in the public domain - Cottle has now pulled all the strands together into one package - for news producers to never put her on the air again, given the history of dishonesty.
I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Just yesterday, in fact, McCaughey printed an op-ed where she favorably quoted David McKalip, the neurosurgeon who earlier this year sent out a picture of Barack Obama dressed as a witch doctor with the word "Obamacare" below him. She must be building a new generation of liars.
...and as if on cue...