October 27, 2013 § 3 Comments
I just watched Meet the Press. David Gregory did his usual imitation of a Fox News anchor, ignoring the obvious lies repeated by GOP flacks and asking loaded questions to those seeking to explain government policies. Example: when Rick Santorum said the federal government would fund the expansion of Medicaid “for only a short time”, Gregory did not correct him or allow Governor Granholm to do so. The truth is, of course, that the federal government will fund 100% of the cost of expanded Medicaid for three years and at least 90%of that cost thereafter. Millions of viewers, however, will not know that and will not know how callous and homicidal it is for GOP governors to reject money to provide health care for millions of poverty stricken men, women and children in their states, leaving them to struggle with illness and life threatening health problems without the medical care they need.
Example: when Alex Castellanos,, a GOP hireling, described education as “a disaster” and Medicare and Social Security as a “bankrupt Ponnzi scheme”, Gregory did not correct him. Neither program is “bankrupt”, a term that means that an entity is not able to meet its current obligations. Social Security is in no danger of becoming bankrupt. It will require some minor tweaks to insure its ability to pay benefits at some time in the future but its popularity and success virtually insures those minor changes will be made. Medicare is affected by the rising cost of health care, a problem most experts expect the ACA to mitigate, partly as a result of the ACA’s requirement that health insurers make preventive care available.
Milions of viewers will not know this because Gregory allowed both Rick Santorum and Castellanos to repeat these GOP talking points lies that have been repeated so many times that the average consumer of TV news probably believes them to be true.
So far as concerns Castellanos’ claim that American public education is a “disaster”: First, the problems of public education are more attributable to the obsessive protection of “local control” than any influence by the federal government. One problem is that many children being raised in poverty, arrive at school hungry. The federal SNAP program, generally known as “food stamps”, has been trying to cope with this problem. Many children from low income homes need help when they reach the entry age for public education. The federal government, led by the Obama administration, has been trying to provide funds for pre-K education to respond to this problem, The Head Start program is another federal program that assists underprivileged children to achieve educational success. The GOP has opposed their efforts by trying to cut funding for them. The GOP dominated House of Representatives recently voted to cut 40 billion dollars from the Food Stamp program.
None of this information was mentioned in response to Castellanos’ lying comments. Sunday talk shows could be a useful way to educate people about true issues related to governmental policies that affect their lives. Instead, they are a platform for spewing misleading information. The First Amendment, the most valuable feature of American government, has been converted into an enabler for harmful propaganda.
One of the GOP talking points lies is that “millions of Americans are being notified that their present health insurance plan will be cancelled as a result of the ACA.” When that is repeated, it is natural for people who have health insurance to become fearful and angry. It sounds like the President’s health care program will leave them without health insurance.
This is a perfect example of a half-truth lie. Suppose Google notified everyone with a 4S Iphone that it would stop working on December 1, 2013. Can you imagine how angry and upset millions of 4s Iphones would become? But then suppose that Apple offered a new 5s Iphone to every owner of the 4S Iphone with new improved features at no charge and no change in the existing service contracts. Some customers would probably complain about the inconvenience of swapping the phones, but most would appreciate the change and realize that Google had misled them.
David Gregory interviewed Patrick Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue, the Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurer in Florida. Gregory flashed on the screen a scare headline from a Florida paper stating “300,00 Health Insurance Policies Cancelled” (I may be misstating the headline, but that was its message.) Then he began lobbing attack questions at Garaghty.
Garaghty, showing admiral restraint in response to Gregory’s effort to portray the ACA as responsible for denying health care to 300,000 people, patiently explained, over and over, that those policies did not meet the requirements of the ACA because they did not have some protections required by the new law. He explained that agents of his company, at the same time they notified policy holders that they would have to seek new policies, were informing them of many new health insurance policies available to them and assisting them in becoming insured under one of those new policies. Gregory asked him to guarantee that the new policies would be no more expensive than the old policies. Garaghty responded that he could not make such a sweeping statement because the cost of the new policies would depend on the type of coverage chosen by the policy holder and upon the government subsidy available to defray the premium cost.
Finally, when Gregory could not get the kind of damning indictment of the ACA he was demanding, he switched to a White House conference attended by Garaghty before the launch of the ACA. He asked if Garaghty told the President that technical problems might accompany the launch. Garaghty, alert to the headline Gregory was seeking: “President Ignored Warning of Launch Glitches”, refused to accommodate Gregory’s headline hunting, responding only that the conference was productive and informative. Gregory gave up, contenting himself with a wry comment that Garaghty had not answered his question. Garaghty, obviously well able to handle trick questions, continued to smile and thanked Gregory for the interview.
This interview both exposed the misleading nature of the GOP’s effort to scare people with tales of their health insurance being cancelled. It also exposed Gregory’s misunderstanding of the function of an American journalist. It is true that exposing government fault is a valuable benefit of the First Amendment. I feel privileged to live in a country where the government is not allowed to punish public exposure of its faults and failures. That does not mean, however, that the only proper function of journalism is to air critical attacks on government’s policies. The most fundamental requirement of responsible journalism is that it be truthful. That means repeating carefully worded misleading statements made by political enemies of government is not journalism. It is acting as a megaphone for propaganda.
David Gregory misunderstands this simple principle. He believes his duty is to attack the policies and actions of the government, thus demonstrating his professional independence. He also designs his TV show based on false equivalence. He seems to think that “balance” requires him to afford a platform for political party flacks who have no credentials to qualify them to judge programs like health care, but who are adept at word games calculated to confuse viewers about the facts. He suffers from a comparison with other journalists like Tim Russert, his predecessor, and Walter Cronkite.