Have you ever watched a couple of dogs play with a chew toy? For some reason, that's the image that comes to mind when right wingers get hold of a talking point and simply will not let go. No matter how much the rest of us try to take it back and expose it as a lie, they just hang on, as if their life depended on it.
The latest example is the disgusting display on the part of the far right regarding a provision for digitization of medical records that was included as part of the stimulus package. Now, one could argue that such a measure should probably have its own bill, with clear provisions, but the provision merely creates the impetus and the funding to put all medical records into electronic form, so that doctors will have easy access to it when it becomes necessary, "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."
See the above phrase? The one in quotes? That is actually from the bill itself, and has been taken as a talking point and gnawed on by nearly every right wing crank in the media, as meaning the government will be telling doctors what to do.
Yes, that's right; in right wing world, creating a medical records database, so that a doctor doesn’t have to guess on treatment when you end up in the ER while on a business trip on the other side of the country, has become "the government wants to tell your doctors how to treat you." And it's become "conventional wisdom" among the gullible morons who sop this crap up with a biscuit.
This talking point comes from the best, folks. And make no mistake; this is not about killing the stimulus package, or even an objection to making medical records easily available to doctors. This is the first salvo in what will be a very deliberate attempt to discourage you from signing onto a national health care program, by scaring the crap out of you.
The creator of this talking point is one Betsy McCaughey, and she started this outright lie in a "commentary" she made on Bloomberg.com. In it, she attributes all sorts of nasty features to this provision that simply are not in there. This is a spending bill, folks. The language in the House version of the bill – which is the one that started this — does not establish authority to "monitor treatments" or restrict your doctor in any way. Its a lie. Go look at the section she referred to in her initial column if you don't believe me.
Betsy McCaughey, folks, is a well-trained and well-paid liar, and her most passionate issue seems to be to make sure the health care status quo is maintained, and that we never have a national health care system.
For those unfamiliar with Betsy, here is some relevant background.
In 1994, McCaughey wrote an article in The New Republic, entitled “No Exit,” that criticized the Clinton health care reform package, and warned of imaginary “hidden provisions.” Though right wingers at the time also viewed that article as critical and treated it as their very own chew toy, most of the main contentions of the article, including her twin claims that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," and that “doctor(s) can be paid only by the plan, not by you,” were contradicted by the facts, to the point that The New Republic had to print an apology and a retraction, although it chose not to run a point-by-point rebuttal written by the White House. Hell; before people found out most of the facts in the article weren't, well, facts, Betsy actually won a couple of awards. (James Fallows wrote a great piece on this years ago.)
Now, perhaps it’s unfair to call Betsy a liar. Perhaps Ms. McCaughey -Ross (yes, her married name is Betsy Ross) simply has a difficult time with reading comprehension. But this is the second time in 15 years that a health care provision has made it into a bill in Congress, and the second time she’s not only gotten it wrong, but proclaimed that a bill said the opposite of what it actually said. But perhaps having a Ph.D in Constitutional History doesn’t actually make someone a better reader.
It’s instructive to know that Betsy is that she cut her teeth at the Manhattan Institute, a right wing “think tank,” that touts its own penchant for “new ideas,” while actually taking the same old ideas and coming up with new ways to sell them. Then, she dabbled on politics, where she became George Pataki’s Lieutenant Governor, at least for his first term. Apparently, he found her too right wing to stand. Now, she’s a player at the Hudson Institute, another “think tank” that is bankrolled by none other than the largest pharmaceutical companies. See, they don’t want a national health insurance plan, because then insurance would have oversight, and they might not be able to charge as much as they want for drugs.
But I digress. This column is about the amazing circuit this talking point has made since Monday, when Bloomberg printed her lie without question.
First up was former fat junkie and proven liar, Rush Limbaugh. He grabbed the story and gleefully ran with it, of course, obediently retelling to his moronic listeners the same ignorant crap McCaughey said in her column.
Betsy McCaughey has written a column at Bloomberg detailing some of the most onerous provisions in this stimulus bill on health care. And there's a new bureaucracy created, the national coordinator of health information technology. Now, listen to this. The national coordinator of health information technology will monitor treatments that your doctor gives you to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost-effective.
Within minutes, a similarly obedient Matt Drudge, who is even dumber than Limbaugh,and has similarly moronic followers, went ahead and repeated the lies, using a special “red headline” on the front of his web site.
But this was but the beginning of the crapfest, folks, because it was then time for Fox News to get involved.
Now, we all know that Fox News’ journalistic credentials are such that they once went to court to reassert their right to lie on the air and actually won. But this “story” demonstrates just how entrenched they are in the proverbial journalistic sewer. The original commentary on Bloomberg.com was posted on February 9. By the morning of February 10, it was all over Fox News. The morning show twits were all over it, with America’s Newsroom’s Stephen Moore declaring, “"[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill.Hemmer). We've been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments." (courtesy Media Matters) Moore also expounded upon the lie, and fed this phony scary scenario to senior citizens:
He later claimed that the bill "especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs — what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that." (courtesy Media Matters)
First of all, the legitimate media had barely covered it by that point. Only Limbaugh and Drudge had reported it that first day. And since the entire report was made up nonsense, it was unlikely that anyone with any journalistic credibility would have touched it. The language in the bill wasn’t even close to what McCaughey, Limbaugh, Drudge, and the Fox News Morning Liars had claimed. They even went so far as to attempt to assert some credibility with the lie, by asking Senator Arlen Specter about it. Specter. of co
urse, had no idea such provisions were in the bill, because they weren’t in the bill. To his credit, however, he didn’t pretend he memorized the bill, and assured everyone that he would check into it and make sure the government did not have such enormous power. (He subsequently voted for the bill, which would indicate to those who are not actually brain-dead that he subsequently found out that McCaughey, et al were full of shit, by the way…)
But that didn’t stop Limbaugh from sticking his formerly oxy contin-stained fingers into the pot again, and the ersatz journalist and self-described “entertainer” took credit for “breaking” the story, and even used Specter’s surprise that such a provision was in there as "proof :that he had somehow tried to save the world from collapse:
Now this health care thing — back to this. Now, I still haven't gotten to the — to the — well, what's the word for this? This is — this is major. I haven't gotten to it yet. You could say that I am teasing you. Yes, I'm going continue to tease because I gotta, you know, I've got to point out the reason [President] Obama does not want you listening to me is this health care thing that we uncovered yesterday. 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. Some of the senators are being asked about it. They didn't know that it was in there. We will get to the details of that again shortly.
See anything missing from there? How about the facts behind McCaughey’s tendency to shill against the very concept of a national health care plan, and her Hudson Institute’s dependence on money from drug companies just to survive? How about a quote from the actual language in the bill that supposedly does those things, and puts the government in charge of deciding treatment for individual Americans? Of course he's not going to quote the actual bill, because even his brain dead listeners might actually say, "Hey there Lurlene! That bill don't actually say what Rush says, after all!" So, he lets it lay there, like the journalistic turd it is.
If the story began and ended with Limbaugh, while running through the backed up colon that is Fox News, it might not be so bad. But the echo wasn’t finished running through the chamber.
Later that night, Lou Dobbs of CNN had Dr. Betsy herself on his program, and allowed her to spew forth her lies, pretty much unchallenged. Not only that, but Dobbs pretty much reinforced what McCaughey had to say, before she even said it:
DOBBS: Well, hidden deep within the stimulus package are provisions that could greatly limit the health care that we all receive. My next guest says those provisions, in fact, could give the federal government unprecedented control over our medical treatment. Betsy McCaughey is former lieutenant governor of New York; she's the founder and the chair of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. She's also senior fellow with the Hudson Institute. Betsy, great to have you with us. (courtesy Media Matters)
See what he did there? He declared that what McCaughey had said in her Bloomberg column was true, even before she said her piece. There is nothing in the stimulus package, even after tons of revisions, that would limit health care in any way. This is doubly ironic to any of us who have either experienced or watched someone we care about experience the tug-of-war that most health insurance carriers put people through, should they dare to get hurt or sick. Health insurance companies limit people’s health care quite drastically, yet, neither Dobbs nor McCaughey seem to care about that very much.
So, with Lou's blessing, Betsy went on to explain her lie, and even expound upon it:
MCCAUGHEY: (The stimulus bill) says several things, Lou. First of all, it says that every single person in the U.S. must have their medical treatments entered into an electronic federal database. Now, electronic medical records can be a good thing. It means that if you have to go to the hospital, you can get your records instantly –
(Including your medical records in the database is) compulsory now, however. But in addition, it goes much farther than that. It promises several things. It promises that whatever the system is, it's going to eliminate inefficient care, excessive care, duplicative care. It's going to eliminate disparities of care between one person and another.
DOBBS: And the issue is, in whose opinion —
McCAUGHEY: That's right.
DOBBS: — is it duplication?
McCAUGHEY: Whatever the federal government deems unnecessary care. Take a look at page 442.
McCAUGHEY: And worse yet — and now I'm speaking really to the physicians — this bill gives the secretary of Health and Human Services the power to determine which doctors are, quote, "meaningful users of this new system" — it's against the rules not to be — and empowers the secretary to use quote, "increasingly stringent measures to enforce compliance."
DOBBS: You know the proponents of this — of this legislation are saying that it is only about the technology, only about the data. How do you respond?
McCAUGHEY: Well, first of all, I'd like to know why it's slipped in here. This is a stimulus bill. It's about taxing and spending. (courtesy Media Matters)
I will agree with her on that last point. I don’t think it was necessary to include this in the stimulus package. But the rest of it is a load of crap. None of the language in the bill – in either the House version to which she was referring, the Senate version that was passed later, or the current version that just passed the House as I write this – says anything of the kind.
Dr. Betsy wasn't finished with her little media tour, however. She then appeared on the new Glenn Beck program on Fox,. You know the one; in the promos, he proclaimed his disgust with people who refer to liberals as "Marxists," but he's referred to them as "Marxists" on pretty much every show. Well, of coiurse she was going to repeat her bullshit to the profoundly stupid Beck, and she received the usual glassy-eyed stare in return;
BECK: Betsy, I get up this morning, and I start hearing about universal health care, and that — that the doctors are now going to have to answer to some, you know, doctor czar in Washington.
McCAUGHEY: Well, what is particularly disturbing about the health provisions in this bill is that they don't belong in this bill. There are several provisions that affect every individual in the United States.
The bill makes it very clear there are no exceptions. It's on page 445, 454, 479 — the phrases "every person in the United States." Now, these provisions belong in a health care legislation where they can be discussed on the floor of the Senate – (courtesy Media Matters)
Stop there for a second.
The “every person in the United States” line refers to whose medical records will be included in the national database. It does not refer to health care decisions made by physicians. The idea is to create a database that includes the medical records of absolutely everyone who has ever seen a doctor, so that, when you’re in a traffic accident 1500 miles from home and you’re unconscious, a doctor could look at this database and make an informed decision regarding treatment,. Such information would prevent mistakes that could make your condition permanent, or even kill you. There is no intent in this bill to create a “czar” of any kind, and horn in on anyone’s private medical decisions.
By the way, doesn't this sort of paranoia ring a little false, given the right's acquiescence in the face of Bush's desire to spy on us with impunity?
Okay, now let’s allow Betsy to continue:
McCAUGHEY: Well, the first is that every person in the United States will have their medical treatments recorded in a federal electronic database.
That's a good thing, but the bill goes farther than that in explaining why every doctor in the United States and every patient will be required to use these records. It says that it will achieve elimination of waste, more cost-effective medicine, that it will eliminate disparities between what one patient gets and another.
McCAUGHEY: There must be more to this than just what is written down in the record. So then I went to the section of the bill that prescribes how this will be enforced. The secretary of Health and Human Services is empowered to determine which medical providers, doctors, and hospitals are, quote, "meaningful users" of this system, and therefore, in compliance.
And, the HHS secretary is also authorized to use "increasingly stringent measures" — that's the language in the bill — to enforce compliance.
The purpose of the phrase “meaningful users” of the system is to clarify who will be allowed to have access to the system. But medical personnel themselves will define “meaningful user,” not the HHS Secretary. That is why there is no definition in the bill. The term is used because the authors didn’t want to limit database access to only doctors and nurses. There will be times when administrators and even (wait for the irony) insurers will require access, and they should be allowed to have it. In other words, the language was meant to expand access, without removing accountability. Got it? Apparently, Dr. Betsy didn't understand it.
The very next day, Beck sat back as neocon Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana outright lied, that the bill somehow created a “health technology czar,” who would "oversee what procedures doctors are doing and help decide at what point in life they will receive certain treatments and perhaps what treatments are acceptable and not acceptable for payment." (courtesy Media Matters)
Also that morning, as we noted previously, Annie Coulter also repeated the lie in her column.
Also weighing in were people from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, who, predictably, reiterated McCaughey’s contention, though there was no language in the bill that matched it.
It wasn’t until the third day of this media blitz that anyone in the so-called “liberal media” corrected the record in any meaningful way, as CNN’s Senior Medical Correspondent, Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, cleared the record on CNN Newsroom, when she said the following:
But, Heidi, it was interesting, when we asked Betsy McCaughey, "Show us the bill." I had a PDF of the bill up on my computer. I said, "Show me where in the bill it says that this bill is going to have the government telling your doctor what to do." And she directed me to language — it didn't actually say that. But she said that it was vague enough that it would allow for that to happen in the future.
Now when we asked the folks who wrote this bill, "Hey, is this bill going to allow the government to tell doctors what to do?" they used words like, "preposterous" and "completely and wildly untrue." (courtesy Media Matters)
The question I have is, how is it possible that it took three days to put this obvious lie to rest? Where is the “liberal” part of the “liberal media,” and why does it take them so long to respond to the right wing fart machine? More importantly, while it’s obvious that Fox News has little or no interest in actual journalism, why does it seem to be impossible for CNN, MSNBC or one of a few dozen other mainstream news organizations to track this crap, do some fact checking, and counter it as soon as it comes up for a change? I realize that money is hard to come by right now, but for Chrissakes, McCaughey gave the media the page numbers to look up. An intern could have obtained a copy of the bill by searching the Google on the Internets and looked at the pages she referenced, and countered the lies in about five minutes.
Go ahead; go look at the section she referred to in her initial column from Bloomberg, on Lou Dobbs’ program, and the Glenn Beck cesspool, and find the language she refers to. There is absolutely nothing in there that either creates a “health care czar,” or inserts the government into health care decisions of average Americans. Nothing. Not a thing. Everything she says is twisted. Which is why Specter voted for it in the end.
Keep in mind, folks, this is not just about killing the stimulus package; this is the first volley in the coming war over National Health Care. We had better prepare ourselves and get the word out as to who the players are, and jump on this crap before it's allowed to become "conventional wisdom."
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