Town halls across the country are heating up due to concerns and confusion about health care reform. Meanwhile, the liberal media are doing their best to discredit the anger and paint conservatives as an “unruly mob” as the left did during the 2008 and 2000 elections.
Network and cable news media have called the “fever pitch” at many town halls staged or “Astroturf,” phony grassroots. Much of the media have gotten caught up in covering the tenor of the town halls. In this, they’re continuing to ignore important questions on cost, efficiency and choice as it relates to the health care reform plans. They talk about the furor, but not the source of the furor.
As NBC’s Chuck Todd put it on Aug. 11, “We’ve been having a debate about the debate and what’s gotten lost is some people have forgotten what we’re debating over.”
On some networks it wasn’t even a debate about the debate. It was an all-out effort to discredit conservative dissent. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow purported to prove that the town halls were “orchestrated” by the GOP on Aug. 5, citing the groups sponsoring RecessRally.com and calling them “experts at fake grassroots.”
“To talk about these town halls as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind as to what is really going on,” Maddow said.
MSNBC’s Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Ed Shultz pushed the same talking points for days, claiming the events were being “manufactured” and people were being “manipulated.” Shultz said the people showing up at town halls were “dumber than Joe the Plumber.”
One of Shultz guests, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., even compared protesters to the KKK, saying, “the last time I had to confront something like this was when I voted for the civil rights bill and my opponent voted against it. At that time, we had a lot of Ku Klux Klan folks and white supremacists and folks in white sheets and other things running around causing trouble.”
Network reports on the town halls were less hyperbolic than cable, but still entertained the same charges. On NBC’s Aug. 8 “Today,” Jenna Wolfe asked “Is it organized, or is it genuine anger?” ABC’s Charles Gibson even told George Stephanopoulos, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this widespread pattern of angry discourse on any issue before.” Gibson must have forgotten the vitriol of the “Bush Lied People Died” crowd.
But like cable, the past week’s network reports on the town halls focused on the “loud and nasty” tone of the debate rather than substantive concerns of Americans showing up at town halls.
According to The Associated Press, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., was asked at an Aug. 10 town hall “for an example of anything the government had taken over and provided cheaper.” Cardin cited Medicare. AP didn’t think it worth mentioning that Medicare is a major cause of rising health care costs in the
Another questioner, Dr. Brian Hill of Georgia asked Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., “Why are you voting for a health care plan that has shown not to work in Massachusetts and why are you going to institute that in a nationwide manner.” He was then lambasted by the congressman and accused him of “hijacking” the meeting.
The network media have done a poor job of critically examining health care reform plans since Jan. 20. As the Business & Media Institute found in its Special Report UnCritical Condition ABC, CBS and NBC barely discuss the $1 trillion or higher cost of reform, exaggerate the number of uninsured and don’t compare the “Medicare-like” public option to Medicare’s own track record.
Mob theme originated in left-wing blogosphere
On top of the media’s Astroturf theme, the news media have also embraced the term “mob” to describe protesters attending town hall meetings around the country. The term has shown up in 17 town hall stories on MSNBC, 46 on CNN and only 5 on the networks in the past week according to Nexis.
CNN’s Rick Sanchez interviewed Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, to discuss “a little pattern” to town hall activity. On Aug. 4, Doggett told Sanchez “their neighbors were denied their right of free expression by their unruly, mob-like conduct.”
That cable network also repeated Democratic National Committee claims that “angry mobs of rabid right wing extremists” were disrupting town hall meetings.
But describing conservatives as a “mob” wasn’t new. In fact, left-wingers were using the term during the presidential campaign referring to people at McCain/Palin rallies. Lefty blogs like Huffington Post and Crooks and Liars were referring to the “Palin-McCain mob” in October 2008. Liberal columnist Frank Rich even wrote about “Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies.”
Back in 2000 the left-wing also attacked conservatives for the so-called “Brooks Brothers riot,” in which a couple dozen demonstrators chanted “Stop the Fraud!” outside the Miami-Dade County polling headquarters.
Maddow referenced the “riot” on her program Aug. 4 in one of many rants about the “scripted” nature of town hall outrage.
But not all liberals decried the town hall outrage as fake. Former Majority Leader Tom Daschle conceded on Aug. 11 that “some of it, I think, is authentic.” Daschle told Bloomberg TV: “There is a concern anytime you got something, you’re trading for something you don’t know completely how to describe, you’re concerned and there are people that are understandably concerned.”
Right-wing protests “staged”; left-wing protests ‘improved the country.’
The left-wing, including liberal journalists, have been upset to see conservatives voicing dissent at town halls across the country and have been doing their best to make anyone concerned look like a paid stooge.
MSNBC particularly made it sound like everyone who disagreed with the current health care reform bills was having their pockets lined by insurance companies. But where’s the media outrage over the lefties who are actually being paid to help pass Obama’s health care reform?
Blogger Dr. Melissa Clouthier found several examples of Craigslist ads in
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called town hall meeting disruptions “un-American.” Olbermann called the anti-Obama protests “societal sabotage” on Aug. 7.
But some of the very same journalists upset about health care protesters were praising dissent during the Bush years.
Back in 2006, Olbermann attacked what he called President Bush’s “portable public chorus” for telling “those who dissent ...[that] we are somehow un-American.” In 2003, Olbermann also praised protests said that political dissent “created this country and sustained it and improved it.”
“Not about policy”
On Aug. 10, Maddow complained that the protests at town halls were “not about policy. It’s nothing to do with what’s in the bill.”
But media reports on the town halls got caught up in the “debate about the debate” and failed to talk about policy, such as how much health care reform would cost, whether a public option plan would harm businesses and individuals and whether or not a plan would lead to rationing of health care under the guise of cost-savings.
At the Aug. 11 town hall with Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., audience members asked 30 questions, including whether Americans would be able to maintain their private insurance. People at many town halls asked why
Free market policy experts argue that a public option would effectively take away the choice of private insurance for many because the government would be able to subsidize the cost of its insurance program and their employers would switch.
By focusing on the “raucous” mood of many town halls, the media continued to shirk its job asking real questions and offering the American people meaningful criticism of the health care proposals. BMI found that in the first six months of 2009 health care stories on ABC, CBS and NBC favored proponents of ObamaCare to critics by a margin of more than 2-to-1.
Those stories ignored state failures, including the
BMI also found that Obama’s campaign for health care reform set the tone and timing of network reports on the issue. In weeks that Obama held meetings, town halls or news conferences calling for reform, the number of network stories soared.