On Saturday, reporter Jim Rutenberg filed a hostile profile of health care commentator Betsy McCaughey, a persistent thorn in the side of liberals who favor government-run health care: "Resurfacing, a Critic Stirs Up Debate Over Health Care."
Rutenberg got off to a bad start with an anecdote about author Erica Jong, who joined McCaughey's charity for fighting hospital-borne infections, but "abruptly resigned from the group, expressing concern that Ms. McCaughey was using it as a platform for some of the harshest - and sometimes false - attacks against President Obama's health care plan."
Rutenberg quoted Jong: "I fear that if she had her way, more people would die."
But on the March 24, 2006 edition of CNN's Showbiz Tonight, Rutenberg's poster child for health care credibility praised actor Charlie Sheen for suggesting Bush was behind 9-11. Jong said of Sheen:
I think he's a brave man to even question this aloud in an environment where anyone has been saying that anyone questions the government is a traitor. So Charlie Sheen has done his homework, and he's asking questions. He's speaking truth to power, which is a brave thing to do. Look, the young people in my family, my nephews, for example, have been saying for the past three, four years that we are not learning everything about 9/11 that we're meant to learn. And specifically, they've been saying that if you read all the different web sites, if you're really careful, what you discover is that a lot of facts don't add up....Throughout all of history the basic premise of tyrants has been - dictators, shall we say. And I think it's fair to say that George W. Bush is a dictator. Has been if you tell the people they have an external enemy, they'll follow you anywhere. That was what Goebbels told Hitler to do."
Rutenberg dismissed McCaughey's assertions:
[McCaughey's] work has, however, proved to be a boon to opponents of Mr. Obama's health care plans, if occasionally judged as over the line even by some of them.
She incorrectly stated in July that a Democratic bill in the House would "absolutely require" counseling sessions for Medicare recipients "that will tell them how to end their life sooner," drawing a "Pants on Fire" rating from the PolitiFact fact-checking Web site; her false assertion that the presidential health adviser Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel believed "medical care should be reserved for the nondisabled" helped inspire the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's discredited warning about "death panels" deciding who is "worthy of health care."
Palin was using a metaphor, as liberal journalist Ron Rosenbaum was able to figure out. Meanwhile, the Times itself is not quite convinced the idea of rationing of health care is such a wacky thing to be worried about. Rutenberg continued:
Far from isolating Ms. McCaughey, it has all seemed to raise her profile to levels not seen since she left office, earning her a star turn last month on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. (The host, Jon Stewart, said he found her analysis "hyperbolic and in some cases dangerous.")
Admirers and foes say Ms. McCaughey's loud re-emergence in the health care debate is a testament to the same singular drive - and unabated media appeal - that catapulted her from the obscurity of academia to the near-top of New York politics more than a decade ago.
But even to some friends, her criticisms are reminiscent of a trademark style of argument that, while effective in grabbing attention, frequently comes into dispute as out of bounds.
The left will never forgive McCaughey for what they feel was her sabotage of government-run health care proposed by Hillary Clinton, a 1994 article in the New Republic, "No Exit," criticizing the Clinton health plan.
The article, credited with helping to kill the plan, won a National Magazine Award. The attention it drew led Mr. Pataki to tap her to run as his lieutenant governor.
But critics seized on the article for flaws, like its assertion that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," though the House bill specifically barred prohibiting "an individual from purchasing any health care services." The magazine eventually repudiated the article; "partisan sour grapes," Ms. McCaughey said in an e-mail message.