The Times Links Death Panel Concerns to Birthers, Obama-is-a-Muslim Rumors

The New York Times on Friday was at it again, dismissing concerns about a "death panel" in the House health care bill and attacking these claims as right-wing fear-mongering and just another conservative boogyman. Times writers Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes linked these critiques to attacks on the Clintons in the '90s and derided such assertions, saying they "seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality."

The front page article also blamed conservatives Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the Washington Times, "an outlet decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama," for stoking fears that the health care bill would "decide which patients were worthy of living."

Rutenberg and Calmes turned to David Brock, the founder of the left-wing group Media Matters to assert that conservative attacks in 2009 are similar to those faced by the Clinton administration. The Times writers labeled Brock "a former conservative journalist who once impugned the Clintons."

But as Congress developed its legislation this summer, critics seized on provisions requiring Medicare financing for "end of life" consultations, bringing the debate to a peak. To David Brock, a former conservative journalist who once impugned the Clintons but now runs a group that monitors and defends against attacks on liberals, the uproar is a reminder of what has changed - the creation of groups like his - and what has not.

"In the 90s, every misrepresentation under the sun was made about the Clinton plan and there was no real capacity to push back," he said. "Now, there is that capacity."

Rutenberg and Calmes named names as to who was behind all of this.

The rumor - which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false - was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.

Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton's health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York's lieutenant governor).

There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure.

Of course, as Clay Waters observed on Wednesday, the Washington Post's Chris Lane wasn't as blase about the legislation, which would encourage doctors to consult with seniors about end-of-life options. Lane wrote:

Though not mandatory, as some on the right have claimed, the consultations envisioned in Section 1233 aren't quite "purely voluntary," as Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) asserts. To me, "purely voluntary" means "not unless the patient requests one." Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive - money - to do so. Indeed, that's an incentive to insist. Patients may refuse without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority.