The Need for FAQs
The White House has started a web site to give you "the facts about the security and stability you get from health insurance reform." The first thing I'd note is those final three words: The White House is trying to rebrand this as "health insurance reform" which, to be fair, is actually a much more accurate description of what's going on than "health-care reform."
More broadly, this web site is an admission that the most powerful drivers in the health-care reform debate right now are viral e-mails filled with nonsense. And Sarah Palin, of course, who's sort of like a viral person filled with nonsense. The White House is trying to strike back, as best it can.
But can it? It's hard to imagine anyone who would think the White House capable of pushing for a federal euthanasia program incapable of lying on the Internet. This is one of those places that outlets like mine should be doing more than they are. E-mails, strangely, are credible because they're forwarded by people you know and don't evince an obvious agenda. The White House, of course, has an agenda. Sure, the Annenberg Center has FactCheck.org, but that's a pretty marginal player. Newspapers like The Washington Post and the New York Times, which have the credibility to adjudicate this debate, do occasionally fact check particularly egregious claims, but those pieces are isolated, infrequent, and hard to find three days after they were published.
Iit would be nice to see some of the major news organizations begin developing comprehensive FAQs on issues like health-care reform and climate change. Something like Grist's How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic series. Such a resource might not change the debate. But it would at least be an easily accessible intervention from an institution that people have actually heard of. And if it were sufficiently comprehensive and frequently updated, it could probably do a pretty good job generating continual hits -- it would be an easy place for people to find information that could settle dinner-table disputes. Traditionally, "neutral" organizations have sought to describe the range of debate rather than define what fits within it. But given the amount of biased information people are exposed to these days, there's a marked need for more straightforward adjudication.
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