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The Need for FAQs

rclogo.jpgThe 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.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2009; 2:54 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

It doesn't help that Obama is calling opponents "unpatriotic"
http://jumpinginpools.blogspot.com/2009/08/obama-opponents-of-obamacare.html

Posted by: MatthewAvitabile | August 10, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

This is a great idea, although I'm not sure I would trust the Washington Post on something like a Social Security FAQ. The NY Times still has enough credibility to do this, though.

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | August 10, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it matters who does the debunking; it won't be believed by the hardcore anti-Obama faction.

Snopes.com (the poor man's factcheck.org), never struck me as a particularly partisan website, yet many conservatives now rail against it because it has, on occasion, struck down conservative myths. I supposed the same could be said for Wikipedia (See, e.g., Conservopedia).

The point is that these people often aren't LOOKING for reality-based FAQs from disinterested and unbiased sources, and will never accept what they don't want to believe.

Even if Rush Limbaugh bumped his head and suddenly started to debunk healthcare myths, would that change any minds? I doubt it. The only result would be a plummet in his ratings.

Posted by: kashford | August 10, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

This is a great idea, although I'm not sure I would trust the Washington Post on something like a Social Security FAQ. The NY Times still has enough credibility to do this, though.

On Social Security, maybe, though I don't recall them standing out particularly during that debate. But their relentless attacks on Clinton in the 90's and their behavior leading up to Iraq make the Times look pretty unlikely as impartial arbiters of truth.

Posted by: tps12 | August 10, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

A FAQ would be helpful, particularly if it's in print and it ultimately becomes a legally enforceable part of the legislation. Whenever there is a large bill -- one which can't be easily read or understood by anyone -- there is considerable room to "hide" certain details.

I'll use ERISA as an example. The legislation was supposed to protect pensions; however, it has had the effect both of promoting "defined contribution" plans over venerable "defined benefit" plans and of eliminating many paths of citizen recourse against corporate bad-actors.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 10, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, that first paragraph was supposed to be quoting the second comment.

Posted by: tps12 | August 10, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

tps12,

You make a good point! I guess there would be value in multiple people doing it. I certainly would have preferred a Pincus FAQ to a Miller FAQ on the Iraq war back in the day.

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | August 10, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

BAD NEWS!!
Progressives, Democrats, Independents and all who support the healthcare reform We must pressure the White House to back out of its alleged deal with PHRMA. This $80 Billion plus $500,000 advertising support seems to be in exchange for preventing any price negotiation with PHRMA.

This is a BAD DEAL, and it is how GW created the Medicare prescription donut hole (Medicare Part D).

Tell the WH to back out of this deal. It is a big mistake.

Posted by: Single_Payer | August 10, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree with kashford....the folks that I have talked to who are so afraid of rationing, government takeover, death panels, etc, do not want to be confused with the facts. I have read the HELP bill, and have shown them where their fears are groundless. They do not want to be confused with the facts. At best you can only get them to back up as far as saying what Newt said Sunday in his back and forth with Dean..."yeah, it may say that now but do you trust our government?" If that is the basis they are coming from, there is not much you can do to influence them.

Posted by: scott1959 | August 10, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

So do it! We've known for years that 'journalistic objectivity' is the opposite of actual objectivity, but we need someone to fix it. If not now, when? If not you, whom?

Posted by: hunterw1 | August 11, 2009 1:13 AM | Report abuse

We can reform health insurance (e.g., by limiting/eliminating rescission) without any of the more radical ideas.

The big issue is whether to focus on reforming the private market or on slicing off another piece of the salami, moving more people onto "public" options.

The more we pursue the latter, the more we'll find ourselves unable to control costs except via rationing-by-bureaucrat, while crushing innovation. Have any of the "model" countries figured out how to stimulate innovation without relying on the American "we pay retail" market?

Posted by: lfstevens | August 12, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

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