The Power of Nonsense
The fine folks at C-SPAN assure me that they'll have an embeddable version of my interview with Karen Ignagni a bit later today (it'll air on C-SPAN on Sunday). The first question was asked by a reporter from the Washington Times and focused on the mania that's gripped the debate in the last few weeks.
Part of the problem, Ignagni answered, is that the media has become obsessed with process stories and has done a very poor job communicating the base level of consensus there is around the plan or even the actual outlines of the plan itself. On that, we agree entirely. Over at TPM DC, Brian Beutler grabbed a couple headlines so folks could get a flavor of the current coverage:
New York Times: "False 'Death Panel' Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots"
Politico: "Sarah Palin and "death panels" - is she helping or hurting her political future?"
Brian's point, of course, was that the New York Times has written a serious and truthful story that added to the reader's understanding of the debate, while Politico had decided to go meta on the death panels. Not a flattering contrast for Politico.
But whether the stories about death panels are good or bad, clear or opaque, the fact that we're sitting around discussing some perverse lie is not a good sign for health-care reform. It's evidence that the media has gotten distracted, and is in turn distracting the country, with a trivial and dishonest diversion tactic.
When the conversation about health-care reform is reduced to explaining that the bill does not in fact establish "death panels," the public takeaway is not likely to be that this is a pretty good bill. A world in which every paper is running front pagers about Sarah Palin's lie may be a world in which Sarah Palin is understood to be a liar, but it's not a world in which health-care reform is doing terribly well. Somehow, the job of the media has to be more than debunking nonsense. It has to be making sure that nonsense doesn't come to take over an important policy debate. The point of all this death panel stuff is not simply to distort the underlying merits of the bill, but to distract from them. And at that, at least, it's succeeding.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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