How the Times Legitimizes Propaganda on Health Care Reform

The New York Times has a front-screen story this morning about Bob Collier, a 62-year old American from rural Georgia who, according to the Times, was moved to speak out at a recent town hall meeting about his worries concerning health care reform.

Here's what appears on the Times' front-screen:

Calm, but Moved to Be Heard on Health Care

By KEVIN SACK

In the health care discussion, the respectful questioners like Bob Collier -- those expressing discomfiting fears and legitimate concerns -- may have the most impact.

So, the set-up is clear -- Bob Collier is respectable, not like those gun-toting, Nazi name-calling crazies who've been showing up to town hall meetings. And he's got "legitimate concerns" about health care reform.

Sack tells us in the opening grafs that Collier was never interested in politics. Instead, he's built a "quiet life" for himself in rural Georgia, involving family, church, hunting and fishing.

So, what "legitimate concerns" moved Bob Collier to speak, "to his wife's astonishment," at a recent town hall meeting? Well, his wife of thirty six years, Susan, survived breast cancer through "early detection and treatment" and, in Collier's considered opinion, none of that could happen if health care reform with a public option passed Congress.

Instead, Collier's wife would be on a "waiting list." And this calm, considered, thoughtful citizen firmly believes that everything is at stake in the debate about health care reform:

"This is about the future of our country as we know it," Mr. Collier warned, "and may mean the end of our country as we know it."

It's almost too tiresome to point out that Collier is entirely uninformed about the issues. But because he did not articulate this utter nonsense in a "high decibel rant," the Times saw fit to put his version of health care reform on the front page of its newspaper.

You can argue that part of the Times' responsibility to its readers is to provide a panoramic view of public opinion on this, as on other issues. But you cannot argue that that's really what they're doing here. Instead, the main outcome of this article is to portray Bob Collier as the reasoned everyman, offering good old common sense in a plain old vernacular that egghead Washington politicians have a hard time answering.

Collier does acknowledge that we need 'some reform," though he's also quick to say that though there should be a safety net, it "shouldn't catch too many people." (Does Collier know what a safety net means?)

And, of course, the public option means "rationing." Never mind that the Colliers' own 'direct experience" with the current system demonstrates that rationing is now a pervasive fact of life. Their non-government insurer, in fact, refused to cover more than a fraction of Susan Collier's radiation treatments, deeming them "experimental," and sticking them with a $63,000 bill (they got lucky because their health provider, Emory health care, later wrote off the charge).

So, based on this experience with private insurance, Bob Collier is convinced that health reform will do what, exactly? Deny people the freedom to experience the terror of not being able to afford life-saving treatments?

What else does the sober-minded Bob Collier worry about? He worries that the government, since Obama took over, is expanding its reach by the week. He worries that Obama is 'centralizing everything." And when Obama says seniors won't have to stand in line behind those with longer life expectancies, well, Bob Collier simply does not believe him.

There is, of course, no basis to the claim that seniors are going to be denied life-sustaining treatments under any version of reform now on the table, despite Bob Collier's considered opinion that such assurances are simply not to be trusted. (In a tepid article, whose headline appears in smaller font just below the Sack piece, the Times does interview experts who say that the "rationing fears" are simply unfounded).

Sack does inform us, several paragraphs in, that Collier and his wife get most of their news from Drudge and Limbaugh. Given the striking relationship between Collier's own views and standard right-wing talking points -- Collier at one point says that government health care will combine the "efficiency of the post office with the compassion of the IRS" (oh, snap!) - one wonders why Sack didn't simply allow Rush Limbaugh to write this front page article for him. Because, in effect, that's what he's done -- turned over a cherished position in the Times to a man with a series of entirely ill-informed claims and ill-founded fears that serve perfectly to perpetuate the disinformation campaign fronted by Limbaugh, Drudge and the right-wing media more generally.

And speaking of rationing -- it's often said that the Times' famous slogan -- All the News that's fit to Print--would more aptly read, "All the News that Fits." The Times, of course, only has the space and the resources to publish a finite amount of content in a day and this goes doubly and triply for what merits front-page placement. So one has to wonder -- what in this story merited such prominence? Only this -- that it allows the Times to portray itself as attuned to the concerns of an authentic American -- a conservative, Christian, rural Georgian family man. Never mind that, when it comes to these issues, that man is either a propagandist or a moron.

Jonathan Weiler's second book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in Contemporary American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, has just been published by Cambridge University Press. The book can be ordered from Amazon. He blogs daily about sports and politics at www.jonathanweiler.com