Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This Is Like Writing About Cheech and Chong But Never Mentioning Weed

The New York Times is a very serious paper whose reporters love nothing more than to really tackle the REAL issues, brows furrowed. More than any other media institution, the Times dictates both what issues get talked about, and how issues get talked about. The importance of how that paper's reporters and editors frame a debate cannot be overstated, which is why I was absolutely thrilled to wake up this morning and see this idiotic headline on the Times' website:

In Debate On Health, It's Coverage vs. Cost

The equally disappointing, yet utterly fitting and unsurprising lede reads:

"As Democrats prepare to take up health care legislation on the floor of the Senate and the House, they are facing tough choices about two competing priorities. They want people to pay affordable prices for health insurance policies, but they want those policies to offer comprehensive health benefits."

There you have it, folks. That's the false dichotomy our country has been presented with. Good Care vs Low Cost. These two outcomes, it would seem to the casual reader of the Times, are mutually exclusive--which is too bad, but we must be Adults and balance these competing forces in ways that are Best For Real Americans.

There is no mention in the article about Physicians for a National Health Program, or any of the many other single-payer system advocates out there. The PNHP lists 3 pages of the government's own studies showing how a single-payer system would almost certainly save money on the state and federal level, and, by definition, offer universal coverage. Yet there is no mention of single payer in the Times' piece, and, in a preposterous sin of omission, the public option isn't mentioned either.

Much of the article focuses on the Senate Finance Committee's bill, which will most likely not include a public option, but to write about soaring costs and individual mandates without describing how both Democratic and Republican congress-people--who have been bought by the health insurance companies--have attempted to torpedo an alternative to the for-profit system is simply absurd. I understand that journalists work under time and space constraints, but what the article claims to be about--the challenges of providing universal, low cost insurance--relates directly, in every way possible, to the life and probable death of a robust public option.

Though I enjoy calling David Brooks a sewage facility as much as the next guy, it is this kind of reporting that does the most damage. Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and all the other Iraq/n war cheerleaders out there would be significantly less powerful without the Judy Millers and Michael Gordons--and now William Broads and David Sangers--of the world establishing the terms of the debate on the so-called "objective" side of the paper. The blood-thirsty elites who make their fortunes by advocating for unending war on the poor of this country or the Brown people of another need "respected journalists" to lay the proper foundations upon which they can build their calls for continued occupation/restricted for-profit care.

The issue with this specific article isn't so much that it suffers from Judy Miller-syndrome--as of right now, there's no evidence that the author is in cahoots with the insurance companies or Max Baucus. The issue is that the Times has an institutional blindspot the size of Europe. The debate, as they understand it, is between these narrow, competing interests in a Senate subcommittee. And, in a way, they are correct, but that kind of limited thinking, repeated over and over on a daily basis, is what creates a society in which the only humane response to the crisis--a single-payer system--is virtually stricken from the public record. To rephrase a saying that I'm familiar with because of The Usual Suspects (but it probably goes back farther than that), "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world a better option didn't exist."


marsha said...

love your writing john. also i think you have a typo, third paragraph - lede instead of leed, unless that some uber-cool paperroom designation thing.

John Knefel said...


Thanks for reading. "Lede" is kind of a jargony thing for the first line. Sometime it shows up as "lead," but I like to get a little fancy from time to time.