Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 16, 2009

AP IGNORES CRITICISM.... Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the House Democratic health care plan cost "$1.5 trillion." By the afternoon, the AP reporting didn't attribute the price tag to anyone; it just stated the figure as fact.

House Dems threw a fit, which was understandable -- the day before the AP blasted the $1.5 trillion figure to the world, the Congressional Budget Office pointed to a roughly $1 trillion cost over 10 years. The AP not only went with the much higher figure, it made no reference to the CBO score.

That, however, was yesterday. I'd hoped the AP would at least notice the criticism, and clarify the issue in the future. No such luck -- this AP report ran about a half-hour ago.

Votes were planned Thursday in the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees on a $1.5 trillion plan that majority House Democrats presented this week.

No source, no reference to the CBO figure released Tuesday, and no mention of the fact that House Democrats reject the "$1.5 trillion" figure.

Naturally, others are picking up on the AP's reporting, and relaying the disputed figure. Time's Mark Halperin noted this morning that House committees are expected to vote today "on the Democrats' $1.5 trillion plan."

I don't mean to sound picky, but reporting like this not only misinforms news consumers, it also has the potential to adversely affect the larger policy debate. If the AP is intent on using the $1.5 trillion figure, it could at least add some language to reflect the concerns, such as "a number Democratic leaders dispute," or, "though the CBO puts the figure closer to $1 trillion." Something.

I realize that the exact price of the proposal is unclear at this point. We're dealing with estimates on legislation that's still being shaped, and it's possible the final figure may exceed, or not, the current figures. But in light of the published CBO score, the AP's reporting is sloppy and incomplete, and runs the risk of undermining reform efforts.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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You know what misinforms new consumers? Stating the price at $1.0 trillion, even though the CBO, which gave the estimate, admitted their analysis was incomplete and the cost could go higher.

Posted by: Al Jr. on July 16, 2009 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, You are surprised at the AP's bad reporting?

Some years ago the AP became a wholly owed subsidiary of the conservative movement. They have installed hard operators everywhere from the head of their Washington office up to and including their board of directors. By this time the APs biased "fact" reporting should be obvious to all but the willfully blind. That news organizations continue to pay subscriptions to the AP is an indication of the pervasive right wing bias of the media in this country.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 16, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Hard right, not hard.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 16, 2009 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Al, what the post points to is the difference between pulling a number out of the air--while ignoring other number at least grounded in facts and figures. Did you read the suggestions? It wasn't the alternative of stating 1.5 as fact (as you seem to suggest), but pointing out where the information comes from (Congressional Dems, CBO report).

You see the difference between those, right? Or is arguing with what people actually suggest harder than arguing with your own inventions?

Posted by: eadie on July 16, 2009 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

No, not 'sloppy and incomplete'... the word you're looking for is 'dishonest'.

Posted by: MattF on July 16, 2009 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Al Jr. is 'right'! It is obviously much more misleading of the amerikan publik to use a CBO estimate that may change than for AP to make up numbers!

Way to go Al! Even for a rethug troll, you seem to be especially stupid.

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on July 16, 2009 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

gee, a big corporate 'news' syndicate -- probably the biggest in the world -- distorting the news to favor corporations.

shocked. just shocked...

pity for the employees with ill-and-uninsured relatives and friends.


pricey, i guess

Posted by: neill on July 16, 2009 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

"... reporting like this not only misinforms news consumers, it also has the potential to adversely affect the larger policy debate."

Feature, not bug...

Posted by: spudblue on July 16, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

The AP ( Apathetic Press) jumped the shark years ago. Glad a family member got out in time. That 1 Trillion is over 10 years- 100 billion is but a fraction of the 3.6 trillion annual budget. But hey, lets throw the big scary number up- why not do it for everything else
Buy a house, it'll only cost you $750,000 !( psst over 30 years...)

Posted by: johnnymags on July 16, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, there are several estimates - based on real figures - that show the health care bill to be considerably higher than 1.0, even 1.5 trillion. You've probably never seen them because the MSM keeps them quiet and you'd never look for them.

Question Congress? Pshaw! They have nothing but the best intentions for the American public. No way they are larding this baby up with pork and hiding the real costs until, oh let's say, 2013, when Obama's reelection bid is complete?

It took Obama only one year to double the deficit. Can't wait to see the "hockey stick" growth of our nation's debt under Obama.

The question is, how will he pay for all this socialist nonsense?

Posted by: Al Jr. on July 16, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

I have here in my hand a list of 57 reporters and managers in the Associated Press who are members of the Ku Klux Klan. The conservative -leaning news service doesn't talk about its anti-Obama bias, but an AP employee said the number of Klansmen in the AP is at least 57. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity.

Posted by: Average Joseph on July 16, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't Ron Fournier, who was such a wingnut that he was asked to join the McCain campaign (you know, on their actual payroll rather than as an AP whore), running the Washington bureau now? And they're trying to torpedo the Democrats' healthcare plan? Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Posted by: gradysu on July 16, 2009 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

It is now official! The $1.5 Trillion number has been officially verified by Newsmax.com!

Al, you rethugnican turd, you need to provide links to the purported studies that you claim. Unless you are following the Rush Limpballs model of "I never use anything but true facts, even if I have to make them up!"

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on July 16, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

I say go with the higher figure. The Dems should come out every day and say "We thought we could cover 97 percent of the people at 1 trillion but our republican adversaries and the AP insist that we should spend 1.5 trillion--so lets cover 130 percent of the people, include illegal aliens, and get cadillac care for everyone. What? You *only* want to spend 1 trillion? We also have a plan for that.


Posted by: aimai on July 16, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

well at least Al Jr didn't spew the "since JC" was born talking point...

yeah about that defecit....created from a surplus 8+ years ago....trillions spent on a useless war. Gotta love the selective attention cherry picking cheerleader squad.

The GAO was lambasting Bush long before BHO took the oath. Did you think he could have magically balanced the budget and forestalled an economic collapse at the same time?

What do you care about defecit spending? It was mastered by Ronald Reagan in the 80's

Posted by: johnnymags on July 16, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Is it propaganda yet?

Posted by: Joey Giraud on July 16, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

In comparison, the US military costs $6 trillion.

Posted by: garnash on July 16, 2009 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Must be very difficult for the RepuGs to get their word out - Only having FAUX, Most of Talk Radio, NPR, the AP, Mourning Joe, Broder, Ignatius, Mark Whittacker the DC Bureau Chief for MSNBC, plus their usual bevy of hack political columnists, it has, indeed, become soooo very hard. Not to forget several at CNN and whichever days Chrissy awakens on his precious right side of the bed cuddling with his Uncle Pat teddy bear.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 16, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe its just me continually having problems with the calendar year, but I'm having trouble understanding Al's claim that "It took Obama only one year to double the deficit". So lets see if I can figure it out:

*Obama became the president-elect after the Nov. 4, 2008 election.
*Obama was inaugurated in Jan. 2009.
*July is 8 months (3/4 year) after November and 6 months (1/2 year) after January, when Obama actually became president.

Nope, I still don't understand that Rethuglican talking point.

Posted by: Katie on July 16, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

OMIGOD, no, say it isn't so...misrpresentations from our MSM coloring the debate...you don't mean it! Perhaps it's like the NPR report this morning that suggested that if confirmed Judge Sotomayor would be able to overturn decisions previously made by the SC...(GOD WHAT POWER - you go, girl!) Is there no institution "reporting" news that exists with the intent to accurately present information/issues without regard for what words mean?????

Posted by: Dancer on July 16, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry Katie. It took Obama less than a year to do it.

All better now?

Posted by: Al Jr. on July 16, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking of "what words mean"...that should have read WITH REGARD .....oops

"The life of the law has not been logic, the life of the law has been experience"...Oliver Wendell Holmes

Posted by: Dancer on July 16, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Al Jr, I was curious from the post, and apparently you know the answer -- where did they get that $1.5 trillion figure? Although I don't have a lot of respect for the AP, I assumed they were getting the number from somewhere, even if it isn't a reliable or non-partisan source.

And btw, none of the points you have raised addresses the point of the post, which is that the AP is putting up numbers that vary greatly from the widely cited (even by GOP leaders) CBO figures, and they haven't told us where that number came from. Whether Democrats and media outlets are cherry picking smaller figures (and until we know who came up with these higher figures, there isn't evidence that they have) doesn't affect Steve's argument, as they have cited a respectable source, while you and the AP are giving numbers without telling us where they came from. The fact that you and the AP aren't citing where the numbers came from suggests that you know their source, if there is one, does not have any credibility outside of wingnut world.

Posted by: ibid on July 16, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

The need to consolidate power structures into a unified voice has almost always been more necessary than a healthy perspective . If our fellow Americans were to depend upon their own lying eyes , rather than the soothing silky smooth soap , one to a customer please , our very basis as a free society would be regulated . Remember kids it is no sin when your pay check depends on overreacting and hurting others in defence of misunderstanding facts which attack your argument .

Posted by: FRP on July 16, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

ibid, the initial number was attributed to an unnamed congressional staffer. As soon as the Democrats complained that the AP wasn't reporting the CBO numbers that attribution was dropped.

Posted by: Ron Byers on July 16, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

So...Obama's budget, which if I recall correctly is 3.4 or 3.6 trillion, is somehow greater than the 4.89 trillion to the debt added by the Bush administration (bringing total to over 10 trillion)....Mhmm....

Oh, and a source for your pleasure Al. Since you have yet to provide any: http://www.havenworks.com/us/debt/

Posted by: Katie on July 16, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't mean to sound picky, but reporting like this not only misinforms news consumers, it also has the potential to adversely affect the larger policy debate."

The AP stylebook calls that "the point".

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on July 16, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Al, another crazy little fact that you like to ignore:

From http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/NPGateway and looking at the debt from when Obama took office to July 14 (which is the most recent date available), the debt has increased $902,693,446,809.89 (from approx. 10.6 to 11.5 trillion)

Doubling the debt indeed.

Posted by: Katie on July 16, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, cool! We'll be getting a $1.5 trillion worth of health plan for only $1 trillion! Bargain! I think the Democrats should start trumpeting how much money they'll be saving, over that crazy expensive plan the AP is blabbing about.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 16, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

In fact the former head of the Wash Bureau is the one who was in Rove's pocket. Fresneau (sp?) I believe. Collusion much?

Posted by: johnnymags on July 16, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

oops- Fournier...knew it was a French name...figures- apologies to French Canadians and Cajuns.

Republicans suck at math- witness their rebuttal to the stimulus (4 pages, no hard numbers or facts)

In all negotiations their is the space for a counter offer, and the GOP has given, what exactly? tax cuts for the wealthy? Dust off the old Reaganomics? Big payouts for big oil and lobbyists?

Posted by: johnnymags on July 16, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

In truth I am nothing but a well used Repiglican Butt Plug. I love being at their service in this way. Unfortunately, I am reduced to simply spluttering all the delusions that all Repiglicans are invested in because actual reality doesn't allow me to function. In order to function I am in fact invested in those delusions.

Posted by: Al Jr on July 16, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Al,. we're still waiting for your sources for those other estimates of the cost of the health care plan. Oh wait, I forgot - they're totally fictitious, just like claims of your sentience.

Posted by: jjcomet on July 16, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

I love Al Bundy!

Posted by: sjw on July 16, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

"That news organizations continue to pay subscriptions to the AP is an indication of the pervasive right wing bias of the media in this country."

Once again you confuse sloth for bias. Johnny Deadline (or his British counterpart, Lunchtime O'Booze) is sitting at his terminal, trying to hammer out a story in as short a time as possible. He can hit the 'net or the street, chasing down figures and crunching them, talking to experts and arriving at a conclusion of his own--or copy and paste, and get a table for lunch early.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 16, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Why is everyone beating around the bush and not calling this what is really is ... a lie.

The AP is lying about the House Democratic health care plan amount.

Not -

repeating a falsehood
ignoring critcism

They know the number in the article is a lie. How do we know?

Even after corrected by the very party who published the number, they still allow the lie to continue.

The AP need to be called on it, and not trusted going forward.

Otherwise this sort of behavior will continually be repeated (next time it will be some other estimate by some other government agency that can be twisted for right-wing gain).

Posted by: MVPOnline on July 16, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

You can contact the AP reporter who wrote th referenced article here:


Be kind, and just point out the facts (be careful with links, as that may be flagged as spam by their system; write it in a way it doesn't come out as a link and you'll be fine).

I heard a local news guy use the $1.5 trillion figure this morning and will be sending him an email as well.

We'll see if the story gets corrected, or if they keep pushing this crap. Anyone want to bet which one it'll be?

Posted by: Mark D on July 16, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Feature, not bug.

Posted by: ThatGuy on July 16, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK


Thanks for the info (apparently I missed the post on this blog from yesterday). I think the "earlier version" phrasing (originally Steve's) is imprecise, as it appears to be different story entirely, although the fact that they have taken the $1.5 trillion figure from an anonymous congressional staffer as the new consensus number that doesn't require citation is still problematic. I think they know their source is less reliable, so they would prefer to make the debate over the different amounts rather than their respective sources. Yes, he/she has a good reason for anonymity and is a Democrat, but he/she could work for a Democrat who wants to make it easier to justify bucking the party and vote against it. And Al Jr claims there are several sources for the higher figure, but so far we still only have an anonymous aide. But it's not like the reference was scrubbed from a particular piece, which is the impression I had from the post.

Posted by: ibid on July 16, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Naturally, others are picking up on the AP's reporting, and relaying the disputed figure. ... reporting like this not only misinforms news consumers, it also has the potential to adversely affect the larger policy debate.

Mission accomplished.

"Liberal media," my ass.

Posted by: Gregory on July 16, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, one of the best things you could do is to rip apart the daily AP propaganda blasts against national health care. Become the go-to guy for debunking them. Who knows, you might eventually get an anonymous tip about why the AP is in the back pocket of the big insurance companies.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 16, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

So if the deficit is Obama's fault after only 6 months on the job, explain to me again how 9/11 was Clinton's fault?

Posted by: Ken F on July 16, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Even if the final figure goes to 1.5 Triiiillion dollars... so what?

At root, this is about reallocating tax dollars and setting American priorities. Just over 50 cents of every federal tax dollar goes to planes that can't fly, helicopter weapons systems that can't hit a sitting tank, electrical contractors that kill army troops and pallets of dollars that just evaporate into thin air.

Here's the question for Max Baucus, the AP and the rest of the republicans... At what dollar amount is it OK to start moving those funds from one allocated source towards health care for Americans?

Posted by: BigSky on July 16, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

You can get to $1.5 trillion by making a single error. It was not clear to anyone initially whether the $1.042 trillion figure was net of the proposed tax surcharge on the wealthy or not. If it was net then you could argue that the real cost was quite close to the higher figure. On my reading CBO did NOT include the surtax in their calculation though the did include other adjustments that took the total price fro $1.182 trillion down to $1.042. I'll bet money that someone, somewhere made this mistake, that AP and others picked up on it and that no one bothered to actually go back and check the numbers. This should not be a surprise, this is how the Social Security debate has unfolded over the last decade or so, by everyone thinking someone else had actually done the needed homework when in fact everyone was just copying each others answers.

The CBO letter and tables are here:
The relevant text is as follows:

Budgetary Impact of Insurance Coverage Provisions. On a preliminary basis, CBO and the JCT staff estimate that the proposal’s provisions affecting health insurance coverage would result in a net increase in federal deficits of $1,042 billion for fiscal years 2010 through 2019. That estimate primarily reflects $438 billion in additional federal outlays for Medicaid and $773 billion in federal subsidies that would be provided to purchase coverage through the new insurance exchanges. Not all enrollees in the exchanges would receive subsidies, but the average subsidy among those who would be subsidized is projected to rise from roughly $4,800 in 2015 to roughly $6,000 in 2019. The other main element of the proposal that would increase federal deficits is the tax credit for small employers who offer health insurance, which is estimated to reduce revenues by $53 billion
over 10 years.
Those costs would be partly offset by receipts or savings from three sources:
payments of play-or-pay fees by employers that do not make a qualifying offer of health insurance to their workers, which would reduce projected deficits by $163 billion over 10 years; payments to the exchanges by employers who do make qualifying offers but whose workers end up receiving coverage via the exchanges nevertheless, which would total $45 billion over 10 years; and penalty payments by uninsured individuals, which would amount to $29 billion in the 2010-2019 period.
In sum we seem to have an initial act of laziness now being deployed as multiple acts of maliciousness by Al et al (which you have to admit has a ring to it, Aletal being a perfectly fine name for your next miracle drug)

Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 16, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

at some point, can people start getting mad about it when they're lied to, and when they're watching a supposedly neutral arm of the press just straight up lying to influence people in the direction of the Republicans' wishes?

can we actually get mad about this instead of saying "You know, this seems bad to me, kinda. This is sloppy work..." etc.

no, it isn't "sloppy", it's no mistake at all, and it should be enough, by itself, to lose the AP their lofty position as a supposedly neutral arm of the press. they are part of the Republican PR campaign. they should have the cojones to own up to it and be proud.

Posted by: onceler on July 16, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

"I don't mean to sound picky"

Picky? Someone should bury a fucking pick axe in Ron Fornier's brain for this. Can't we get a little more outrage -- instead of the usual whimply liberal whining.

Posted by: Peter Principle on July 16, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

I don't care how much it's going to cost, really. What they never talk about is how much Americans are paying NOW and what little health care we're getting for it.

All that money we pour into health insurance month after month, and what do the insurance companies do with it? They use it to DENY health care, not provide it.

Every other developed country in the world provides universal coverage and almost all of them have better health care outcomes than we do.

Just consider that the amount you pay for health insurance is equivalent to a "tax." If you are not willing to pay LESS than that in actual tax for better coverage, you're fixated on a word rather than your health.

Unfortunately, many Americans have been so brainwashed by the ReThugs that they cannot see how much life could be improved if we all bought into the health of our entire population.

Me, me, me. My money, my money, my money. And they have the nerve to call themselves "Christian," too.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on July 16, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Instead of bothering to do in-depth reporting of its own, the on-line version of my hometown paper links to Politico, the news "source" spun off, funded and staffed by right-wing-sympathizers (don't fret--Gov. Sanford is just hiking the Trail!).

Posted by: radio head on July 16, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your careful analysis and reporting on health-care reform and other issues. It has helped me get a better understanding of what is going on in DC. Thanks!

Posted by: majii on July 16, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Halperin blithely repeats unattributed (and incorrect) info? Unpossible!

Posted by: Tom65 on July 16, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

The AP has been going down hill for several years, but a recent story in which the Social Security Trust Fund was referred to as "IUOs in a filing cabinet" (rather than, say, U.S. Treasury Bonds) was absolutely the last straw. It was straight Republican talking points presented as objective fact. The sooner they go the way of the dodo, the better.

Posted by: Captain Bathrobe on July 16, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see, my health insurance went up 10% this year. This for a high deductible plan which now costs $2,200/yr.

So for $334/year per person (CBO) or $500/ypp (AP) extra, I and almost everyone else, will get real health care coverage?

Sounds like a deal to me.

Posted by: uptown on July 16, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

You know what really misinforms readers? Libsocialists being allowed to speak in public.

Als III through IC

Posted by: Dr. Squid on July 16, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

hey, where'd Al go?

Posted by: Jafafa Hots on July 16, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

it is not a $1 trillion plan over 10 years, it is a $1 quadrillion plan over 10,000 years.

Posted by: Gerry on July 16, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Was this the version of the bill that the CBO had less than 12hrs to review before testifying? OR was this the version PRIOR to the amendment?

What I want to know is that everyone agrees they "rushed" the bailaout plan through congress, but nobody thinks we are rushing the healthcare plan through??

---Seen on a forum, "The difference between a democrat and a republican may be like the difference between a poop sandwich and a poop sandwich with mustard." You get to choose which has the mustard...

Posted by: Counsel on July 16, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

I will just say this,

know your fiscal budget dates, deadlines.

stay away from Faux News, CNN.

Come to this site, and then read Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC, - then dare foreigners to call you "Dumb and/or stupid American(s)."

Posted by: annjell on July 16, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Oop, know the fiscal year (dates), I don't know any government budget that begins at the beginning of the year. Nor, do I know of any that ends at the end of the year.

Posted by: annjell on July 16, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Considering the fact the AP's editorial staff didn't make it out of the second grade - based on the daily, constant and uncorrected typos, word omissions, grammatical errors and other feats of English mangling - I do not believe anything they write as fact until and unless confirmed by independent sources.

A plan that costs 1.5 trillion dollars, over ten years, only costs 150 billion dollars a year. When you consider that this will help cover everyone who doesn't have health insurance, and the fact several large banks got MORE than that in one year, I'd say this is not as bad of a thing as everyone says.

I'd prefer to see health care reform - changing the way we do our health care to a more efficient system - but I'm not in charge.

Posted by: Fatesrider on July 16, 2009 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

You're just now finding out that the AP is immune to criticism ?
You do live a sheltered life.

My suggestion ... drink heavily

Posted by: Neo on July 16, 2009 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: on August 18, 2009 at 6:38 AM | PERMALINK



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