Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 7, 2009

PEARLSTEIN MAKES IT PLAIN.... Publius had a good item the other day on the way in which the fight over health care reform is playing out. As he explained it, the problem isn't so much with corporate interests organizing protestors to oppose reform, but rather, the "flat-out lying" pushed by activists and disseminated by the modern communications networks.

He added that this is a "test" of whether major media institutions are "capable of informing the public." Publius concluded, "This misinformation campaign poses a deep and fundamental challenge to our country.... [C]an our media inform the public? If people are lying, will the public know?"

It's a genuine cause for concern. Because reality has a well-known liberal bias, right-wing criticisms of health care reform are reported as plausible, and Americans are understandably confused about who's telling the truth. In order for the system to function, Americans need some kind of independent institution(s) that can separate fact from fiction, and can identify, plainly and factually, which side is trying to deceive the nation.

We need, in other words, more columns like this one from the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein.

As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don't agree. Today, I'm going to step over that line.

The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation. [...]

Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

I don't doubt that Republicans will be outraged by Pearlstein's column, because he failed to honor the forced he-said/she-said neutrality that the right counts on to confuse Americans ("Republicans said today that health care reform might lead government agents to kill your grandparents; Democrats disagreed").

But that's what makes columns like these so important. Pearlstein has watched professional liars engage in a campaign of deception, so he's telling the public the truth. And in this case, a major political party is deliberately lying so they can derail the health care reform Americans have been waiting for.

This is a test of our civil society, and with more columns like Pearlstein's, we might pass the test after all.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Comments

no, we lost that "test" awhile back... the stakes are a lot higher than civil discourse...

Posted by: neill on August 7, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Agreed we failed this test in the Iraq War.

Bob Somerby would argue we also failed it in the 2000 Election.

Can the new media make a difference? Hope so.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on August 7, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Any bets on whether anyone other than DFH's will pick up on Pearlstein's column.

He is clearly well outside the domain of acceptable discourse. The next time I see his name mentioned I expect it will be an announcement that the Post has fired him.

Posted by: PowerOfX on August 7, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

and if i may whine:
it is why hilzoy was wrong to leave

WAAAAAHHHHHHHH !!1!!eleventy

Posted by: neill on August 7, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Will our nation shine, or will it succumb to the digression of deceitful avarice?

Yes, the media will help us answer the question by the very nature of its coverage. Health care reform is a most important, historic issue facing us RIGHT now, and it is pitting change against entrenched vested interests that have been abetted thus far by compliant politicos both elected and non-elected.

We are witnessing the Herculean battle between citizens who want to implement stable health care policy to better care for our fellow Americans, and those who wish to maintain the status quo of "highly concentrated" medicine for profit!

And of course, the media becomes the messenger in this most pressing of times. So far, out side of the recent CNN challenges made to Mr. Scott, the media in general is failing badly in providing reliable information for what Jefferson said we need most of all for our creed to endure - a Collective Wisdom! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 7, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

how often have you seen the pulitzer prize winning pearlstein invited on the chat shows to discuss economic policy?

i could count them on one hand.

Posted by: linda on August 7, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

Cue Republican fauxtrage in 3...2...

And after that, of course, the conversation will become all about the "controvery" and whether Perlstein should apologize / has apologized enough for his "controverial statements," and not -- quelle suprise! -- about the relentless dishonesty from the Republican side.

Posted by: Gregory on August 7, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevo -- as it was with Mr. Jefferson, words to you are just a plaything...

"well said" is simply a label, not a compliment...

Posted by: neill on August 7, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Couldn't agree more with Publius. I wrote nearly the same thing this morning.

Posted by: Chris on August 7, 2009 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

He spoke the truth, and he will be excoriated and skewered for it. Hell, at this stage, Cheney himself could say this and be called out as being a damned liberal.

Posted by: MsJoanne on August 7, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

A journalist's job is to report both sides fairly and accurately, and let the reader decide what is true. Today Pearlstein has ceased being a journalist and become a left-wing hack.

Posted by: Al on August 7, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

"This guy, Steven Perlstein, will never work again."
Money Party memo.

Posted by: anonymous on August 7, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Pearlstein correctly recognizes what's at stake. If the GOP wins this fight and deep-sixes serious health reform, the consequences will be enormous for the country. It will validate sleaze tatics to an entirely new level.

Posted by: g. powell on August 7, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

> "are major media institutions are capable of informing the public."

Short answer: No.
News is now money.
News answers to the money.

It's been this way for a long time... but has now deteriorated to the point of complete absurdity.

About the time Walter Cronkite retired what remained of reality went out the window.

Posted by: Buford on August 7, 2009 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Al -- you should learn the difference between a reporter and a columnist. It would help you understand the newspaper better.

Posted by: g. powell on August 7, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

"This is a test of our civil society, and with more columns like Pearlstein's, we might pass the test after all."

Consider, on the other hand, what it will mean for civility if we fail the test. If health insurance reform is successfully derailed by the Brooks Brothers Brigade astroturfed mob scenes, then we can expect further applications of those tactics and strategies in policymaking. Expect these gangs of crooks and liars to escalate next from noisy chants and minor scuffles with security into organized campaigns of assault and property damage. From there, we move into a wonderland of authoritarian and paramilitary violence.

Glenn Beck is right about one thing: we really are at a turning point for civil society. It's just not the kind he keeps bleating about.

Posted by: s9 on August 7, 2009 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

If the media had done its job during the ghastly Bush years, we wouldn't be having this problem now.

That too was, much of the time, outright lying by those on the right. (& the rest of the time it was opinion masquerading as fact: see "of course Saddam has WMD".)

I'm not an optimist, so I think we're too far gone as a country now & will continue to see the slow but inevitable decline which began back 30-40 years ago. As a country we've grown fat and lazy and most of us don't pay attention or understand what it happening.

Posted by: zhak on August 7, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Pearlstein is one of the best columnists in the business. He actually understands how the economy works and demonstrates that understanding in his columns by using valid evidence in a reasonable way.

How did the Washington Post allow this to happen?

Posted by: JD on August 7, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Here's where a commenter to the blog Misunderstood Finance takes down a claim that US health care is rather good after all.
http://misunderstoodfinance.blogspot.com/2009/08/ten-reasons-why-americas-health-care-is.html#comments

Note this:

There are a number of other problems with the report that the average reader should be able to spot. Such as the deliberate selection of Canada for comparisons in waiting times. Canada is known to be the only country in the first world with longer waiting times than the US.
Thus "second worst in the first world" becomes something good.

If that's true, it explains a lot why we hear about HC problems in Canada. (Other reasons too.)

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on August 7, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

They've become political terrorists...

With that line, Pearlstein ensured that nobody will take his viewpoint seriously.

Comparing your political opponents to terrorists is always dumb.

Posted by: TG Chicago on August 7, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, as if Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh (who are the mob's only influence) will read Pearlstein's op-ed and change their ways.

I think it's time to classify these shows as hate-speech and pursue media reform legislation, in addition to boycotting advertisers on their shows.

Ignorance begets fear which begets violence - unless we fight the root cause of ignorance, ALL social justice will be doomed.

Posted by: Ohioan on August 7, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Although it is always heartening to hear about journalists who are actually doing their jobs, they will not be heard by the people who are disrupting town halls. How many conservatives get their news from the wapo? Or CNN (except for Dobbs) for that matter. They are no doubt devotees of Fox, Beck, Hannity, and O'reilly. In other words, they will never in my life time hear anything but lies.

Posted by: CDW on August 7, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

As Ohioan said, It's not about health care anymore, if it ever was. It's about hate and bigotry.

http://theworldofhowey.wordpress.com/

Posted by: Howey on August 7, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

TG in Chicago -- According to my Handbook of Political Etiquette, it's still acceptable to compare opponents to terrorists. Comparing them to Nazis, however, is still forbidden.

Posted by: g. powell on August 7, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. That's a historical quote. You kids can look it up since you went to public schools.

Allowing Obamacare proponents to speak would interfere with Americans' liberty to keep our healthcare system exactly the same.

The protesters are heroes just like Scott Roeder is a hero. As I have said before you have to break a few eggs to make the omelet of freedom.

Posted by: Myke K on August 7, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

now we're talking, Mykie... make those murderers heroes... bring on the chaos, the nihilism, the blood and hate... yahoo!

much more Menschie in your stoopidity than "al" or "mike k"

Posted by: neill on August 7, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

The town hall crashers are showing one thing clearly: there is a certain party in American politics that resorts to terrorism when they lose.

But then Myke K makes my point for me. A terrorist sympathizer, idolizing murderous terrorists.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on August 7, 2009 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Comparing your political opponents to terrorists is always dumb.

Gotta agree with you there. But, then, no one outside of the right wing thinks Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin are anything but dumb.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on August 7, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

In order for the system to function, Americans need some kind of independent institution(s) that can separate fact from fiction, and can identify, plainly and factually, which side is trying to deceive the nation.

It would help if Americans learned critical thinking. Because without that, with the internet turning information flow into a 31 flavors of news, we will be so screwed.

Posted by: e henry thripshaw on August 7, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

"They are no doubt devotees of Fox, Beck, Hannity, and O'reilly. In other words, they will never in my life time hear anything but lies." - CWD

Reality has a nasty way of shouting over the top of big lies. They will be hearing from reality soon.

Posted by: anonymous on August 7, 2009 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK
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