Bear baiting and cock fighting (aka US journalism)

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
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The last couple of weeks of The Daily Show have been particularly good – some sort of end of term feeling, perhaps? Or maybe it’s the increasing frustration with the absurdities of the health care debate in the US (especially the bizarre claims about the UK’s NHS which, incidentally, isn’t even the model that’s being proposed for the US).

Anyway, it’s good to see someone in the US media call the “death panel” idiots out on their claims. It’s a shame it has to be a comedian on a cable channel.
Here’s the difference between UK and US journalism:
In the UK, someone makes a bizarre claim. Journalists investigate it and if it’s loony they ignore it (and make a note not to listen to that person again). If there’s something behind it, they report the story, not the claim.

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In the US, it seems, the claim itself is the story. Irrespective of whether there’s any substance to it. Just get that person on camera and let them make their claim, then ask someone to respond. It’s like bear baiting, or cock fighting. Except the journalists are the owners, setting up a fight for the entertainment of the audience.
Where’s the analysis? Where’s the fact checking?

I’ll tell you where: it’s on the Comedy Channel! How screwed up is that?

What Jon Stewart and his team do is invite people on to the show and instead of simply letting them repeat their claims, they ask them for evidence. Or present them with reasoned, logical arguments. He did it with Bill Kristol recently and got him to admit that military health care for veterans was excellent – that would be government-run health care.

He also pointed out that a discussion on cable news about health insurance was sponsored by an insurance company. But not a health insurance company – no, a car insurance company. The irony being that it is illegal to drive in the US without insurance, but not illegal to have no health insurance.

Here’s Stewart interviewing Betsy McCaughley, who identified the “death panels” in the health care bill. Except that when she’s asked to show where it mentions those, she can’t. She points to how doctors will be evaluated on their use and adherence to statements from patients about “life sustaining treatment” which as Stewart points out could mean “keep bringing me back no matter what” rather than mandatory “do not resuscitate” instructions.

Something Stewart points out but which is lost in the general melee is that “end of life counselling” was actually introduced by a certain George W Bush. It was seen as a great idea back then – allowing people to make their wishes known to avoid burdening loved ones with dreadful decisions or putting people through long and painful but ultimately futile treatment. But that was then. A Republican was in the White House. Now we’ve got a Kenyan Nazi (apparently) who wants to ship anyone over 60 off to the gas chambers.

Apparently that’s what we do here in the UK. Really?

Er, no. Far from having death panels, and poor health care because of the NHS, the UK not only has a better life expectancy than the US but the number of 100-year olds is steadily rising to such an extent that it’s no longer a big news event when someone reaches their century, as it was when I was a kid.

“Babies born nowadays in the UK are expected to live to the age of 100, while it is predicted that the number of centenarians will increase from the present-day total of 10,000 to 1million by the year 2074”

Compare “death panels” with the current denial of care that exists in the US, as covered in this fascinating but depressing story.

Or, for an uncomfortably funny/despair-inducing few minutes, watch as Jon Stewart tears apart the “death panel” argument with logic rather than rhetoric.

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests
<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Betsy McCaughey Pt. 2
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests

Most of the images of “town halls” I’ve seen have shown politicians standing dumbfounded in front of the (somewhat organised and well-briefed, if wrongly briefed) critics. You really want them to say simply that their concerns are unfounded.
All praise to Barney Frank who had the guts to go one step further:

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