« Gelman and Sides on 2008 election narratives | Main | Pew: Republicans want more birther coverage »

August 06, 2009


You make a valid criticism of the media in the last paragraph. Journalists are trained to see both sides to every issue, even where one side is just wrong (e.g., vaccine/autism "debate.") Excellent post.

I'm with Brendan on the birther issue. However, IMHO virtually no criticism of Obama's health reform bill is unfair. Why do we have to be fair to the bill when the bill isn't fair to us?

In the best of worlds, media pundits would have read and thought about the bill. They would fully understand it. Then if some criticism were inaccurate, the pundits could easily point out the inaccuracies and supply a correction.

Unfortunately, in the real world, hardly anybody has read the bill. It's much too long and complicated. I would bet that Brendan Nyhan hasn't read and digested the bill. I think he's taking on faith the assertion that certain criticism is inaccurate.

Furthermore, even reading and understanding the bill wouldn't be enough, because Dem leaders might add another 300 pages the day before the vote, as they have done before. For all intents and purposes, the plan is pretty close to a black box.

Another problem is that some key aspects of the plan will be administrative decisions that aren't in the bill. E.g., some Obama Administration representative have implied or talked vaguely about some sort of limitations or restrictions of health care to the elderly. AFAIK the precise limitations are not in the bill. Some appointees would presumably be empowered to decide how, when, and for whom to limit coverage. Given the Administration's lack of transparency, I don't think it's unfair for critics to assume the worst.

The Dems should produce a comprehensible bill that represents their final approach. They should give Congress, the public and the media enough time to fully understand it and to debate it. If they took that approach, I would join Brendan in condemning unfair criticism of the health reform bill.

Sometimes you need to carpetbomb the opposition when occasions like this arise. The Obama administration needs to go on the offensive more than ever.

The bill will pass - health care will start to take effect and in 6 years we will be able to make the first real evaluations of the whole thing.


Now that we're all witnessing the continued success of the birther/healthcare campaigns against the Democratic party, are you rethinking your earlier recommendation to "shame" those responsible for propagating misperceptions? (I noticed that this was the same question your NPR interviewer put to you)

Since there's clearly a lot of money and power involved with winning or losing these battles, why would any professional politician (or the lobbyists etc. he employs) worry about the isolated factchecking operations that are scolding them? What's their downside, in a porous, myopic, amnesiac media environment that is the opposite of the kind of face to face communities in which such sanctions might work?

I'm also wondering whether the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert approach of spoofing such false beliefs is a more effective way of undoing their hold than a step by step refutation. Is there any research on this?

Thanks, DM

I'm seriously tempted to just start saying the Republican plan for healthcare reform adds $2 Trillion to the deficit, makes it illegal to get insurance from your union, and will make it impossible to buy insurance if you earn less than $250,000 a year.

Yeah, it's made-up. But seriously, if that's what journalism is these days, let's all just run with it.

And don't get me started on the absurdity that journalists won't cover single-payer advocates because single-payer is never going to pass, but they will cover the anti government-takeover of medicine crowd. If the bill isn't on the table, neither its supporters nor its opponents are relevant. And yet I'm hearing hours of coverage for people in town halls who are shrieking that Medicare is unconstitutional.

But the Republican Plan WILL cost $2 trillion, and WILL be unavailable/unaffordable for anyone making less than $250,000 per year, and WILL outlaw getting your health insurance through your union.
email this 'article' to a friend.

Hi Brendan,

Is your 9.05 response an evasion of my question, which was a genuine one? Or a parody of some sort? Or a desire to invent a case of equivalence, to show that "both sides do it," even when you're documenting an overwhelming preponderance of money and party organization on one side? If so, this is not funny, sorta like Milbank and Cilizza's skits were epically unfunny.

I find it as disappointing as this:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you give me one example where this [shaming of the media] worked?


BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah, I thought so.

Don't you think you can do better than this? Maybe provide some better analysis, even if your proposed remedy doesn't seem to be working? I'd rather hear that the situation is "scary," than this kind of stuff, which I think is contemptuous of the people who have to live with the consequences of elite irresponsibility.

Best wishes,


Dave M, that wasn't me. All comments by me (the author of this blog) will use my full Typepad profile. As far as your previous questions, I recognize that the odds are stacked against the media; the "shaming" strategy is far from foolproof. I don't know of any research on Stewart/Colbert-type mockery, but I see it as integral to the shaming strategy and advocated it as a response to misinformation in the conclusion to All the President's Spin. Finally, I'm not sure what taking one line out of context from a 20+ minute interview (before editing) accomplishes -- that's an extremely unfair representation of my work.

Whoops, sorry about that. Please accept my apologies.

As for the shaming strategy, I think it's an intriguing idea, but the point I've been circling around is that the anonymity and porosity of today's media environment makes such sanctions very difficult to enforce. My claim would be that satire is what you use when shame ceases to function. So the style in which the shame is communicated makes a good deal of difference in its effectiveness.

And it would be nice if those in the media did stuff like this more often:


Best wishes,


The comments to this entry are closed.