Media watch: The New York Times blows it on “death panels”

In the The New York Times today, under Reed Abelson’s byline, you’ll find what I characterized on Twitter as a worthwhile but unfocused piece. It’s mainly about how the new health care marketplaces can provide coverage that will help early retirees bridge the gap between employer-sponsored insurance and Medicare. That’s a worthwhile subject and Abelson covers it skillfully.

But then comes the unfocused bit:

At contentious town hall meetings held by lawmakers before the law’s passage, critics also claimed that “death panels” would sharply limit care at the end of life. But the focus of the ire of many, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a government body created to try to control costs, has yet to get off the ground. Many lawmakers still seek to eliminate the board altogether.

“Death panels”? Seriously? Give me a break!

Why are “death panels” even in this article? Perhaps those approaching the age of Medicare eligibility might be worried that the law includes them. Maybe they heard as much from some politician or pundit. Maybe they’re wondering if the law will help them get insurance or whether it will, instead, authorize government bureaucrats to decide whether they are deserving of care.

So, perhaps they’re confused. And, now they’ve turned to the The New York Times for the truth!

If that’s why death panels are in the article, shouldn’t the article help the reader come to a conclusion about that truth? Yes it should but, BREAKING, It doesn’t.

Critics claim that “death panels” will deny care. So what? The reform’s critics claim a lot of false and stupid things, as do its advocates. How about sorting out what’s fact and what’s fiction? How about pointing out that the law authorizes no such thing as a “death panel”? How about pointing out that this whopper was the lie of the year? The piece does include a summary of changes to Medicare, and the addition of “death panels” is not among them. But I think if you’re going to raise a claim of “death panels” you have an obligation to call it what it is: bulls*#t.

Another reason “death panels” may be in the piece is to illustrate “balance.” Go ahead and insert your favorite false equivalency rant. I don’t have one in me. We all know this game.

But “death panels” are not necessary, even for false equivalence. The piece already lays out the benefits and limitations of various aspects of the law. I read it as quite reasonably “balanced” — as defensible “true equivalence” — until I hit the “death panel” paragraph, that is.

Apparently the “death panels” meme won’t die. We can thank the The New York Times for helping to keep this zombie alive … or undead … or whatever.

@afrakt

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