REMEMBER THE LAST TIME MCCAUGHEY LIED?…. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about a dust-up from February. It’s been largely forgotten, but that, in and of itself, is kind of important.
On Monday, February 9, Bloomberg News ran a piece from Betsy McCaughey, which attacked President Obama’s stimulus plan. Specifically, McCaughey insisted that the policy would create a “new bureaucracy” called the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, which will “monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.” McCaughey said the federal government would then “‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions,” adding, “Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.”
Was any of this true? Not even a little. The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology wasn’t “new”; it was created by George W. Bush five years ago. More importantly, the measure dealt with medical records, not limiting physicians’ treatments. McCaughey threw a fit about comparative effectiveness research, but there was nothing to the attacks.
More important than the lie, however, is the path the lie traveled — and what policymakers did about it.
Step One: Rush Limbaugh told his
minionsaudience on [Feb. 9] about McCaughey’s piece, insisting that a “national coordinator of health information technology will monitor treatments that your doctor gives you to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost-effective.”
Step Two: By late Monday, Drudge was trumpeting McCaughey’s mistake with this headline: “‘National Coordinator of Health Information Technology’ Slipped in to Stimulus…”
Step Three: Fox News and members of the Wall Street Journal editorial board got in on the act on Tuesday morning [Feb. 10], arguing that the government will “essentially dictate treatments,” thanks to the “secret” provisions in the stimulus bill. Fox News’ Megan Kelly said the non-existent language “sounds dangerously like socialized medicine,” while FNC’s Bill Hemmer said the recovery plan includes “new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” All of this, of course, was patently and demonstrably false.
Step Four: Limbaugh took a bow [Feb. 11], taking credit for the misinformation campaign, and telling listeners that his show “uncovered” all of this. “I found it,” Limbaugh said. “I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media.”
That last Limbaugh claim was partially true. It was, in fact, all over the mainstream media. It was also, of course, patently false. If this sounds familiar, it’s because right-wing health-care lies have followed a nearly identical trajectory this summer — from McCaughey to radio to Drudge to Fox News to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to traditional news outlets.
But here’s the kicker: what happened to the provision in the stimulus bill? Nothing. Democrats added the measure, conservatives started lying about it, the right got hysterical, but policymakers ignored the cries and left the common-sense provision in the legislation anyway. It passed, and now it’s law.
And now, no one — McCaughey, Limbaugh, Drudge, Bill Hemmer, or Megan Kelly — even mentions it anymore. They’ve just moved on to new nonsense.
The moral of the story? There are a few. First, the right lies a lot, especially when trying to scare people about health care. Second, when Democrats ignore ridiculous far-right claims, good ideas become law. And third, in time, the hysterical find new things to get excited about, so there’s no point in caving to conservative demands every time they throw a fit.