Right Wing Media Rarely Correct Erroneous Reports

Fox Not NewsJonathan Chait made an interesting point today, Today’s Obamacare Non-Train-Wreck News. One of the many Obamacare scare stories was about how after the exchanges got going, the insurance companies would see that they were losing money (or whatever) and would head for the hills. Of course, exactly the opposite has happened. Insurance companies who are not already involved are seeing gold in them thare hills, and are jumping on board.

There’s nothing surprising about this. As much as conservatives have made a big deal about Obamacare, the law itself is really not that big a deal. It is an extremely modest effort to improve our existing healthcare system. It is no kind of takeover of the system. The vast majority of the people in the United States will not be affected in any way other than indirectly in good ways like seeing their insurance costs go down. So conservatives were doomed in their predictions from the very start by pretending that Obamacare was some kind of big bad socialist conspiracy.

The people who had an actual complaint where the people like me on the left. But we haven’t been shown to be wrong again and again. This is because we never claimed that Obamacare was something that it wasn’t. Although I will admit, we were more negative than we should have been—especially on the issue of cost containment. I know of no one on the left who has ever claimed that we will just have to scrap Obamacare and replace it with a single payer system—even though as a practical matter that would be far more possible than replacing it with the handfull of conservative ideas like tort “reform.” Regardless, we are happy to be wrong. Liberals are not an all-or-nothing group. If we can’t get a much better system, we will take a marginally better system. But most of all, we are willing to admit when we have been wrong.

In general, conservatives are not willing to admit when they are wrong. I still remember hearing the head of the Cato Institute saying that if some of their research found that government intervention was the best policy, they would bury it. Up until that time, I had admired Cato and thought that they were an honest think tank. But honesty in research is not just about getting the research right. This is a matter of telling the truth—the whole truth—and nothing but the truth. The head of Cato seemed to be completely unaware that he was saying the whole place was nothing but a propaganda mill. I could easily see them doing research and finding that a 20% increase in the minimum wage actually created jobs while a 50% increase destroyed jobs. So would they just cut out all the information about how raising the minimum wage by 20% helped the economy? Apparently so. And Cato is one of the most intellectually honest conservative groups.

Chait summed up what is going on in the Obamacare debate:

The information environment surrounding Obamacare is fundamentally asymmetrical. The liberal policy wonks reporting on the program have made a good faith and highly successful effort to depict both the good and the bad news about the program in context. Conservatives, even the most wonkish ones, have engaged in a one-sided propaganda effort. If you get your news about Obamacare from conservative sources, you have heard an endless succession of horror predictions that, when not borne out, have gone uncorrected.

But it isn’t just on Obamacare; it is on everything. All the time I see conservative articles online that turn out to be dead wrong. But instead of updating them and admitting error, they simply disappear. When Fox News gets something wrong, they just stop talking about. In some cases, like when Bill O’Reilly causes a fire storm over something he said that was wrong, he will do a segment on it. But the segments really aren’t corrections. They define the error in the most mild way imaginable and more or less claim that he was right all along. Or consider Rand Paul who was caught multiple times lifting exact passages directly from Wikipedia and then pretended that those complaining thought he should be “footnoting” his speeches.

The problem on the right is that everyone seems to think that politics, reporting, and advocacy is just a game where there are no ethics—everyone just tries to win any way they can. Unfortunately, they are largely right. The media are supposed to hold them accountable for this. The people ought to know that half of the political spectrum will say absolutely anything to further their cause. But the media uses the most fatuous form of postmodern relativism to claim that there’s no way to say which side is right. And it is made all that much worse by the self-proclaimed fact checkers who seem to go out of their way to nitpick the left just so they can seem balanced. That’s not journalism; that’s apologia for whoever lies the most.

But when it comes to healthcare policy, I always come back to Avik Roy. He’s a smart guy. He really does know a lot about our healthcare system. Yet he uses that knowledge just to batter away at Obamacare. This week he tells us we should be more like Switzerland. When it turns out that Switzerland is actually more socialized than Obamacare, he just stops talking about it. Then he tells us that we should be more like Singapore. When it turns out that Singapore is actually more socialized than Obamacare, he just stops talking about it. Yet he is considered serious in our media landscape—even among liberals.

This is why people who listen to Fox News and hate radio are so ill-informed. It isn’t just that they get bad information—everyone makes mistakes. It’s that they get bad information pushed over and over and then they hear nothing. So they assume that that really important story about whatever must be yet another example of the “lamestream media” just letting Obama hand the country over to the terrorists. And this is why people that barely pay attention to any news are better informed. They may not know much, but what they do know is actual news and not just conservative propaganda masquerading as news.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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