Healthcare and Free Press: Two Human Rights We Lack

By David Swanson

President Obama said on Tuesday night:

“Now, the truth is that, unless you have a — what’s called a single-payer system, in which everybody is automatically covered, then you’re probably not going to reach every single individual because there’s always going to be somebody out there who thinks they’re indestructible and doesn’t want to get health care, doesn’t bother getting health care, and then, unfortunately, when they get hit by a bus, end up in the emergency room and the rest of us have to pay for it.”

Another name for “what’s called a single-payer system” would be: healthcare as a human right, not a commodity to be purchased. Many humans have this right. They just aren’t Americans.

Obama’s mention of single-payer, in passing, as something that would be better than anything else, but something that mysteriously lies out of reach, is typical of the very few mentions of single-payer healthcare in the U.S. corporate media.

I just did some searches in the Lexis Nexis databases of major US and world publications, news wire services, and TV and Radio broadcast transcripts. Searching for “healthcare” in July 2009 found over 1,000 documents, the maximum number that Lexis Nexis will display. In fact, searching just the past two days found over 1,000 documents. Another search confirmed that this is “Michael Jackson” level coverage. And another search confirmed that virtually none of these documents mentioned single-payer at all, much less told anyone what it was. A search for documents later than July 1st containing single-payer OR “single payer” turned up only 197 documents.

Americans have consistently told pollsters for decades that they want single-payer. But America’s government refuses to provide it, and therefore America’s state media refuses to discuss it. Of the 197 records of the media mentioning single-payer in July, almost half were congressional records or press releases or otherwise not media reports at all. Others were articles in medical trade publications. Even so, those articles tended to mention single-payer very briefly and dismiss it — in the unfortunate phrase used by Kaiser Health News — as “dead on arrival.” Several others were transcripts of unidentified local shows that mentioned the word in passing. Others were blurbs in local newspapers announcing events. And several were reports and columns in British and Canadian newspapers. The Canadians, by the way, seem to be under the impression that President Obama is seeking to create single-payer healthcare. Several more documents — by far the best and most extensive US coverage of single-payer — consisted of letters to the editor.

A Boston Globe editorial mentions single-payer in a list but says nothing about it. A four-sentence Associated Press report on an event mentions the word. A Washington Post column by Dana Milbank attempts to mock all humanity and somehow mentions single-payer in the process. Several articles report on town hall forums at which people have asked President Obama why he doesn’t support single-payer. The Washington Times complained that such questions were permitted. The Washington Post praised Obama for appearing ready for such a question and answering it “calmly.” No word on whether his answer made any sense or not. There’s a report of an event at which the Secretary of Health and Human Services opposed single-payer. There are several reports of a press conference held by the White House Press Secretary at which someone apparently shouted out “single payer” for a laugh and got it.

There are a number of reports and transcripts that attack single-payer without explaining what it is. Most of them attack the so-called “public option” as leading to single-payer. That is to say, the media is afraid that people will overwhelmingly prefer precisely what the media opposes, and the media opposes it precisely because people would prefer it. The public option could only lead to single-payer if everyone decided they prefered it to the high costs and poor health provided by the for-profit insurers. The reports taking this approach include a CNBC interview in which the host makes this claim, a Washington Times column by Senator Judd Gregg, an Associated Press story quoting Senator Gregg, a transcript of the Ed Schultz Show on which another Republican senator made the same claim, another MSNBC transcript with Senator Charles Grassley, a Copley News column by Phyllis Schlafly, a Fox News interview by Sean Hannity of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Fox News transcript with Congressman John Fleming, and a transcript of Chris Matthews interviewing Senator Orin Hatch. Other transcripts attack single-payer more directly, if no more substantively. Two of these are from Fox News. One is from CNN. Two are from Bloomberg TV.

There’s a short New York Times interview of Howard Dean opposing single-payer. There’s an NPR Morning Edition transcript of Congressman Jerrold Nadler saying he’d like single-payer but that it’s “off the table.” There’s an NPR Talk of the Nation transcript that briefly mentions single-payer. There’s an NPR Fresh Air transcript in which Terry Gross asks a guest whether he would really prefer single-payer and the guest says “Yes, but . . . .” There’s a four-sentence editorial by the Boston Globe explaining that “Harry and Louise” advertisements are false because single-payer is not under consideration. There’s a Washington Times article suggesting that Obama might move away from single-payer. Never mind that Obama has not supported it for years. There’s a Toronto Star report on Wal-Mart’s proposal to solve the US healthcare crisis. There’s a Copley News column complaining that the Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS has covered single-payer. There’s a Washington Post column by Harold Meyerson complaining, in passing, that citizens will not create a movement for single-payer, even though it was that movement that put single-payer on Bill Moyers’ program.

There are five transcripts from the Ed Schultz Show, some of them treating single-payer honestly, including an interview of Dennis Kucinich. There are interviews of Senator Bernie Sanders by Fox News as well as Ed Schultz. And there are reports in print. One article from McClatchy reports on a poll finding that Canadians prefer their system. A lengthy St. Petersburg Times article compares the US and Canadian systems, making Canada appear the winner. One Boston Globe column by Jonathan Cohn supports single-payer. And a short op-ed, accompanied by two opposing op-eds, in the Los Angeles Times, was written by a Brit who wants to know what in the world is wrong with single-payer. He won’t find an answer in the U.S. media, which is barely even willing to explain what single-payer is.

But an excerpt from a recent Washington Post article that did not mention single-payer may help make clear where our government and our government media are coming from:

“Private insurers have effectively engaged in rationing, so they’re doing the dirty work for everybody else,” said Jeff D. Emerson, a former health plan chief executive. “It’s a thankless job . . . but somebody has to do it or health care will be even more expensive than it is now.” Private insurers might be better situated than the government to do the unpopular work of saying no, said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, because they are less susceptible to political pressure.”

There you have it. For-profit companies best serve the public interest precisely because they are not subject to public control. Why? Because the public wants what is worst for the public. And how does the Washington Post know this? It has dinner with all the right people, and charges them for the privilege.

By the way, a similar search in Lexis Nexis’ blogs database turned up another 139 reports, with much more substance and honesty. And most blogs are not included in the search engine.

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