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Covering Palin the Right Way

A quick follow-up to my last post: There is a right way to cover Sarah Palin and her PR strategy. Greg Sargent, Ben Smith and Matt Gertz double-check Palin’s claim (made on Facebook) that her infamous “death panel” post was a “metaphor” for how health care would be denied to the old or infirm. In the original post, it was pretty clear that Palin was talking about end-of-life counseling, not rationing. And in subsequent statements it was even clearer. (Yes, I’m immediately breaking my “embargo,” but my point was that reporters shouldn’t just reprint what Palin’s press shop puts out.)

After the “death panel” post took off and President Obama said it was a lie that the health care bill would “pull the plug on grandma” — borrowing a term used by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — Palin put out a statement clarifying what she meant. She was talking generally about the eventual goals of Ezekiel Emanuel, the medical ethicist who has been smeared many, many times as a supporter of euthanasia, which he isn’t. She was talking specifically about end-of-life counseling.

The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” With all due respect, it’s misleading for the President to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients. The issue is the context in which that information is provided and the coercive effect these consultations will have in that context.

Two days, later, after the Senate stripped Section 1233, Palin declared a sort of victory.

I join millions of Americans in expressing appreciation for the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to remove the provision in the pending health care bill that authorizes end-of-life consultations (Section 1233 of HR 3200). It’s gratifying that the voice of the people is getting through to Congress; however, that provision was not the only disturbing detail in this legislation; it was just one of the more obvious ones… Our senior citizens are right to be wary of this health care bill. Medical care at the end of life accounts for 80 percent of all health care. When care is rationed, that is naturally where the cuts will be felt first. The “end-of-life” consultations authorized in Section 1233 of HR 3200 were an obvious and heavy handed attempt at pressuring people to reduce the financial burden on the system by minimizing their own care. Worst still, it actually provided a financial incentive to doctors to initiate these consultations. People are right to point out that such a provision doesn’t sound “purely voluntary.”

Finally, on Sept. 8, Palin submitted testimony to a New York State Senate Panel led by conservative Democrat Ruben Diaz, in which she specifically argued that the “consultations” were the infamous “death panels.”

A great deal of attention was given to my use of the phrase “death panel” in discussing such rationing. Despite repeated attempts by many in the media to dismiss this phrase as a “myth”, its accuracy has been vindicated. In the face of a nationwide public outcry, the Senate Finance Committee agreed to “drop end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly.” ****

Now, a normal politician with a normal give-and-take relationship with the press might not have pulled this off, because he/she would have had to answer questions about the explosive charge at every step of the way. But Palin was able to post occasional rants about “death panels,” get huge media coverage every time, and move on. It’s no surprise that she thinks she can paper over the history of this — when’s the last time she got fact-checked?

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