Associated Press turns from trusted news source to White House PR

WASHINGTON — With no commentary heading or tag, the Associated Press (AP) published an apparent “news” story early Tuesday morning countering Sarah Palin’s opposition to the proposed health care bill with unsourced statements.
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Headlined, “FACT CHECK: No ‘death panel’ in health care bill” and written by AP reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, the story leads with two opening paragraphs before a Q&A which appears to be a White House talking points post.

The AP piece leads:

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. AP gives no attribution to the opinion that the health care bill could not play out in the scenario Palin says might happen should the bill pass as proposed.

Instead, the Q&A section mirrors White House talking points on the bill. For example:

Q: Does the health care legislation bill promote “mercy killing,” or euthanasia?

A: No.

It is not until the last two questions of the nine questions and answers posted that AP gives any attribution to the answers.

The “FACT CHECK” piece ends with the line:

The White House says it is countering false claims with a “reality check” page on its Web site, http://www.whitehouse.gov.

Following the story, another information line gives the link to a White House “Reality Check” page, which reads:

White House site on health care claims: http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck/

The Associated Press has its roots dating back to a May 1846 agreement between five New York City newspapers to share incoming reports from the Mexican-American War, according to a Wikipedia posting.

2 thoughts on “Associated Press turns from trusted news source to White House PR

  1. Here is a different point of view. For more follow the debate at http://www.ilovebenefits.wordpress.com
    As virtually everybody in America now knows, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted the following on her FaceBook page:

    “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

    Naturally, she was roundly reviled for these comments. One person quoted by the New York Times replied, “One problem: None of the bills emerging from various committees includes the kind of ‘death panel’ that Ms. Palin says would be rationing care.“

    I guess that’s that, eh? Mrs. Palin should go back to shooting elk and stop irritating the New York Times.

    Well, not so fast.

    It’s true the bills don’t explicitly identify a “death panel,” but there is plenty that would lead to exactly that outcome. Some of it is already law, in fact.

    First, Congress already enacted, as part of the stimulus package, $20 billion for Health Information Technology, or HIT. This is designed to get every doctor and every patient wired up to a national database of health information. Every disease, diagnosis, prescription, and treatment will be submitted to this national database and made accessible to researchers, payers, and law enforcement. This is not speculation; it’s the law.

    Next, the stimulus package also appropriated money to create a “comparative effectiveness research” program. Its proponents claim this will only be “research” to determine what treatments work best for large populations, using the health information database to make their determinations.

    This is based on Britain’s “NICE” (National Institute for Clinical Effectiveness) program. NICE determines the dollar value of a “quality adjusted life year” (QALY) and allows payment for drugs and treatments that are lower than that number and disallows those that cost more. NICE has already disallowed cancer drugs and treatments such as hip replacements for elderly people and stopped allowing injections of steroids for people with severe back pain.

    Of course, just doing research doesn’t sound threatening. Research is good, isn’t it? We all love research.

    This is where the current bills come in. To hold down the costs of Obama’s health care program, the administration has come up with a whole menu of activities-chronic disease management, pay-for-performance, wellness incentives, and so on.

    I know, I know, the eyes glaze over at this kind of bureaucratic gobbledygook. Who really knows what any of it means? That’s why Sarah Palin is so dangerous. Her controversial statement cut through all the fog and made people sit up and take notice.

    In fact, these are the kind of programs that take benign “comparative effectiveness research” and put some teeth into it. Suddenly it isn’t just research. Suddenly we are using that research to decide how much to pay doctors. That is the whole purpose of pay-for-performance (or P4P among policy wonks.)

    Physicians will be paid more if they follow the guidelines established by the yet-to-be-named research group. (My suggestion for a name is Comparative Effectiveness Research Commission of the United States, or CERCUS.) The HIT will be able to alert the CERCUS as soon as any doctor tries to violate the P4P guidelines. Uh-oh! A warning will pop up on the doctor’s computer: YOU ARE TRYING TO VIOLATE THE GUIDELINES! EXPLAIN YOUSELF!!

    Your doctor may be able to fill out all the paperwork to get an exception, and appeal any denial, but it will be an uphill slog. More likely, the doctor will go with the flow and accept the higher level of payment for being obedient.

    That’s where Mrs. Palin comes in. She would like her son Trig to live. She will need to appeal the decision to — whom? Very likely a panel much like what she describes.

    Only it won’t be called a Death Panel. It may be called the LIFETIME Panel: “Listening to Irritating Families Explain Their Insistence on a Medical Examination.”

    Greg Scandlen is director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute.

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