Monday, August 17, 2009

Despite falsehoods, Washington Times defends its editorial accuracy

Washington Times claimed its editorials on health reform have been "fact-based." Claiming that "it is also an error to describe our editorial position as dogmatically anti-Obama," the August 17 Washington Times editorial asserted that its editorials on the health care debate have been "consistent, fact-based and principled." But the Times has published numerous editorials critical of progressive health care proposals that offered false and misleading claims.

Wash. Times reversed meaning of Obama's comments, falsely claiming he "admitted" doctors will bear brunt of spending cuts. A June 16 Washington Times editorial falsely claimed that Obama told the American Medical Association that "[t]oday's Medicare rates will be applied broadly in a way that means our cost savings are coming off your backs." In fact, Obama said in his speech to the AMA: "Now, I know that there's some concern about a public option. Even within this organization there is healthy debate about it. In particular, I understand that you are concerned that today's Medicare rates, which many of you already feel are too low, will be applied broadly in a way that means our cost savings are coming off your backs. And these are legitimate concerns, but they're ones, I believe, that can be overcome" [emphasis added].

Wash. Times editorial misleadingly cropped Summers' remarks on increasing cost-effectiveness to finance health coverage. An April 21 Washington Times editorial suggested that in his April 19 Meet the Press appearance, White House National Economic Council director Larry Summers advocated cutting health care expenditures "by almost 30 percent" using "cost-effectiveness" regulations. The Times described the use of such regulations as "a major amputation to the system" and "rationing." In fact, immediately after the portion of his comments quoted by the Times, that "some experts ... estimate that we could take as much as $700 billion a year out of our health care system," Summers said that "we wouldn't have to do anything like that; we wouldn't have to do a third of that in order to pay for a very aggressive program of increased coverage."

Wash. Times suggested stimulus would mandate that government will decide "what care will be limited, and who will be denied what services." In the same February 11 editorial that compared the stimulus bill's health information technology provision to Nazi euthanasia, The Washington Times falsely claimed that the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology "will be in charge of collecting and monitoring the health care being provided to every American" and that the bill "appears to institutionalize ... a body free of political influence to make the hard choices regarding how these efficiencies will be realized -- what care will be limited, and who will be denied what services." In fact, the provision established "a nationwide health information technology infrastructure that allows for the electronic use and exchange of information" in order to create "an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014," thereby reducing "health care costs resulting from inefficiency, medical errors, inappropriate care, duplicative care, and incomplete information" and providing "appropriate information to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."

The provision also establishes two committees, neither of which is tasked to "make the hard choices" regarding "what care will be limited, and who will be denied what services." Instead, the provision establishes an "HIT Policy Committee" to "make policy recommendations to the National Coordinator relating to the implementation of a nationwide health information technology infrastructure" and an "HIT Standards Committee" to "recommend to the National Coordinator standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria for the electronic exchange and use of health information."

From the August 17 Washington Times editorial:

Our first editorial that was criticized appeared Nov. 23, which the New York paper wrote was "long before any legislation had been drafted," implying that we were jumping the gun on the issue. But then-President-elect Obama had discussed health care extensively on the campaign trail, so it was fair game to anticipate how his team might seek to implement those proposals. We returned to the topic in February, but the New York Times failed to mention the context, which was a proposal in the stimulus bill then being rushed through Congress that would have established a national database recording every visit to a doctor's office in the interests of promoting "efficiency."

We were concerned that "efficiency" was being used as a code word for health care rationing, and wondered then why congressional Democrats were trying to sneak this major piece of health care legislation through in the stimulus bill if it was as harmless as they made it out to be. Both of our editorials argued that if the government assumed the right to decide who was entitled to what care in the pursuit of "efficiency," the functional result would be to take life-or-death decisions away from families and doctors and place them in the hands of government bureaucrats. We have yet to hear a convincing argument to the contrary.

The New York Times described our paper as "an outlet decidedly opposed to Mr. Obama," which at the very least is an insult to our news division, which examines the pretenses of politicians regardless of partisan affiliation. But it is also an error to describe our editorial position as dogmatically anti-Obama. The Washington Times editorial board stands for a set of principles that frequently differs with the president's philosophies. Those disagreements are about issues, not individuals. When the administration merits praise, we are happy to acknowledge it. When it deserves criticism, we choose not to be silent.

During the past six months, our editorial team has written dozens of editorials covering all aspects of the health care debate. Our stance on the issue has been consistent, fact-based and principled. Perhaps that is why our editorials have struck a chord. We look forward to continuing to shape the debate on this issue and other critical matters of public policy. We owe nothing less to our loyal readers and to the American people, and we thank the New York Times for calling attention to our work.

The Washington Times

Washington Times

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