Dr. SteveB Writes on PBS Self-Censorship; Middleman; Stock Puppet

 

In this post DrSteveB covers a number of topics starting with an emerging scandal over PBS' latest health care documentary.

PBS FRONTLINE "Sick Around America"

After the relatively outstanding PBS Frontline documentary "Sick Around the World" which looked at how health care is funded and delivered in other countries, many of us were looking forward to hearing from  T.R. Reid in his follow-up "Sick Around America." 

To our surprise, Mr. Reid was missing. And to paraphrase and summarize Trudy Lieberman's piece on it over at the Columbia Journalism Review, the show was disjointed, confusing, misleading and kinda sucked. It turns out those two facts are probably connected.  

In the earlier "Sick Around the World," T.R. Reid gave an accurate and entertaining portrayal of several single-payer-like health systems around the world. Many reform advocates hoped this new documentary would discuss single payer as an option for the United States, too, particularly given its popularity among the U.S. public.

The new show did discuss some of the problems with the American health care "system." However having hinted at the illness, it botched the discussion of the cure.  It provided misleading or false explanations about the range of health reform options, completely botched the explanation of guarantee issue, was grossly misleading on mandates and the Massachusetts experience, and not only ignored single payer (we are used to that), but even ignored pubic option!

T.R. Reid was mentioned in the earlier publicity for the show, but chose to withdraw from the program and have his name taken off just a month or so ago.  That has been publicly confirmed.  Based on several private reports, it would appear that he wanted to include a fuller and coherent discussion of health reform options, what they were and why different interests supported them.  He wanted to include not only public option but also single payer.  When he saw how the final editing was going, he disagreed and chose to disassociate himself from it.  No wonder it was so choppy and discombobulated.

As Don McCanne points out, throughout the program, many executives of the private insurance industry were featured, and they confirmed that these deficiencies were very real and needed to be addressed. That's good. What was outrageous is that they were in no way contrite, but instead they implied that they would provide the leadership to make sure that private insurance will continue to manage the financing for health care in America, beginning with an individual mandate for every American to buy their lousy products.

I can only speculate on the motives of PBS, Frontline, and the individual producers and director: It is likely that, after their expose "Sick Around the World," they caved when they came under pressure to confine their discussion to nice safe mainstream narratives, regardless of the facts.  The allowable range was from Mandates to AHIP.  Build on the current system of private for-profit health plans, push mandates which both the D.C. establishment and the insurance companies have endorsed. Ignore single payer.  Don't even mention public option.  Pathetic.

Meanwhile I do look forward to T.R. Reid's book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (earlier title was "We're #37" referring to the U.S.'s ranking in the World Health Organization 2000 World Health Report), due out in August.

Dr; Steve  has sent us the following follow-up to this post in a communication today:

More on the TR Reid/PBS/Sick in America Story: 
 
Per reporting by Russell Mokhiber further below: The deliberately dishonest conflation of U.S.-style  Mandate (wherein the police power of the state is used to force you buy from for-profit private insurer) with the everybody-in/nobody-out non-profit public systems in other countries, seems to have been the critical part in Reid leaving, along with refusal to include anything on single payer or even public option.
 
Meanwhile here is the official PR response from PBS/Frontline: Apparently single payer is so important, and so different from what they wanted, that it deserves a separate program. And it could not possibly have been included and connected with what they say they wanted to focus on including medical bankruptcy, death due to un/underinsurance, and for-profits' fiduciary responsibility to not provide care. Their ongoing disingenuousness is breathtaking:
 
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundamerica/talk/
Many viewers have written criticizing this report for not looking at solutions, in particular, a single payer system. Certainly, the topic is another important piece of any examination into the health care system and how it can be improved. And it would warrant a separate program of its own. We would like to point out that we did examine how the single payer system works in many European countries in our program last season, Sick Around the World. You can view this online.We believe that our report this week, Sick Around America, was equally of value in focusing on our current private health insurance system and showing how many Americans are only one or two events away from financial disaster or total ruin because they can't afford this insurance, or because it offers inadequate coverage, or because it suddenly can be rescinded by the insurer for alleged omissions or errors. We also felt it important in this report to look at another major problem with the private insurance system: America's for-profit medical system means that insurers have a fiscal duty to avoid risk and make profits for investors. Thus, insuring people who already have serious, chronic illnesses works against the interests of stockholders.

 ---------------------------

Something is Rotten at PBS
By RUSSELL MOKHIBER
Last year, former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid made a great documentary for the PBS show Frontline titled Sick Around the World. Reid traveled to five countries that deliver health care for all – UK, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan – to learn about how they do it. Reid found that the one thing these five countries had in common – none allowed for-profit health insurance companies to sell basic medical coverage. Frontline then said to Reid – okay, we want you to go around the United States and make a companion documentary titled Sick Around the America. So, Reid traveled around America, interviewing patients, doctors, and health insurance executives.The documentary that resulted – Sick Around America – aired Monday night on PBS. But even though Reid did the reporting for the film, he was cut out of the film when it aired this week. And the film didn't present Reid's bottom line for health care reform – don't let health insurance companies profit from selling basic health insurance. They can sell for-profit insurance for extras – breast enlargements, botox, hair transplants. But not for the basic health needs of the American people. Instead, the film that aired Monday pushed the view that Americans be required to purchase health insurance from for-profit companies. And the film had a deceptive segment that totally got wrong the lesson of Reid's previous documentary – Sick Around the World. During that segment, about halfway through Sick Around America, the moderator introduces Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, the lead health insurance lobby in the United States.

Moderator: Other developed countries guarantee coverage for everyone. We asked Karen Ignagni why it can't work here.

Karen Ignagni: Well, it would work if we did what other countries do, which is have a mandate that everybody participate. And if everybody is in, it's quite reasonable to ask our industry to do guarantee issue, to get everybody in. So, the answer to your question is we can, and the public here will have to agree to do what the public in other countries have done, which is a consensus that everybody should be in.

Moderator: That's what other developed countries do. They make insurers cover everyone, and they make all citizens buy insurance. And the poor are subsidized.

But the hard reality, as presented by Reid in Sick Around the World, is quite different than Ignagni and the moderator claim. Other countries do not require citizens buy health insurance from for-profit health insurance companies – the kind that Karen Ignagni represents. In some countries like Germany and Japan, citizens are required to buy health insurance, but from non-profit, heavily regulated insurance companies. And other countries, like the UK and Canada, don't require citizens to buy insurance. Instead, citizens are covered as a birthright – by a single government payer in Canada, or by a national health system in the UK. The producers of the Frontline piece had a point of view – they wanted to keep the for-profit health insurance companies in the game. TR Reid wants them out.

“We spent months shooting that film,” Reid explains. “I was the correspondent. We did our last interview on January 6. The producers went to Boston and made the documentary. About late February I saw it for the first time. And I told them I disagreed with it. They listened to me, but they didn't want to change it.”

Reid has a book coming out this summer titled The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, August 2009.)

“I said to them -- mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world,” Reid said. “I said I'm not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book. They said – I had to be in the film because I was under contract. I insisted that I couldn't be. And we parted ways.” “Doctors, hospitals, nurses, labs can all be for-profit,” Reid said. “But the payment system has to be non-profit. All the other countries have agreed on that. We are the only one that allows health insurance companies to make a profit. You can't allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance.” “I don't think they deliberately got it wrong, but they got it wrong,” Reid said. Reid said that he now wants to make other documentaries, but not for Frontline.

“Frontline will never touch me a again – they are done with me,” Reid said.

Reid says that “it's perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.” “We disagreed, and we parted ways,” Reid says. It might be perfectly reasonable for people to disagree about health policy.

But it's not perfectly reasonable to mislead the American people on national television in the middle of a health care crises when Congress is shaping legislation that will mean life or death for the for-profit health insurance industry.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. He can be reached at: russellmokhiber@gmail.com

 Now to some other topics covered in Dr. Steve's original post.

2. College Loan Program / Pell Grants Reform as a Model

The Obama folks have decided to get rid of the corrupting and wasteful middlemen of banks, and provide college student loan programs (principally the Pell Grants) directly via the government. Cutting out the no-value-added four billion dollar subsidy to the banks, will allow more students to get more dollars at lower cost. There have also been some kickback scandals, with college loan officers directing students to loaners that gave them money.  That's what happens when what should be a public service gets artificially privatized and put into a for profit arena.

No doubt our education blogger have more to say about this subject. It is just that us single-payer advocates have noticed this seemingly real reform, and immediately see an analogy to health care reform. If only the Obama administration and congress would get rid of the similarly no-value added, cost's a lot, distorts the entire system middlemen of the for profit private insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the only middleman I did like lately got cancelled. sigh.

 

3. "Stock Puppetry"

Admittedly unrelated to health care, but I beg your indulgence for a little bit of humor:

Most of us are familiar with the term "sock puppet" from both its original literal meaning from Lambchop to Petfood.com and more importantly as the internet term for

...a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person, like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet.

..."sock-puppeting" is defined as "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."

The key difference between a sockpuppet and a regular pseudonym is the pretense that the puppet is a third party who is not affiliated with the puppeteer.

I hereby officially introduce (in follow--up to my comment in a diary on Daily Kos yesterday) the term "Stock Puppet" (tm) to refer to the phony corporate journalism used to prop-up our financial system helping to create the pansy scheme economics we have been living through.

Examples include most of CNBC as delightfully exposed by The Daily Show lately.  But also most of the business, economics and real estate reporting, as exposed in an ongoing basis for years now by the indispensible and  indefatigable Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog.

"Stock Puppetry" (tm) is when the journalist and outlet keep using the same "source" to promote the same line, propping up the same nonsense, despite both the source and the outlet having an a priori self interest and bias.

CNBC depends on advertising support from the same corporate interests that it is reporting on. It is owned by the same corporate interests it is reporting on. Its reporters are often from those same lines of work (e.g., traders). They then lob soft ball questions at the CEOs and report the lies as replies as news.  

The reporters, outlet and interviewees are not independent. They all share an explicit agenda to drive the market up, not to report what is true.  They are working in a priori collaboration, but pretending that one is a journalist, the other is a source, telling a balanced story, on an independent outlet.  Hence... "Stock Puppetry"

As noted per links above, Dean Baker has been pointing out over and over again for years, that this is standard operating procedure, with a few exceptions, in most of the mainstream corporate press.

They would interview lobbyist or PR flacks, paid representatives, from the realtors or builders, making happy talk over the real estate market, all the way from the bubble being blown up and continued to do so even way after the bubble popped. They would go out of their way (especially the Washington Post in his coverage) to interview the same hacks and flacks, even after events had proven their prior statements false. And they go out their way to not interview truly independent experts with contrary negative opinions.

The same for the tireless self promoters of privatization, deregulation, self regulation, lack of oversight, tax cuts for the wealthy, "social security is in trouble", anti-union, anti-worker,  "free trade" etc.

Of course, Dean Baker also gets health care reform right. (see there is a health care reform connection!).

Stock Puppetry?

Now that we have a new name for it, what are we going to do about it

Cross-posted on Daily Kos.

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Comments

You were wondering about why Reid pulled out of "Sick Around America"... Now we know why:

"What happened? Reid left the show this February in a dispute with FRONTLINE. Trudy Lieberman of Columbia Journalism Review quotes Reid as saying, "When I saw it, I didn’t agree with it. It took a different view of health policy than I have.""

COMA-CT email below with the full story:

 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Don McCanne <don at>
Date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM
Subject: [COMA-CT:#1088] qotd: FRONTLINE's "Sick Around America"
To: Quote-of-the-Day <quote-of-the-day@mccanne.org>

FRONTLINE
March 31, 2009
Sick Around America
 
Investigating the stories of Americans whose lives have become a quest to find and keep health insurance...
 
Join the Discussion
 
Dear FRONTLINE,
 
I am disappointed that this long-awaited special on healthcare did not address the single payer option. There were ample interviews with insurance company lobbyists but no discussion of this obvious choice. Our nation's people are in crisis and the shameful greed displayed in other industries is replicated in the for profit hospital corporations, insurance companies and pharmceutical industries. We cannot afford profit in healthcare, as we will continue to have a chaotic, threadbare system riddled with donut holes and pitfalls for those who can least navigate: patients and their families. I'd like to see equal time -- a Frontline on the single payer option.
 
Grace Gifford
Conway, SC
 
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
 
Many viewers have written criticizing this report for not looking at solutions, in particular, a single payer system. Certainly, the topic is another important piece of any examination into the health care system and how it can be improved. And it would warrant a separate program of its own. We would like to point out that we did examine how the single payer system works in many European countries in our program last season, Sick Around the World. You can view this online.We believe that our report this week, Sick Around America, was equally of value in focusing on our current private health insurance system and showing how many Americans are only one or two events away from financial disaster or total ruin because they can't afford this insurance, or because it offers inadequate coverage, or because it suddenly can be rescinded by the insurer for alleged omissions or errors. We also felt it important in this report to look at another major problem with the private insurance system: America's for-profit medical system means that insurers have a fiscal duty to avoid risk and make profits for investors. Thus, insuring people who already have serious, chronic illnesses works against the interests of stockholders.
 
FRONTLINE: Sick Around America

Join the Discussion

PNHP: "'Sick Around America' disappoints" - selected responses
http://www.pnhp.org/blog/2009/04/01/‘sick-around-america’-disappoints/
 
Columbia Journalism Review: "Sick Around America" by Trudy Lieberman


Comment:  T.R. Reid had hosted FRONTLINE's "Sick Around the World," an important documentary describing successful health programs in several other nations that provide care for everyone at a fraction of the costs of our fragmented, inefficient health care system that leaves so many out.
 
We were looking forward to T.R. Reid's sequel, "Sick Around America," describing the problems with our private insurance system. Many of us were disappointed with the format of the program, believing that they missed a great opportunity to educate the nation on several health policies that would work well for all of us. Thus it was no surprise to us that T.R. Reid was not mentioned during the program, nor in the credits. 
 
What happened? Reid left the show this February in a dispute with FRONTLINE. Trudy Lieberman of Columbia Journalism Review quotes Reid as saying, "When I saw it, I didn’t agree with it. It took a different view of health policy than I have."
 
The program did use anecdotes effectively, demonstrating some of the problems with private insurance. Examples included medical underwriting, rescission, lapses in coverage, financial burdens due to underinsurance, and other deficiencies that most Americans now understand. 
 
Watching this program, it is very clear that change is required. But the message for reform was outrageous. Throughout the program, many executives of the private insurance industry were featured, and they confirmed that these deficiencies were very real and needed to be addressed. That's good. What was outrageous is that they were in no way contrite, but instead they implied that they would provide the leadership to make sure that private insurance will continue to manage the financing for health care in America, beginning with an individual mandate for every American to buy their lousy products.
 
We can only speculate on the motives of the producers. My opinion is that they wanted to provide support for the current efforts of the Democrats in Congress and in The White House to build reform based on private health plans. A publicly-administered and publicly-financed program would require a total restart on the reform process, and so it wasn't offered as a potential solution. In deference to the insurance executives, the producers didn't even promote a public Medicare-like option.
 
Remember, these insurance executives are not contrite. They can never provide the moral leadership that we need to create a health care system that serves all of us well.

 

carol

Sign the Petition - http://pol.moveon.org/...

Full petition text:

"Give America a choice. We support health care reform that allows individual Americans to choose either a universally available public health care option like Medicare or for-profit private insurance. A public option is the only way to guarantee health care for all Americans and its inclusion is non-negotiable.

"Any legislation without the choice of a public option is only insurance reform and not the health care reform America needs."

The " Stand With Dr. Dean " campaign is brought to you by MoveOn.org Political Action™ and Democracy for America.

Stand With Dr. Dean

During the election, President Obama proposed a health care plan that would give every American the freedom to choose between keeping their private insurance—if they have any—and choosing a universally available public health insurance option like Medicare.

But for-profit insurance companies and HMOs are already working hard to strip this public health insurance option from any upcoming health care bill. They don't want us to have a choice, and they'll stop at nothing to kill real reform. Trouble is, some in Congress are siding with the insurance companies—and against what's best for the rest of us.

Today, we draw a line in the sand. A public health insurance option is the only way to guarantee health care for all Americans. And to show that we mean business, we all need to tell Congress we won't settle for less.

If 250,000 of us sign this petition, Dr. Howard Dean will personally deliver it to Congress.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to your Senators and Representative.

-----
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

You going to threaten them with a water gun?

Threaten congress with boycotts of their company contributors.

See http://write-congress.democratz.org

 

 

 This is off-topic but I do believe related. I just had a horrific experience getting care for my cat. I feel so naive. For decades I've managed to stumble into the offices of kind and caring vets. Not this time. Two weeks of tests, treating her symptoms but not her illness until she was near death. And the vet still just wanted to do more tests.

Has everything in our nation just become so unbelievably corrupt and self serving?

Angry about Medicare Part D that does not help the middle class? Angry that the moderate Democratic congress won't consider enacting HR 676 single payer universal health care? You can do something about it.

I have a plan to fix the prescription drug benefit and more.

Get people to Send a free prewritten fax to Sen. Minority leader Mitch McConnell telling him to STOP EVERY REPUBLICAN FILIBUSTER, get the Employee Free Choice act enacted into law, along with single payer universal health care, a fix for the Medicare Prescription drug benefit, a 10 dollar an hour minimum wage, an end to the Iraq war and until that happens you will boycott some Republican campaign contributors.

You can go to http://write-congress.democratz.org and send Mitch McConnell a free prewritten fax. This web site appears completely noncommercial. I don't sell anything there.

We have to hit the friends of the GOP in their wallets. Oh and if you only send your fax, this will fail. You need to get friends to send the fax and have their friends send the free fax and so on.

Thank you!

PS the prewritten fax reads thusly:

Hello

I want the following actions taken

and legislation enacted into law.

Congress and the President must

enact HR 676 single payer universal

health care and set up a new

prescription drug benefit in

Medicare Part B covering 80% of the

cost of all drugs with no extra

monthly premiums, no extra yearly

deductible, no means tests, no

coverage gaps, and remove the means

test for Medicare Part B and until

that happens, I won't buy ANYTHING

from Republican contributor

Rite Aid Pharmacies.

The President must end the war in

Iraq and until that happens

I will not buy any products from

Republican contributor and War

contractor General Electric

Corporation.

Congress and the President must

enact a $10/HR MINIMUM WAGE

into law and until this happens

I will not go to any Republican

contributor Wendy's Restaurants.

In 2008 Brown-Forman of Kentucky,

the maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey

and Southern Comfort gave Mitch

McConnell money for his campaign.

SENATOR McCONNELL MUST NOT

EXECUTE ANY REPUBLICAN

FILIBUSTERS FOR 8 YEARS

DURING THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY

AND MUST GET THE EMPLOYEE

FREE CHOICE ACT ENACTED

INTO LAW AND UNTIL THAT

HAPPENS I WON'T BUY JACK

DANIELS WHISKEY OR SOUTHERN

COMFORT OR ANY OTHER OF THEIR

PRODUCTS.

Thank you.

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