Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Nov. 7, 8 or 9
Technology has made more information available in more ways than ever, from web sites and email to social media and texting. But as Rockford newspaperman Mark Baldwin has said, “Not every drop from the digital fire hose is as important as every other. Worse, not everything is true.”
A month after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges opened, many people remain uninformed or misinformed about the health care reform known as Obamacare, showing the effects of anti-Obama attacks and the incompetence of both the government for not adequately preparing or promoting the ACA and the press for not effectively reaching citizens with facts.
Most people support the law’s key components: keeping young adults up to age 26 on parents' policies, eliminating life-time caps on health insurance and pre-existing conditions as barriers to coverage, requiring mandatory prescription coverage, providing preventive care, and so on. Yet Americans continue to "disapprove" of the ACA by a slight margin.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked respondents about the exchanges’ launch dates and just 15 percent answered correctly. Among the uninsured, those the ACA wants to aid, 12 percent answered correctly. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 76 percent of people currently lacking health insurance "didn't understand the law and how it would affect them."
The successful disinformation campaign about the ACA (apart from its real, if temporary, enrollment woes) has been ingenious, creating doubt, fear or guilt by association compared to the law’s reality. But government rarely reminded people of the ACA’s many benefits and that it’s actually a GOP plan suggested in the 1990s by the conservative Heritage Foundation, becoming Massachusetts’ RomneyCare.
Indeed, there’s little proof that accurate information about the ACA ever reached a majority of people. Those aware of its subsidies, Medicaid expansion, and closing of the Medicare prescription drug "doughnut hole" flaw have DECLINED since it passed in 2010. Further, people have been led to believe things about it that aren’t true. According to Kaiser, most people MISTAKENLY think that a public option was part of the ACA (we WISH), establishes something like “death panels,” cuts benefits for seniors and provides subsidies to undocumented immigrants. None of those myths are true.
Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and what’s dubbed the “conservative entertainment complex” have been a nonstop propaganda machine misinforming the public with all manner of phoniness and fabrications. It’s one thing for Limbaugh, Charles Krauthammer or Glenn Beck (or, on the other end of the spectrum, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow or even me) to express opinion when it’s clearly identified as commentary. It’s different to present such comments as straight news.
The mainstream press’ virtual abdication of its responsibility to filter out BS posing as news is the most troubling. The idea of objectivity has deteriorated from reporting “without fear or favor” to the practice of false equivalency, where falsehoods get reported as one side of a debate with equal weight to factual arguments.
“Neutrality is not ‘everything is equal’,” said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of TV’s “NOVA scienceNOW.”
“Neutrality is: ‘I’m going to ask hard questions, no matter who it is, and if they crumble under the line of questioning, that’s because they had a house of cards to begin with’,” he continued. “If journalism doesn’t bring that out, it’s bad for society, because you only have a strong democracy if those who vote people into office are informed and have the capacity to think intelligently about topics and issues.”
Common sense and journalism ethics require journalists and media consumers alike to check out things, especially before broadcasting, publishing or forwarding emails and posts to others. First, identify and separate news from opinion. Next, QUESTION by using what John McManus, author of “Detecting Bull,” calls a SMELL test:
S (Source) – Find out who’s providing the information.
M (Motivation) – Why are they making the assertions?
E (Evidence) – Is there evidence?
L (Logic) – Do conclusions logically come from facts?
L (Left out) – What’s omitted?
“So long as colossal swaths of the population are in the dark about the major policy issues of our time, the political scene will be ripe for ultra-right-wing demagogues and faux-populists to thwart progress,” warns Justin Doolittle, who writes about public policy issues.
[PICTURED: Graphic from OpenCdA.com]