Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What is it that journalism schools do?

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Spine-ectomies? Brain diminution? Look at this:

Here is one reason reporters too often don’t ask the right provocative questions of the president or his briefers: They bog themselves down in details and make it easy for the briefer to slip away, as Tony Snow did the other day when he was asked about proposed budget cuts for Medicare and Medicaid, on which 90 million people depend for some medical care.

I will explain, but first some background known to virtually every reporter assigned to write about the new budget: For readers as well as reporters, in the main stream press, the annual budget is the least understood, most widely written, under-read story of the year. And the TV types rarely bother with it, except maybe to show meaningless pictures of the budget books. One large reason for this lack of interest– the main budget stories are full of facts and numbing numbers, but they don’t tell the truth.

For example, The New York Times’ Robert Pear, who knows more about Medicare than any expert, told us in his initial budget piece on Feb. 2, that “President Bush will ask Congress…to squeeze more than $70 billion in savings from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years…The proposals, part of a White House plan to balance the budget by 2012, set the stage for a battle with Congress over entitlement spending…”

Naturally there were the predictable skeptical quotes from Democrats, but the story went on, “Mr. Bush has repeatedly said that Medicare has serious long-term financial problems and many experts share his concern.” And that was backed up with a predictable quote from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, which (like Bush) has never been a friend of Medicare.

As it turned out, Bush is seeking even deeper cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid, which were also reported as “savings,” as the Times said. By savings the reporters meant the administration would spend that much less than it had planned, sort of like saving by not buying the car you don’t need. But ‘savings” is a misleading euphemism, and Medicare and Medicaid are not like merchandise. Cutting the growth means cutting back on services. And more than that, the president proposed a cap on Medicare and Medicaid spending and absolute reductions in amounts paid to providers.

My point is, as the reporters well know–or should know by now-–the president has been steadily privatizing Medicare, that is, doing away with it as a national, public health care program for older Americans and the disabled. The budget is a political document, reflecting the ideology and values of the president. But no one writing the main stories talked to reputable Medicare advocates, such as New York’s Medicare Rights Center, or the Washington lawyers for the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

As a result, it was easy for Tony Snow to slip away from the few questions on the budget and the only one that was asked about Medicare’s cuts on Feb. 6. Snow said the budget merely cut back the rate of growth, “so there are no cuts at all.” It was a fact, but not the truth. He could have been asked a different question based on a truth: “Tony, given the privatization of Part D and Medicare Advantage, is the president in favor of keeping Medicare as a public, universal health care program?”

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2007 at 8:57 pm

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