An article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post today reported that:
For once, mainstream journalists did not retreat to the studied neutrality of quoting dueling antagonists. They tried to perform last rites on the ludicrous claim about President Obama’s death panels, telling Sarah Palin, in effect, you’ve got to quit making things up.
(See: Washington Post: Death Panels Smyte Journalism)
Kurtz provided several examples, including examples of attempts by the media to report on some of the details of what was in the legislation.
Ultimately, the article concerns the question of who was to blame for all of the noise and misinformation by which so many people got such wrong information about health care reform. Forty-five percent of Americans came to believe that the legislation called for ‘death panels’ by which the government would deny care to the elderly. Seventy-five percent of Fox News viewers shared this belief.
Kurtz point seemed to be that it was The Media’s fault this misinformation became so widely accepted. The evidence above pointed to The Media’s attempt to correct these misinterpretations. However, the media proved to be impotent – it could do nothing.
At the same time, the article blames Obama for these misperceptions. Obama and his administration are at fault for failing to present the plan in simple terms. Citing Peggy Noonan, Kurtz supported the claim that:
The president’s health-care plan is not clear, and I mean that not only in the sense of ‘h hasn’t told us his plan.’ I mean it in terms of the voodoo phrases, this gobbledygook, this secret language of government that no one understands—‘single payer,’ ‘public option’, ‘insurance marketplace exchange.’ No one understands what this stuff means, nobody normal.’
So, all of this was Obama’s fault for failure to communicate clearly.
And/or it is Obama’s fault for trying to do too much, too quickly.
By doing so much, so fast, Obama never sufficiently educated the public on the logic behind his policies . . . By doing so much so fast, Obama jammed the circuits on Capitol Hill. Congress has a hard time doing even one big thing well at a time . . . “
So, the moral lesson seems to be that it is wrong to lie – except when one is lying about the projects of people who discuss complex concepts or attempt to accomplish too much. Those cases are like the case of lying to the Nazi soldier who comes to the door looking for Jews – they provide moral exceptions to the rule against bearing false witness.
Actually, I have another suggestion on who to blame.
First, the demagogues and sophists who spread this garbage. A person who goes before an audience to make a claim has an obligation to determine if those claims are true and to say only what he has good reason to believe. People who go before an audience and either knowingly or recklessly spread nonsense are guilty of a contemptible normal moral failure.”
Second, the gullible people who accepted this propaganda. These are the mindless parrots who have so little mental competence and sense of moral responsibility that they can do little more than parrot what they hear from their favorite voices.
Third, the media – because if they hold that these claims were false and that people were making this stuff up then they had a new story to cover. The story concerns the widespread acceptance of a fiction. The press could have covered the spread of these malicious fictions the way it might cover the spread of a virus spreading from person to person the way they might cover the spread of a malicious virus.
In fact, the debate over who deserves the blame for the widespread acceptance of these fictions – the Obama Administration or the Press – is like a debate over who to blamed for the rape and murder of a young woman on a college campus – the woman herself or the police.
I would argue that we start by blaming the rapist, as well as anybody who cheers the rapist or otherwise gives praise to those who would engage in rape. We can discuss whether the media or the woman herself could have done more, of course.
Still, the ultimate answer of who to blame are the liars and sophists and their willing audience of mindless sycophants themselves.