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Former anti-abortion activist Jerry Reiter, the author of the recent book Live From the Gates of Hell: An Insider’s Look at the Anti-Abortion Underground, gives an interview to the St. Petersburg Times about his book and his days with the controversial anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986). Reiter was media coordinator for the group, but after becoming disillusioned with its violent tactics, became an FBI informant, giving the FBI information on OR and other anti-abortion groups. Reiter now says that some respected conservative Christians have tacitly condoned the violence practiced by OR and other anti-abortion groups during the 1990s. “One of the things that surprised me about the Christian Coalition was that even though it publicly denounced the illegal tactics of groups like Operation Rescue,” Reiter wrote, “when the big national anti-abortion protest came to Buffalo in 1992, Operation Rescue National housed its secret command and communication offices in the basement suite of offices that the Christian Coalition of New York had as its state headquarters.” He says that after entering “the secret command post of Operation Rescue, I was given books on dozens of not-so-peaceful activities, including a book by Reverend Michael Bray advocating the bombing of abortion clinics” (see September 1994). Reiter says that many anti-abortion activists “use the Bible to justify all kinds of evil.” He is still against abortion, but does not advocate legal restrictions on the practice. “I want to see abortions reduced,” he says. “Sex education, birth control, and availability of health care options is the way to go. Those people who oppose abortion are often those who oppose sex education, birth control, and other health care options.” Explaining why he became an FBI informant, Reiter says of his OR colleagues, “I realized that these people were very serious about doing harm to people.” He recalls speaking with Paul Hill, who in 1994 murdered an abortion provider and his bodyguard (see July 29, 1994). Weeks before Hill killed the two men, he told Reiter: “What you’re gonna see next now, brother, is an IRA-type reign of terror [referring to the Irish Republican Army]. There’s too much pressure on all of us, too many people watching us to do anything major under direct orders from the national level, so what you’re gonna see is individuals or small groups of people takin’ action in their own hands to do what the leaders want to see done, but since there won’t be any direct orders given, no one can prove conspiracy.” Reiter says his information did not prevent Hill’s murders, but was able to prevent another spate of possibly lethal violence during a 1994 event in Florida. “If I hadn’t done something at the time, it’s likely they would have been successful and hundreds could have been killed.… I had the most unique background. I was able to see the most radical, most dangerous people in the country as they were formulating their plans.” Reiter concludes: “The mainstream anti-abortion movement has shrunk dramatically and now you just see more hard-core people. It’s not a calm situation. The days of the little old ladies with the rosaries have been replaced with this radical, vitriolic group.… The people around Paul Hill, once he is executed (see September 3, 2003), they are planning to rise up and take action. They are planning to give us unprecedented violence.” (Moore 1/6/2001)
An editorial from the St. Petersburg Times rails against the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “We were duped,” the editorial begins, and calls the Pentagon program a “spin operation.” The retired military officers serving as network analysts “are not as independent or as objective as they are portrayed,” the editorial continues. “They are feeding the public the Bush administration line just as they have been encouraged to do. The shilling then bought them plum access to the Pentagon that could be traded on later, giving them a leg up in securing large military contracts for their companies and clients.” The editorial calls the networks and cable news outlets that hired and televised these analysts “enablers in this propaganda campaign,” and lambasts them for not bothering to investigate their analysts’ connections to either the Defense Department or to defense contractors with vested interests in Iraq: “These former military officers were unlikely to give a fair reading of the war in Iraq when their corporate clients were paying huge sums for friendly Pentagon access so they could win business off the war.” (St. Petersburg Times 5/12/2008)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
Several media outlets report discredited Republican claims that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” global warming initiative would cost American taxpayers over $3,000 per year. Fox News anchors Eric Shawn and Alisyn Camerota (see October 13, 2009), CNN producer Ted Barrett, and the Washington, DC, newspaper Roll Call repeat the claim, which originated in a March 23 House Republican Conference (HRC) “talking points” press release. (GOP (.gov) 3/23/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) The claim points to a 2007 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but one of the study’s authors, John Reilly, says the Republicans’ interpretation of it is wrong (see March 24 - April 2, 2009). Reilly says the average household cost of $3,128, as calculated by the HRC, is “nearly 10 times the correct estimate” based on his study’s cap-and-trade model. The HRC’s error is further shown by a March 30 analysis conducted by the St. Petersburg Times. (Adair 3/30/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) Both Reilly and the Times show that the average annual cost per household will be closer to $340. On Fox News’s America’s News HQ, Shawn claims “this cap-and-trade, or as the Republicans call it, cap-and-tax—could add $3,000 a year on our electric bills.… [T]hat’s about—$290 or so a month. I mean, imagine the American public, everyone watching right now—all of us—getting an extra 300 bucks or so a month tacked on to our utility bills.” Camerota tells viewers of Fox News’s America’s Newsroom that the cap-and-trade proposal “would be $3,100 per US household.” Roll Call’s Jay Heflin publishes a claim by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that “the effort equates to a ‘light switch tax’ of up to $3,128 each year for families” without informing readers of Reilly’s and the Times’s differing analysis. (Media Matters 4/6/2009; Heflin 4/6/2009) Similarly, on CNN’s Political Ticker blog, Barrett repeats a similar claim, writing, “Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the Senate for having ‘slammed the door on using the fast-track process to jam through a new national energy tax’ that Republicans say will cost families $3,000 a year in higher energy costs.” (Barrett 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009)
House Representative Paul Broun (R-GA—see November 11, 2008) says that the Obama health care reform proposals will kill Americans. On the floor of the House, Broun attacks the idea of a “public option,” described by Congressional Democrats as a government-funded alternative to private health care. Broun says, “[T]his program of ‘government option’ is being touted as being the panacea, the savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price is gonna kill people.” Broun says that Canada and the United Kingdom, both countries that rely on public health care, “don’t have the appreciation of life as we do in our society.” Progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress notes that both Canada and the UK have both a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US. (Think Progress 7/10/2009) Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters notes that neither the Canadian nor British health care systems serve as models for President Obama’s health care reform proposals. (Media Matters 7/10/2009) Broun’s claims are based in part on health insurance advocate Betsy McCaughey’s warnings that the health care reform proposal will encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009), warnings that are debunked by the St. Petersburg Times (see July 23, 2009).
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) issue a statement that warns the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal would provide for “government-encouraged euthanasia” of senior citizens. Boehner and McCotter’s statement reads: “Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation [HR 3200, the most recent version of the reform proposal] encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on ‘the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration’ and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign. This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law. At a minimum this legislative language deserves a full and open public debate—the sort of debate that is impossible to have under the politically-driven deadlines Democratic leaders have arbitrarily set for enactment of a health care bill.” Boehner and McCotter also state that the reform bill would encourage state-assisted suicide: “With three states having legalized physician-assisted suicide, this provision could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing, and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself. Health care reform that fails to protect the sanctity and dignity of all human life is not reform at all.” (House Republican Leader 7/23/2009) The next day, McCotter will add: “This is very dangerous. We, in Michigan, have already fought back in attempted assisted suicide several years ago. And yet you see that the people who support this are trying to use this bill to advance this agenda.” (MSNBC 7/29/2009) The statement is quickly challenged by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who with Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced a separate bill that would provide for end-of-life consultations for senior citizens. Both bills propose nothing more than having Medicare pay for such consultations, if the patients or the patients’ families desire them. “I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see this type of reaction to a carefully crafted piece of legislation we have been working on for more than six months that is bipartisan and that speaks to the needs of American families,” Blumenauer says. “The American public, especially our senior citizens, deserve our best efforts to meet their needs—not treat them like political footballs.” A Boustany spokesman says the congressman stands behind the measure he co-authored, but says it should include language stating that taxpayer money would not be used to counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. Two states—Oregon and Washington—allow physician-assisted suicide in certain situations, and the Montana Supreme Court is considering a lower-court ruling that found physician-assisted suicide to be a right under Montana’s Constitution. (Brown 7/28/2009) Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters calls the statement’s analysis “repulsive.” (Warner 7/24/2009) The characterization of the bill by Boehner and McCotter will be disproven by a St. Petersburg Times analysis (see July 23, 2009).
The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks the recent spate of claims by Betsy McCaughey (R-NY) that the Obama health care reform proposal would mandate ‘death counseling’ (see July 16, 2009) and encourage seniors to die sooner to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Days later, the Annenberg Political FactCheck organization will come to the same conclusions.
'Advance Care Planning Consultation' - According to HR 3200, the latest version of the health care reform legislation, the relevant section is entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” This details how Medicare would pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. According to the legislation: “such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.” Medicare will pay for one such session every five years, and will pay for interim sessions if a Medicare recipient’s health worsens in between those five-year sessions. Jon Keyserling, general counsel and vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which supports the provision, says the bill does not encourage seniors to end their lives, it just allows some important counseling for decisions that take time and consideration. “These are very serious conversations,” he says. “It needs to be an informative conversation from the medical side and it needs to be thought about carefully by the patient and their families.” According to Jim Dau of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the legislation does not encourage patients to end their lives. Dau says McCaughey’s claims are “not just wrong, they are cruel.” He adds: “We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If some one wants to take every life-saving measure, that’s their call. Others will decide it’s not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that’s their decision, too.” Keyserling says it is clear to him and his organization’s lawyers that such end-of-life counseling sessions are purely voluntary, like everything in Medicare. “The only thing mandatory is that Medicare will have to pay for the counseling,” says Dau. A press release from the AARP says that McCaughey’s characterization of the health care bill is “rife with gross—and even cruel—distortions.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009; Henig 7/29/2009)
'Scare Tactics' - The St. Petersburg Times concludes: “For our ruling on this one, there’s really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would ‘tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner’ is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn’t just wrong, she’s spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009) The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will write: “In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice, and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.” The organization will note that inflammatory “chain e-mails” are making the rounds making claims such as: “On Page 425 of Obama’s health care bill, the federal government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every five years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes.… They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!!!” FactCheck will respond: “In fact, [the part of the bill cited on p. 425] requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices—including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.” FactCheck will find that McCaughey “misrepresent[ed]” the bill in her claims, and she and other health care reform opponents are resorting to “scare tactics” to try to defeat the legislation. (Henig 7/29/2009)
Anti-health care reform proponents claim that the Democrats’ reform package will allow the government direct access to US citizens’ bank accounts. In some variants of the claim, the government will steal money from those accounts to fund the reform package. The claim is quickly disproven.
From an E-mailed 'Clearinghouse of Bad Information' - Apparently the claim originates in a “chain e-mail” sent out by an anonymous anti-reformer. The e-mail, which references its claims by page numbers from HR 3200, the pending House version of the reform legislation, is characterized by the St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” team as a hugely long e-mail that they call “a clearinghouse of bad information circulating around the Web about proposed health care changes.” The e-mail is apparently based in part on the work of Peter Fleckenstein, who sends frequent and regular commentaries on Twitter under the name “Fleckman,” and posts his analyses on his blog. Fleckenstein identifies his Twitter comments with the tag #tcot, which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” A health care analyst with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, Jennifer Tolbert, calls the e-mail “awful.… It’s flat-out, blatant lies. It’s unbelievable to me how they can claim to reference the legislation and then make claims that are blatantly false.” Tolbert is particularly offended by the e-mail’s claim that ordinary citizens will suffer a lack of health care in order to provide free care for illegal immigrants. Many of the e-mail’s other claims are equally wrong.
Based on Provision for Electronic Health Records - The claim that “[t]he federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer” is based on a portion of the legislation that provides for electronic health records, including the enabling of “electronic funds transfers in order to allow automated reconciliation” between payment and billing. However, the government will not have access to citizens’ bank accounts and will not be able to make unauthorized withdrawals. (Holan 7/30/2009; Roth 8/11/2009)
Quick Promulgation - However, the lie quickly makes the rounds of conservative anti-reformers. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh cites the false claim numerous times on his radio broadcast; on August 6, he calls the program “[d]irect deposit access to every individual’s bank account,” and says: “That is in the House bill. You think that’s the worst thing in it. I’m not arguing with you, but there are things that are a greater abomination than that. I mean, this bill determines, the government’s going to determine who lives and dies. They are going to fund abortions and they are going to be for euthanasia on the back end” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009). On a local conservative radio show in early August, Representatative John Shadegg (R-AZ) calls the supposed provision “pretty Orwellian.” On August 11, a participant in a “town hall” forum hosted by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) asks about the claim. (KFYI 8/2009; Rush Limbaugh 8/6/2009; Roth 8/11/2009)
Similar to Automatic Bill Payment - Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes: “[I]f you’re paying back a student loan from the government (like we are) and you’ve set up automatic bill pay online, this is the same thing. Completely uncontroversial, and totally not scary—unless if you’re trying to fearmonger.” (Maloy 8/6/2009)
The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks a recent claim that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would let citizens die if keeping them alive would cost more than $22,000. The conservative Club for Growth has budgeted $1.2 million for advertisements opposing health care reform. One ad claims, “The health care reform plan would set limits similar to the ‘socialized’ system in Britain, where people are allowed to die if their treatment would cost more than $22,000.” It depicts a man weeping over another person lying in a hospital bed, while a voiceover says: ”$22,750. In England, government health officials decided that’s how much six months of life is worth. Under their socialized system if a medical treatment costs more, you’re out of luck. That’s wrong for America.” While the ad does not directly state that the Obama administration would put such a price tag on the lives of the elderly and dying, as PolitiFact writes: “[T]he implication is clear: The reform plan will lead to callous decisions that would allow people to die if they face a costly treatment.” The ad is based on “comparative effectiveness research,” which aims to find the most effective treatments for the lowest cost. Other conservative groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR) have portrayed the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (FCCCER), a new board created by the stimulus bill to find the best health treatments, as being modeled after the British system. Unfortunately for the CPR claim, the proposed American system would be nothing like its British counterpart, which is run by government entities. In Britain, a government board, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), decides whether particular treatments are covered or not. The Democrats’ proposal says that the FCCCER will not “mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Nor will its reports or recommendations “be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for payment, coverage, or treatment.” PolitiFact notes that several prominent Republicans, such as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), have made unsubstantiated claims that elderly people would be denied care in favor of younger patients if they were in Britain. Michael Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute says that while the Club for Growth’s claim about a price limit of $22,750 for extending the life of the patient is not completely inaccurate (it is based on a single unusual case), the Democrats’ legislation does not “say it’s going to do what Britain is doing.” Dr. Sean Tunis, a former top Medicare and Medicaid official in the Bush adminstration, calls the ad “misleading” and “fallacious.” PolitiFact concludes: “[T]he ad’s main point about cost limits is incorrect. There is no such practice in the comparative effectiveness program, nor is it part of the current health reform proposals pending in Congress. The House and Senate bills under consideration would not require the government to decide how much a person’s life is worth.” It terms the ad “False.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/6/2009)
Conservative bloggers attempting to give credence to discredited claims that the “9/12 rally” held in Washington attracted up to two million participants (see September 12, 2009) circulate a photo which they say proves the size of the crowd. The photo shows a crowd packing the National Mall and spilling into the streets beyond. Unfortunately, the photo is quickly shown to have been taken at least five years before the rally took place. The St. Petersburg Times asks Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the DC Fire and Emergency Department, if the rally had been big enough to fill that area. Piringer says it had not, and notes that the photo being circulated could not have been taken in 2009. He says the crowd “only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street.” Moreover, the photo does not include the National Museum of the American Indian, a building located at the corner of Fourth Street and Independence Avenue that opened on September 14, 2004. The museum should be in the upper right corner of the National Mall, next to the Air and Space Museum. The Times says the photo was likely taken in 1997. A Democratic media strategist says of the false photo: “I’ve seen bigger crowds at Montreal Expos games, but I still wouldn’t fake a photo just to justify your predictions of millions descending on Washington. This is grade-A stupid and just plays into the argument that these were astroturf protests to begin with. They’ve always brought the noise, but the question that was supposed to be answered this weekend was, could they bring the numbers? In that respect this was an unmitigated disaster.” By September 14, many of the conservative blogs that had originally posted the photo have taken them down, though some are claiming that the picture is a result of a liberal conspiracy to discredit the event. Many conservatives still argue that over a million people attended the rally. (Huffington Post 9/14/2009; Richart 9/14/2009)
Representatative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) issues a warning from the floor of the House: If the Democrats’ health care package passes, US public schools will be forced to host “sex clinics” that provide abortions and condoms on demand. Bachmann tells the nation: “There’s something that hasn’t been talked about much, and it’s the whole idea of school-based clinics in schools all across America, and that’s in HR 3200. Now this would raise the hackles on the necks of school parents all across this country. When they understand that Section 2511 of HR 3200, the House government takeover of health care, has a section—it’s called school-based health clinics, and it would allow a nonprofit health agency—just say Planned Parenthood because that’s what this is written for. Again, we need to be serious. Planned Parenthood is an organization that is the largest abortion provider in United States. And written in this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become a proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across United States.”
'Sex Clinics' - Bachmann continues: “These have been more accurately called school sex clinics.… Now the federal government is going the final step, and they’re saying, ‘Let’s put sex clinics in our schools.’ Can you believe this, Mr. Speaker? Let’s put sex clinics in our school. And let’s put Planned Parenthood in charge of our sex clinics because the bill that the school—under this provision, Planned Parenthood would be authorized to serve as a sponsoring facility for the nation’s schools. As a matter of fact, the bulk of this health care bill is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. Remember, all the taxes will start this coming January, Mr. Speaker. Right away, at the time we can least afford it, the taxes will go into place, but the provisions of this bill actually go into effect in 2013. Not the school-based sex clinics. The sex clinics actually would go into effect next summer so that these clinics would appear in public schools next fall. And it would require that the school-based sex clinic would provide on-site access during the school day when school is in session and have an established network of support and access to services with backup health providers when the school is closed. … But parents are going to excluded from Planned Parenthood as they write these clinics because the bill orders that these clinics protect patient privacy and student records. What does that mean? It means that parents will never know what kind of counsel and treatment that their children are receiving.”
School-Based Abortions? - Bachmann says: “And as a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what’s going to go on—comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care—is that abortion? Does that mean that someone’s 13-year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back, and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser.” (Media Matters 9/30/2009; Koppelman 10/1/2009)
Claim Debunked - The claim was pronouced false by the St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact investigative team in August, which noted that the claim apparently originated from statements made by conservative blogger Peter Fleckenstein and a later adaptation by the American Family Association and the Liberty Counsel, who in July warned that the bill “will establish school-based ‘health’ clinics. Your children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!” PolitiFact found that the bill provides for the same kinds of school-based health clinics that have been in place for 30 years or more. None would be authorized to perform abortions or any other intrusive procedures. All versions of the House bills would, PolitiFact wrote: “provide grants so the clinics can continue providing ‘comprehensive health assessments, diagnosis, and treatment of minor, acute, and chronic medical conditions and referrals to, and follow-up for, specialty care.’ The money could also be used to provide ‘mental health assessments, crisis interventions, counseling, treatment, and referral to a continuum of services including emergency psychiatric care, community support programs, inpatient care, and outpatient care.’ The clinics would have the option to provide, ‘oral health, social and age-appropriate health education services including nutritional counseling.’ Clinics getting federal dollars must act in accordance with federal, state, and local law, according to the bills. For example, clinics in Louisiana are not even allowed to counsel students on abortion, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/7/2009; Thrush 10/1/2009) Politico notes that the claim has been made in right-wing evangelical and social Christian circles for well over a month. (Thrush 10/1/2009)