CBS's Face the Nation (3/28/10) covered the passage of healthcare reform by inviting Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and two Republican critics on the program--one of whom spread misinformation that went unchallenged by host Bob Schieffer.
What's notable about this is that CBS has since posted on its website a debunking of the two claims made by the guest, conservative Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota.
At the very beginning of the interview, Bachmann explained her opposition to the new healthcare law: "Now we have the federal government, Bob, taking over ownership or control of 51 percent of the American economy. This is stunning. Prior to September of 2008, 100 percent of the private economy was private."
Schieffer's response was to point out that some of what she appeared to be talking about--the TARP bailouts--began under the Bush administration. A more important point to make, though, is that Bachmann's claim doesn't make sense. Government spending as a share of the country's gross domestic product is nowhere near Bachmann's claim. What she was apparently trying to say is that government bailouts of various industries are the same as "taking over ownership" of about a third of the economy, and that the new healthcare law amounts to a similar takeover of 18 percent of the economy--which adds up to over half of the economy. Since the government is not in fact "taking over" healthcare or the financial industry, the analogy makes no sense.
Another bit of evidence against the healthcare law that Bachmann offered was this: "The New England Journal of Medicine released a survey the week that President Obama signed Obamacare stating that over 30 percent of American physicians would leave the profession if the government took over healthcare."
The Journal neither conducted nor released any such study. A private physicians search firm posted a press release claiming this finding on the NEJM CareerCenter website, part of an employment newsletter published by the same company that publishes the Journal.
So much of the national debate over healthcare reform was marred by these types of wild exaggerations, many of which were not factchecked by journalists. It was encouraging, then, to see CBS publish a piece on its website by CBS associate news producer David Riedel (3/29/10) headlined "Bachmann Offers Big Numbers, Little Proof." Making that information available to a Web audience is important. But if CBS believes Bachmann's rhetoric was misleading, they should say so in the same place they gave her to make these claims. Correcting the record only on the Web--as ABC's George Stephanopoulos did when Rudolph Giuliani made inaccurate claims about 9/11 on Good Morning America (Extra!, 3/10)--does a disservice to your TV audience.
In an interview last year with Jon Friedman (Marketwatch, 5/15/09), Face the Nation host Schieffer expressed no tolerance for those who would mislead his TV audience: "When I asked him how he feels when subjects lie to him on the air or try to mislead the audience, he got right to the point. 'I want to jump across the table and choke them,' he said."
If he meant that, then he should tell his audience the truth.
Encourage CBS's Face the Nation to share its Web debunking of Rep. Michelle Bachmann's rhetoric on its upcoming April 4 broadcast.
CBS Face the Nation
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This story was published on April 1, 2010.