New York Times, meet Howard Dean: Medicare has come center stage. So has massive confusion.
How hapless has the discussion been? Let’s discuss the New York Times—and let’s discuss Howard Dean.
On Tuesday, we complained about a news report concerning the claims of Candidate Romney. On the front page of the Times, Adam Nagourney penned a hapless report which kept repeating Romney’s basic charge in this area (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/12).
Nagourney made no attempt to provide basic context or background information. One day later, Robert Pear did a follow-up report in the Times.
Pear was hapless too.
How pitiful was Pear’s report? Early on, he restated the charge Romney has been making. This is paragraph 4 of his useless report:
PEAR (8/15/12): ''You paid into Medicare for years, every paycheck,'' the [Romney] advertisement says. ''Now when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare. Why? To pay for Obamacare. So now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that's not for you.''According to Romney, Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare. He has used this large amount of money to pay for Obamacare. It sounds like Medicare recipients are ebing hurt by his conduct.
Those sound like serious charges. But how serious is the situation? Consider some of the things you don’t learn in Pear’s report:
How much money is $716 billion? Pear never tells us how many years are involved in these alleged “savings.” He never tells us how much money will be spent on Medicare over the period at issue.
How much is that $716 billion? Is it one percent of total Medicare spending? Is it maybe 50 percent? Incredibly, Pear never gives readers any idea.
As everyone knows, giant numbers have little meaning absent such basic context. In this situation, it’s hard to know if we’re talking about a very large chunk of Medicare spending, or perhaps not so much.
You have to put big numbers in context! From tenth grade up, every journalist understands this point—except those at the Times.
Pear gives readers no real way to understand the size of these reductions/cuts/savings. Incredibly, there’s something else he makes no attempt to explain.
If future spending has been reduced, will that produce a reduction in Medicare services? In paragraph 5, Pear quotes an Obama spokesperson making a claim:
PEAR (continuing directly): Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said, ''Mitt Romney's Medicare ad is dishonest and hypocritical.'' The savings, she said, ''do not cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit.''No benefits will be cut? (Sorry—no guaranteed benefits.) You’d almost think Pear would want to examine that claim, which is central to this topic.
If you thought that, you were wrong. Pear only returns to this point in paragraph 24, one paragraph from the end. When he returns, his work is a hopeless muddle:
PEAR: Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney would limit the government's current open-ended financial commitment to Medicare. The government would contribute a fixed amount of money on behalf of each beneficiary, and future beneficiaries could use the money to buy private insurance or to help pay for coverage under the traditional Medicare program.Is that why the reductions in spending won’t lead to cuts in benefits? Is it because the reductions will come out of the pockets of health care providers? Pear never explains—and he never makes any attempt to examine the plausibility of such a claim. (If we knew what percentage of future spending is involved, we might be able to make a seat-of-the-pants judgment—although such judgments are no substitute for actual competent journalism.)
The new health care law, by contrast, will reduce projected Medicare payments to health maintenance organizations, hospitals and many other health care providers. As a backstop, to ensure savings, the law creates a Medicare cost control board. Cuts recommended by the board would take effect automatically unless Congress voted to block or change them.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan would abolish the panel, which they describe as a tool for rationing health care.
By the way: Do you understand the “backstop” Pear describes in that passage? According to Pear, “cuts recommended by the board would take effect automatically unless Congress voted to block or change them?”
Are we talking about cuts in payments here? Are we discussing cuts in services? As usual, Pear doesn't say.
We don’t understand that highlighted passage. Neither does anyone else.
Pear’s whole report is a ball of confusion. But then, the American journalistic elite is one of the least competent professional elites on the planet. As we’ve long said:
If engineers constructed bridges the way the Times writes news reports, all our cars would be in the Chesapeake Bay. These people can barely remember their names, let alone explain topics like this.
Nagourney’s report was the work of a clown. Pear, if anything, made matters worse. And then, last night, good God—Howard Dean!
Our pundit elite spills out of clown cars on the TV machine thingy each night. We’ll postpone Dean’s grotesque performance until we return to this topic.