ANYTHING GOES: In our most august forum!


Part 3—Bette (Grenier) in Spokane: In last Friday’s column, he did it again! Paul Krugman listed a bunch of the factual cons which have been pimped to the nation.

There will always be misinformation, of course. But at one point, Krugman named a big name:
KRUGMAN (2/7/14): The budget office has now increased its estimate of the size of these effects. It believes that health reform will reduce the number of hours worked in the economy by between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, which it unhelpfully noted “represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million.”

Why was this unhelpful? Because politicians and, I’m sorry to say, all too many news organizations immediately seized on the 2 million number and utterly misrepresented its meaning. For example, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, quickly posted this on his Twitter account: “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”

Not a word of this claim was true.
Cantor’s a very major figure; he’s the House majority leader. “Not a word of his claim was true,” Krugman said in his column.

Krugman went on to list other false claims about the Affordable Care Act. To review his list of false claims, see yesterday’s post.

As we read Krugman’s column, we wondered if Cantor’s misstatement had been examined by Krugman’s newspaper as part of its news reporting.

“Why must we turn to opinion columns to learn basic facts?” That’s what one of the analysts said.

To what extent did the New York Times report on the claim Cantor made? Before we attempt to answer your question, let’s recall what Krugman had discussed in his previous column.

On February 3, Krugman discussed another high-profile false claim. This misrepresentation was rendered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the Republican leadership.

Most significantly, it was made in a very high-profile setting—as part of the GOP’s official response to the State of the Union Address.

What did McMorris Rodgers say? Here’s the way Krugman started:
KRUGMAN (2/3/14): The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington—and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.

The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters—and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.
Ouch! According to Krugman, McMorris Rodgers had deceived voters with her story about Bette in Spokane. She had done this as part of her party’s official response to the State of the Union.

What did McMorris Rodgers say that was wrong? Eventually, Krugman explained:
KRUGMAN: Which brings me back to Bette in Spokane.

Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering—and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”

Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.

So was this the best story Ms. McMorris Rodgers could come up with? The answer, probably, is yes, since just about every tale of health reform horror the G.O.P. has tried to peddle has similarly fallen apart once the details were revealed. The truth is that the campaign against Obamacare relies on misleading stories at best, and often on outright deceit.
“Bette in Spokane” turned out to be a woman named Bette Grenier. In what follows, the greater fault lies with McMorris Rodgers, not with Grenier.

Why had Bette Grenier faced such a large price jump? In part, because she refused to sign up for the lower rates available under Obamacare!

It’s true—if you refuse to pay a lower rate, you’ll find yourself faced with a higher rate. That said, Grenier faced higher rates for another reason—her previous coverage was limited. Under the rules of Obamacare, she would be required to obtain fuller coverage.

To what extent did McMorris Rodgers mislead the public in her official response? On line, Krugman linked to the report in the Spokesman-Review which fact-checked McMorris Rodgers’ story. We think it’s worth taking a closer look at what that analysis stated.

The report was written by David Wasson. This is what he reported:
WASSON (1/30/14): The woman described only as “Bette in Spokane” during a nationally televised address by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday she had no idea her frustrations over increasing insurance premiums would become part of the Republican attack on health care reform.

Not that Bette Grenier, a critic of the Affordable Care Act, minds that much.

But the “nearly $700 per month” increase in her premium that McMorris Rodgers cited in Tuesday night’s GOP response to the State of the Union address was based on one of the pricier options, a $1,200-a-month replacement plan that was pitched by Asuris Northwest to Grenier and her husband, Don.

The carrier also offered a less expensive, $1,052-per-month option in lieu of their soon-to-be-discontinued catastrophic coverage plan. And, Grenier acknowledged the couple probably could have shaved another $100 a month off the replacement policy costs by purchasing them from the state’s online portal, the Health Plan Finder website, but they chose to avoid the government health exchanges.

“I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all,” said Grenier, 58, who lives in the Chattaroy area and owns a roofing company with her husband. “We liked our old plan. It worked for us, but they can’t offer it anymore.”

The description of Grenier’s plight, along with the fact that McMorris Rodgers used only the woman’s first name in the televised address, sparked speculation among liberal bloggers and others that the figures may not hold up to scrutiny.

In Olympia, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler didn’t dismiss the possibility but was skeptical that someone would have no choice but to pay $700 per month more for a policy that meets the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirements.
Wasson reports that Grenier had been paying $552 per month for her previous policy. If we assume his numbers are correct, Grenier would have had to pay about $400 more per month, as opposed to the $700 McMorris Rodgers bruited to the nation.

McMorris Rodgers made an inaccurate statement in a very major forum. Should the New York Times have reported that fact as part of its national news coverage?

Did the Times report this error? Or is it assumed that misstatements will be made, even in our most august forums?

Did the New York Times report this error? Or do we truly live in a time when pretty much anything goes?

Tomorrow: McMorris Rodgers, Cantor and us


  1. Well, once again, in the Information Age we live in, the Spokesman-Review story was picked up and spread instantaneously, and perhaps far wider than if the NY Times had put it on its front page in the glory days before the Internet.

    So we can set aside the notion that if the NY Times doesn't cover it, people have no way of finding out. Which sort of destroys Bob's singular focus on the NY Times. (Incidently, those vile MSNBC hosts were all over this one!)

    Then there is another key element that Bob leaves out.

    Bette was paying an insurance company $552 a month for nothing. For absolutely nothing. What ever increase in monthly premiums she faces would be offset by the huge decrease in monthly out-of-pocket expenses covered under her new Obamacare plan that were not covered by her nothing policy.

    1. Bob didn't leave that out.

      I don't think Somerby has any quarrel with the accurate information provided by MSNBC. The complaint is with the distortions and omissions in reporting sometimes provided by MSNBC hosts. To my knowledge, he has never said MSNBC gets everything wrong, or never covers anything. So, it isn't clear to me what you think you are refuting here.

      Should the NY Times correct misinformation stated by public figures in important forums as part of its news reporting function? I think the answer is yes, regardless of how many people might still be reading the NY Times or how many people are covering that topic in other sources. To call itself a newspaper, it should be reporting that stuff. When public figures lie or distort, an important function of journalists is to point out those lies and distortions. That is how public figures like politicians are held accountable and it is the job of the press to hold them accountable. Not to make themselves into public figures who then lie to us when it suits their purposes.

    2. I don't really care what the NY Times covers because I don't read the NY Times, and neither, apparently does approximately 299/300th of the country.

      The point dear child is that the rest of the universe has left the 20th Century some 14 years ago, and Bob is not only stuck there, but stuck in the middle of it.

      In short, Bob's meme that if the NY Times doesn't cover it, the information is just not available didn't even work very well back then, and it is completely ridiculous now.

      But he will continue to obsess about the NY Times. And about Rachel Maddow. And call that "musings on the mainstream "press corps."

      It is a damned lazy, pseudo-intellectual way to run even a vanity blog that no doubt has its fans among lazy pseudo-intellectuals who can't figure out how to use this Internet thingy to look things up.

    3. Anonymous 3:57 PM, why don't you try out a different line of criticism because this one is getting really old. And why not look up the word "meme," as well, because it's obvious you don't know what it means.

    4. I always love it when Bob Fans accuse anyone else of criticisms that are "getting really old."

      Shouldn't your same standards of freshness apply to your hero as well? He hasn't had anything new to say in 16 years. But he keeps on saying it anyway, and you keep lapping it up.

    5. And you still don't get it. So obviously he needs to keep saying it.

    6. Bette was paying for catastrophic insurance. It would have kicked in if her healthcare costs had exceeded $10K.

    7. Yes, all she had to do was spend 10 grand before the generous benefits of her $552-per-month plan kicked in.

    8. Shorter Douchebag:

      Somerby's talking about the NYT is irrelevant -- that's why I comment so frequently on this little-read blog.

  2. Not only did The Times not report of what Cantor said, but nobody reported on the fact that the Hill started this idea that ACA was killing jobs, posting early on Feb 4th.

    "CBO: O-Care slowing growth

    The new healthcare law will slow economic growth over the next decade, costing the nation about 2.3 million jobs and contributing to a $1 trillion increase in projected deficits, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report released Tuesday.

    The non-partisan group’s report found that the healthcare law’s negative effects on the economy will be “substantially larger” than what it had previously anticipated.
    Since then, The Hill has corrected his article, without indicating the change.

    I have no doubt Cantor and co would have found something else to gripe about if the Hill had published something else, but I find amazing that a newspaper can publish something early on, make a basic mistake, and then change the article without informing people of the change.

  3. Deja vu. Yesterday a commenter asked for links to the story debunking Bette in Spokane. They were provided by yours truly.

    Today Bob covers the story Krugman linked to in his column, which is the same one I linked to in yesterday's comment box, but which he left out of the post. He ends today's post with the question "did the Times report this error. In fact he repeats it. Then he hints he will cover it tomorrow.

    Spoiler alert: There was more than a link in my comment:

    "Is it perhaps, the NY Times coverage of Betty in Spokane you seek? I can't find that they covered the claim by McMorris Rogers to begin with, which may explain why they did not cover its "collapse under scrutiny" until their columnist Krugman did so."

    1. But that's not the way it works in Bob's World. 'Tis better to repeat a bullshit story then correct it later, than not to repeat it in the first place.

      Of course, you and I might disagree since newspapers would then be spending all their time repeating bullshit then correcting it, rather than covering more important news like the latest book written about education by a young female author.

    2. Sounds like we can predict the next episode of
      "As the World Howls" by reading commentary.

    3. Somerby doesn't read his comment section. I thought everyone here knew that.

    4. He reads Dowd's. He even imports them.

  4. A google search of "bette grenier mcmorris rodgers" turns up 14,600 hits, including debunking stories in numerous newspapers including the Washington Post (familiar with that one Bob?), LA Times, Bloomberg News, as well as heavily travelled online sites such as Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, the Hill, Wonkette, Raw Story, Salon, Daily Kos.

    Krugman's first mention of how phony the story was came on Feb. 2, about two days after the Spokesman-Review story, but of course local papers don't count in Bob's World because they are not the NY Times.

    Bob gets around to it on Feb. 13 to inform us how uninformed we are because the NY Times columnist wrote about it instead of a NY Times reporter on page 1.

    1. Again? I suppose knocking down straw men gives your life meaning, eh?

    2. Far more meaning that lapping up what Somerby regurgitates.

    3. You mean knocking down Somerby's straw men?
      It is one of life's simpler pleasures rather than something which adds meaning.

  5. "Did the Howler report Gov. Ultrasound Uncharged? Or is it assumed that misstatements will be made, even in our most august forums?

    Did the Howler correct this error? Or do we truly live in a time when pretty much a broken key can be reported but a headline can't be fixed."

    Tomorrow: Want to bet a NY Times headline on the CBO report gets hammered?

  6. The crazed hatred for this blog from self-styled liberals tells me just how scary these folks are. Nonetheless, the post to the blog are wonderful and will remain so.

    1. The crazed hatred for this blog from a few, a very few, self-styled liberals tells me just how scary these folks are.

      I would get rid of the trolls, but I love Bob Somerby's work so who cares what the haters think?

    2. Writing the words "the crazed hatred for this blog from sefl-styled liberals tells me just how scary these folks are" tells me you may profess love for the writer and miss the message entirely.

  7. Understanding what is true and what is false in reporting or commentary is absolutely essential and Bob Somerby continually reinforces that idea and at least for me show me how to read or listen more critically. I think this blog invaluable.


  8. OMB (Just for the Record)

    BOB generally runs one day behind the Cable News hosts he likes to "analyze" for their loser/rube viewers.

    So when he posts about Eric Cantor's lies over a week after they were made, and asked who covered this, please be advised:

    One of the Children at the One True Channel did. Chris Hayes led his program with the story.

    Hayes was two days ahead of Krugman.

    The following day BOB gave the rubes and losers among us a triple dip cone of Maddow vitriol.


    1. Actually, there are occasions when a bit more time to reflect, and to watch how events unfold, would serve our blogger greatly, instead of running to his blog moments after finding what he thinks is a new club to beat the same deceased equine with.

      He might avoid such faceplants as "Gov. Ultrasound still hasn't been charged yet" -- written mere moments before a multi-count indictment came down.

      And he would save his fans lots of bother trying to defend him by saying, "Well, when he wrote it, the governor wasn't charged."

      And a bit more reflection might even lead him to wonder if Maddow might be onto something and use the powers of the Internet to look into it more deeply before locking himself into a position that the governors of Virginia and New Jersey really didn't do all that much wrong and are now the victims beset by an angry "scandal culture" with a vile money-making Rhodes Scholar leading the charge.

    2. "locking himself into a position that the governors of Virginia and New Jersey really didn't do all that much wrong"

      You really can't read, can you?

    3. Yes, in fact I can read. What I have trouble doing, unlike some of Bob's most loyal fans, is forgetting what he writee after he falls flat on his face, then pretending he hadn't fallen at all.

      Such as this passage from the infamous "Gov. Ultrasound" post:

      "For ourselves, we almost never root for people to get charged with crimes, and this case doesn’t seem all that heinous, despite the cheerleading Maddow has done in the past year."

      Let us repeat for empahsis: "this case doesn't seem all that heinous."

    4. You do know what "heinous" means, right? 'Cause either you don't or you weren't following the story closely enough.

    5. Yes, deadrat. I'm quite certain that to you, loyal Bob lapdog that you are, "heinous" means something entirely different from "heinous."

      Once again, do you have even idea how stupid and foolish your continuing game of pretending that plain English isn't plain English makes you look?

      But parse away, dear boy and invent new meanings It's all you have left when you can't face the truth.

    6. Why is it that when I call out some Anonymous ignoramus commenter on his bullshit, he can think of only two responses: "You're a "Bobfan" lapdog and you look stupid"?

      Look, Sparky (or whatever your name is), this isn't about me. It's about you and your apparent inability to read for comprehension. TDH has pointed out that whatever malfeasance the McDonnells have committed doesn't seem all that heinous. And by any standard definition of "heinous," he's right. They took gifts and money from people seeking favors and then didn't do anything in return, actions so unheinous that they're not even against Virginia law. This doesn't make them paragons of virtue and they have fallen afoul of federal law.

      The google is your friend. Try the search string "heinous crime," and get back to me on whether the McDonnells are in the same class as the murderers, torturers, and rapists that your search returns.

      I can face the truth, Col. Jessup. You just can't crack a dictionary.

  9. OMB (OT but Calling the OTB)

    It's Valentine's Day. Perhaps its time for another love message about an over paid lady on cable news.