MANUFACTURED THEFT: Rosenthal abandoned, ignored!


Part 4—Manufactured consent in action:
Elisabeth Rosenthal is no pajama-clad blogger.

She wasn't in her parents' basement when she wrote her new book, An American Sickness. At least in theory, she wrote the book as a lifetime denizen of our highest elites.

According to the leading authority on her life, Rosenthal is 61, not 16. Way back when, she graduated from Stanford, then received a master's degree in English from Cambridge University, a well-known school Over There where the speaking of English is good.

At that point, the foolishness ended. In 1986, she graduated from Harvard Medical School with an M.D. degree. For the next eight years, she worked as a physician in the maws of our health care system.

In 1994, she went to work at the New York Times, where she spent the next 22 years, largely but not exclusively as a science and health care reporter. Today, she's editor in chief of Kaiser Health News, a fully respectable outfit.

Rosenthal isn't a hippie; her pedigree involves Harvard Med and the New York Times. From June 2013 through December 2014, she published an 11-part series in the Times, Paying Till It Hurts, which focused on the amazingly high prices charged for American health care.

Perhaps instructively, the series wasn't nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It did win the 2014 Victor Cohn Prize for Medical Science Reporting, which helps explain why Paying Till It Hurts is sometimes described as an award-winning series.

When Rosenthal wrote An American Sickness, she was working within a long, distinguished career involving our highest-ranking institutions. In all that follows, let's keep this context in mind.

On April 9 of this year, Jacob Hacker reviewed Rosenthal's book in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. He penned a slightly wonky rave review of the book. But as he ended his review, we would be inclined to say he made an inaccurate statement:
HACKER (4/9/17): Without a clear view of the political economy of health care, it’s easy to see the problem as Justice Scalia did. If we could just start treating health care like broccoli, the market would solve the problem. But as Rosenthal’s important book makes clear, the health care market really is different. Speaking of her Times series in 2014, Rosenthal told an interviewer her goal was to “start a very loud conversation” that will be “difficult politically to ignore.” We need such a conversation—not just about how the market fails, but about how we can change the political realities that stand in the way of fixing it.
According to Hacker, An American Sickness is an "important book." In our view, it's important to see why that statement is wrong.

Don't get us wrong! Hacker, a professor at Yale, may be perfectly right on the merits.

For ourselves, we'd lodge some complaints about Rosenthal's book. But as we've already noted, the street-fighting tone she adopts as she starts is extremely rare.

Right in her opening pages, Rosenthal employs the language of corporate crime as she describes the workings of our "extractive" health care industries. It seems to us that this tone, which is very rare, is very much on point.

This may be an important book if it's judged on the merits. But will it be an "important book" in the end?

No, it actually won't! It will be a book which is widely ignored, even by the most-adored stars of our own corporate liberal world.

Indeed, Rosenthal's book is already being widely ignored. Right on page 3, it asks the question which lies at the heart of modern American governance, a question which virtually never gets asked.

"Where is all that money going?" Rosenthal asks, referring the $5000 per person per year which disappears, unexplained and unexamined, into the maws of the "slow-moving heist" which she sees as our medical system.

Where is all that money going? An answer to that foundational question would help explain why our country, along among developed nations, can't seem to find a way to provide universal health care.

As economist Dean Baker has often noted, it would also help explain a second definitive conundrum. It would help explain why we can't seem to get our federal deficits under control.

Where is all that money going? On page 3, Rosenthal asks the question which lies at the heart of our clown-like American governance. But how odd:

Despite the pedigree she provides; despite the centrality of her topic; Rosenthal has largely been ignored by our journalistic elites since her book appeared.

Her book was reviewed in the Sunday Times, but not in the newspaper's weekday editions. (Major books—about apricot cocktails, let's say—tend to rate dual reviews.)

The book was reviewed in the Washington Post in weirdly desultory fashion. Juliet Eilperin is very experienced and no dope, but you'd have a hard time knowing such things from her 1100-word, review-by-the-numbers review. In our view, Eilperin glossed the street-fighting vigor of Rosenthal's critique while offering complains such as this:
EILPERIN (5/21/17): While Rosenthal does her best to squeeze in a few jokes (mostly lighthearted references at pathologists' expense), the subject matter makes for dense reading at times. This is a thorough book, but it's hard to envision a casual reader picking it up and whiling away the weekend with it. And on occasion her obvious immersion in the medical field slows the writing down a bit, as when she decries the disappearance of two anti-nausea generic drugs. "Not having prochlorperazine available in an emergency room is like not having acetaminophen (Tylenol) in a drugstore." I couldn't help wondering why the book's editor hadn't just struck "acetaminophen" and left "Tylenol" in its place.
Slave to the establishment, please! Just consider:

We've voiced a complaint about Rosenthal's style. We think she fails to convey, in a fully effective way, the massive overall size of the "heist" she chronicles in her pages.

By way of contrast, Eilperin thinks Rosenthal should have omitted "acetaminophen" in one annoying sentence! For what it's worth, that blindingly narrow critique is correct. But apostle of trivia, please!

Around the country, it's amazing to note a larger fact. In one arena after another, Rosenthal's book hasn't been reviewed or discussed, or even so much as mentioned.

It's always dangerous to report that a particular item hasn't appeared within the work of some news org. But we find no sign that Rosenthal's book has been reviewed, or even mentioned, in an array of major newspapers or in other well-lit locales.

Has the book been reviewed in the Boston Globe or the Los Angeles Times? Maybe, but Google and Nexis seem to say no.

Has it been reviewed in USA Today? Our answer would be the same. You can search on if you like.

We were surprised to see that major newspapers are scrimping on reviews of this book, which has emerged from the upper ends of our fully respectable class. We were amazed to see the near-total silence the book has met everywhere else.

Has Rosenthal's "important book" been reviewed, or even mentioned, in The New Yorker or in The Atlantic? Our search last weekend turned up no cites.

Has it been mentioned in Slate or Salon? In The Nation or in Mother Jones? Has the book been mentioned by Vox? Searching, we found no such cites.

This brings us to our broadcast orgs. Of these news orgs, we'll only say this:

The avoidance, how it burns!

Let's start with a few bright lights. Rosenthal's book was released on April 10. That day, she did a 36-minute interview segment on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Earlier that morning, she'd done a short interview on Good Morning America. The next day, she was subjected to a brief, entirely pointless drive-by on Morning Joe.

On April 27, she was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour. That seems to be where this part of our story ends.

As our nation has pretended to discuss health care in the past few months, where else has Rosenthal's "important book" taken her?

We find so sign that she, or her important book, have so much as been mentioned on any of the five Sunday shows, our journalistic equivalent to Don Corleone's "five families."

We find no sign that her name has been mentioned on any of the daily shows which anchor the NPR schedule. All Things Considered? Apparently not! Nor can we find a record of the book—sorry, of the important book—being mentioned on Morning Edition.

Has she sat with Charlie Rose for his nightly PBS program? The official site for the (slightly self-)important show records no such appearance. This seems amazingly strange to us. But people, there it is.

At some point, we must mention "cable news." When we do, we come face to face with the shape of our corporate world.

Rosenthal has written an "important book" about the looting of the American public by a range of corporate elites. On page 3, she poses the question which lies at the heart of our clown-like American governance.

That said, cable news is itself a corporate realm, and it's the province of clowns. This may explain what we found when we continued our search.

Using Nexis, we find no sign that Rosenthal's name has ever been mentioned on CNN since her book appeared. And uh-oh! We find no sign that her name has been mentioned on the prime-time shows broadcast by MSNBC.

Judging from the Nexis archive, Rachel hasn't so much as mentioned Rosenthal's name. Neither has Lawrence, or any of the other fiery progressives who serve us our porridge each night.

In truth, Rachel would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before she'd discuss such a topic. Rosenthal's book includes no Republican pol we can try to lock up!

Tomorrow, we'll begin with this part of this problem. We'll proceed to one final semi-complaint about Rosenthal herself.

That said:

On page 3 of her new book, Rosenthal asks a deeply foundational question about our clownish governance. As she proceeds, she uses the language of corporate crime as she describes the looting which lies at the heart of our health care system.

In part for this reason, Hacker said she'd written an "important book." He may be completely correct on the merits. But no book which goes undiscussed can live up to such a description.

Are we observing a case of "manufactured consent" as we note the silence surrounding this book? Tomorrow, we'll return to Chomsky's decades-old phrase, and to the possibility that our American health care system represents a rolling case of "manufactured theft."

Tomorrow: The author seems to bail!


  1. Somerby asks:

    "Where is all that money going? On page 3, Rosenthal asks the question which lies at the heart of our clown-like American governance. "

    He never indicates that she provides an answer to that question. He seems to think her book deserves notice for asking questions. I think it would deserve notice if it provided answers.

    It takes more than an aggrieved tone to engage in competent muckraking. It takes answers to important questions. She claims the health care industry is crooked. It is easy to make such accusations about a field that is messy, complex, difficult to understand. What are the answers?

    Why do we have to pay nearly $20 to watch a movie in a movie theater? Where is that money going? Why do theaters claim to be going broke (as many hospitals are closing) when tickets cost so much? See how easy it is to ask questions -- much harder to explain the answers. Why are trauma centers and hospitals closing if those ratty doctors are stealing from their patients and all getting rich?

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerJune 29, 2017 at 1:02 PM

      This is a blog about the media, not health care costs. It is reasonable to ask why the media is not discussing the question posed by Rosenthal, "Where is all that money going?" Journalists should not start with the premise that Rosenthal (or Bob) has the answer, but they should be asking questions and providing the results of their research to us. That is not happening.

    2. Asking a question is not research (or journalism). Finding an answer is.

    3. 2:19. I'll smack you around.

    4. Rosenthal asks questions and, presumably, attempts to find some explanations. Listening to her interview on Terry Gross, I can see that she does provide some explanations. But I gather that Anon @12:49 hasn't read the book, so he does not know what Rosenthal explains or doesn't in the book.
      Rosenthal's book at least explores some of the health spending questions, which otherwise go complete untalked about -- just like her book -- which is what Bob is pointing out. The gist of it: policy debates are almost verboten in the media. Every discussion on our healthcare must be preceded by a statement that we have the best healthcare in the world, which, of course, is nonsense.

    5. Somerby hasn't read the book either.

  2. Anon 12:49 asks:

    "Why are trauma centers and hospitals closing if those ratty doctors are stealing from their patients and all getting rich?"

    I likes how you tink! Yer brain werks gud!

  3. Tylenol isn't the only acetaminophen tablet. Substituting the word "Tylenol" would have changed the meaning a bit.

  4. The media plays a large role in seeing that the issue of where the money is going. The issue of health care policy and the media are interrelated. That's why Somerby is discussing it.

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