Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's What's On the Table

Back on June 8, 2009 NPR's ombudsman wrote, "I'm a big fan of blogs and of reading listener opinions. I plan on updating my own blog more frequently over the next few months." Alicia Shepard's more frequent posts have been illuminating, to say the least. If you want to get a glimpse into how establishment media (in this case NPR) justifies its subservience to power Shepard's posts are a great place to start:
  • In June, there was her attempt (and even worse follow-up attempt) to justify NPR's refusal to call torture torture when carried out by US agents.
  • On July 8th, Shepard claims that an insultingly stupid piece about the health care "public plan" was a "laudable attempt."
  • By July 14th Shepard touts NPR's excellence based on - not content, accuracy, courage, or depth, but - the perceptions of a listeners survey! For Shepard, it's all about views: "...most listeners who contact us appear to fit into the liberal category, and many complain that NPR's reporting does not mirror their views."
  • On July 20th Shepard is praising Cronkite for making Watergate a story when others wouldn't because he "sensed there was something more to the story than a third-rate burglary." It never occurs to Shepard that such praise rings pretty hollow when her employer can't even sense "something more" when the story is right in their face (e.g. fixed intelligence, vote caging, FISA lawbreaking, detainees tortured to death, etc).
Finally take a look at Shepard's recent attempt to justify NPR's hostility to the single-payer health option for the United States. Here is the excerpt that explains how the NPR sausage gets made:
"The decision not to devote a lot of attention to single-payer, I'm told, is based on pragmatism.

'This issue is not getting a lot of attention from NPR because it's simply not on the table in Congress,' said Julie Rovner, NPR's lead reporter covering the health care overhaul."
And that brings us to this morning's report from...yep...Julie Rovner about "Providing Better Health Care for Less Money." This is the second major feature (the first was on June 29, 2009) that NPR has devoted to the supposed wonders of providing great Insurance Industry Care for less money. A quick look at the sources for this morning's report shows that the Insurance Industrial Complex definitely knows how to set the table.

Rovner's star expert in the report is Don Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). On NPR's website, you also can see that the other experts for this report were Elliot Fisher of the Dartmouth Institute (him again), Dr. Atul Gawande of Brigham and Women's Hospital (a founding member of the Blue-Cross loving Partners Healthcare - a "non-profit" association whose CEO pulled down a cool $1.37 million in 2007 - from IRS 990 at Guidestar)

Looking into Berwick and the IHI is also eye-opening. Take a look at the lower part of the IHI page describing "donors" to its programs - its 5 million lives campaign received over $5 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. IHI has also been pretty good to Don Berwick - to the tune of $637,000 in 2008 - from IRS 990 at Guidestar)

NPR's health care coverage is definitely based on pragmatism - it just all depends what (and how much) is on the table.


geoff said...

On KCRW (Santa Monica) we get a lot of advertisements for telling the listeners to go to that site. If this isn't an example of the insidious influence of money on buying the bricks to frame the debate then I'll eat my Blue Cross card. Follow the links that say "single payer" and you'll find yourself on site for meeting single seniors in your area!

Anonymous said...

Are you sure they're not trying to tell you to go to I'm not saying it's an objective site, but the .org version is clearly a typo-squatting scam.

geoff said...

oops...anon, you're right. Munch munch mmmm, mmm who knew Blue Cross cards are so delicious?

It's, not The site is the foundation established by the estate of Robert Wood Johnson (Johnson and Johnson). It's perspective seems to be that people should be more healthier. And not get unnecessary care. Very reasonable - but what's missing (as on NPR) is any mention of one huge way for people to get better care is to cut the insurance companies out of the deal.

The RWJF and NPR form a sort of vicious circle here: a prominent link on their site references NPR advocating for "Eliminating unnecessary care..." which is "...not rationing." The story from this morning's ME says nothing about how we can reduce costs eliminating unnecessary insurance companies.

Tellingly, if you search the RWJF site for "single payer" you are led to Karl Rove's opinion on the issue.

geoff said...

This guidestar tool that MTW uses is fun! So I looked up the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (Princeton, NJ) and found their 1099 which shows a market value of assets at $10B+ and a net investment income of $1.7B from FY 2007. How's that for a non-profit? The document is gigundo with a long list of grantees including $500K to NPR for "HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE REPORTING"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Shepard is a real fan of blogs.

That's why she made the following statement on her interview with NPR member station KPCC Southern CA Radio (to explain her previous comments on NPR's use (or nonuse) of the word "torture")

"I think we're now at a stage where the debate is between dialogue and diatribe, and I wish there was more dialogue. I think there's more diatribe."

The diatribe comment was made in answer to a caller who asked specifically about blogs.

geoff said...

oops again, it's the 990, not the 1099 - what do I know about taxes?

Anonymous said...

When it comes to health care, NPR is more slanted than the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

If anyone doubts that, just read this.

It presents the Blue Dog Democrats' view on health care with no challenge whatsoever.

An organization who goes on and on and on about the importance of "balance" should take a little of its own advice.

What biased BS.

Anonymous said...

It IS very interesting how NPR uses that piece on what the Blue Dogs think to push its own agenda.

If you make the focus of the piece the fact that the Blue Dogs have a problem with the health care bill being considered by Congress, you can get in all the NPR talking points under the guise of simply reporting what the Blue Dogs think.

It's actually a clever ruse, of which NPR makes fairly frequent use.

Anonymous said...

NPR obvioulsy takes ther same dismissive vioew toward Single papey that Obama takes.

Obama apparently "has hosted at least 27 meetings with some of the most influential private health-industry executives in the country".

How many meetings with Single payer proponents has he hosted?

Obama would not even release the names of the groups he had met with until forced to do so by a law suit and a critical article in the LA Times comparing his secrecy on the issue to Cheney's refusal to reveal which energy companies he met with.

geoff said...

I asked the question, "what do I know about taxes?" above. Here's the result of a little division algorithm computation: my wife and I paid more than $44k in taxes on our labor last year. This is $44k/$14000k > 0.3% of the taxes Goldman Sachs paid last year. We both teach in public schools but have neither of us been to the Cayman Islands.

Cetamua said...

By the tone of their health care coverage, you'd think that all NPR employees have a gold-plated coverage guaranteed for life.

The degradation of NPR in the last decade has been nothing short of amazing. The same slothfulness and moral depravity that afflict WaPo and Fix News is becoming more obvious every day at NPR.

As for Alicia Shepard, she act as if NPR listeners were a problem to manage instead of a constituency to listen to.

Anonymous said...

The thing that really stuck in my craw about Ms. Shepard quoting John King, operations manager for NPR Sponsorship "Revenue in the pharmaceutical category represents only 3 percent of total underwriting revenue."

By not questioning or commenting it, Ms. Shepard tries to pass this off as the only dollars that NPR receives from all parties who might not want a single-payer system to go through. I have asked several times for a total which at least included health insurance companies, the AMA and hospitals, but have not received any answer.

Anonymous said...

As for Alicia Shepard, she act as if NPR listeners were a problem to manage instead of a constituency to listen to.'

Maybe because we are.

Lets face it, out of the millions who listen to NPR, I'd guess that the number of listeners who actually question anything they hear on NPR probably numbers in the hundreds (if that).

I don't really expect Alicia Shepard or NPR CEO Vivian Schiller to listen to me any more than I expect Dick Cheney to.

Anonymous said...


"I don't really expect Alicia Shepard or NPR CEO Vivian Schiller to listen to me any more than I expect Dick Cheney to."

Well, I got a solution for you. Dig deep my friend and start shelling out the cash by the truck load. Rise to a political/social rank that NPR admires and identifies with; knowing just who the elites are.

Trust me. Not only will NPR start "listening" to you but maybe even Honest Buck Cheney will also.


Anonymous said...

Dig deep my friend and start shelling out the cash by the truck load.

I'd have to do my digging in the Goldman Sachs petty cash (pretty crass?) drawer for that...and I'd undoubtedly be shot in the process, so I think I'll pass.

Anonymous said...

Not only will NPR start "listening" to you but maybe even Honest Buck Cheney will also."

I think the only way Dick would ever listen to anyone is if he were strapped down to the waterboard.

Then he'd probably be pretty attentive. My guess is that if were somehow able to "sit up at attention" in that case, he probably would.

Anonymous said...

According to her resume, NPR ombudsman intern Anna Tauzin has also worked as a "Communications and Advertising Junior Representative" for Texas Medical Liability Trust.

Is that relevant to statements by the NPR Ombudsman's office on the health care issue?

You decide.

Anonymous said...

NPR has been vewy, vewy quiet about single payer recently.

Perhaps that's because it's (sitting) duck season -- and the American public are the ducks.

For a slightly different opinion on single payer than the "pragmatic" one you hear on NPR (or from Howie Dean) read this

On Single Payer, Himmelstein Says Howard Dean is a Liar

"Himmelstein [founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School] says the upcoming Congressional vote on the Obama health care reform has little significance because it does not represent fundamental reform.

“It’s like giving aspirin to a patient who has cancer,” Himmelstein said. “Instead of asking – what can we do to treat your cancer?”

Himmelstein says that when the time comes to vote on the Obama health plan, members of Congress should abstain.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit it, but this NPR piece on PhARMA money influence is not bad, EXCEPT FOR ONE BIG OMISSION, THAT IS -- which os actually fairly standard for NPR. (Usually, it's not what NPR says but what they don't say that is most significant. This is no exception)

Here's what NPR says:
"If you want to know what PhRMA is getting this time, Avorn says just look at what's not on the table during the debate:

"Drug re-importation from Canada? Off the table."

"Government-negotiated drug prices? Off the table."

To those two, add this CRITICAL OMISSION:

Single payer? Off the table (which is actually directly related to Government-negotiated drug prices)

Pharmaceutical companies fear single payer because it will lead to far more government bargaining power *a virtual monopoly, in fact. That is why PhARMA has no problem spending the tens of millions they have on lobbying. That's a drop in the bucket compared to what they stand to "save" by defeating single payer and any other significant public plan, for that matter.

b! said...

Err, Gope - am I calculatin' yer zero placements accurately?

If so, I dare say that's a hefty bestowment to the taxman.

geoff said...

Yeah, well, !b¡, the F22s aren't cheap, and we don't want the captains of industry bearing too much of the load - there're only a few of them and so many more of us.