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Tonight is a potpourri (better than hodge podge) of topics:

  1. PBS' Frontline series engages in self-censorship, and loses host and reporter in protest.
  1. Obama administration does the right thing by getting rid of the wasteful corrupting middleman for college education loans. I wonder if there might be lesson in this for health care reform.
  1. I try again to promote the term "Stock Puppet" to refer to the corrupt corporate business and finance journalism that falsely promoted the endless bull market and happy talk that leads to bubbles and Ponzi schemes.

Follow me over for more on these...

1. PBS FRONTLINE "Sick Around America"

After the relatively outstanding PBS Frontline documentary "Sick Around the World" which looked at how health care is funded and delivered in other countries, many of us were looking forward to hearing from  T.R. Reid in his follow-up "Sick Around America".  

To our surprise, Mr. Reid was missing. And to paraphrase and summarize Trudy Lieberman's piece on it over at the Columbia Journalism Review, the show was disjointed, confusing, misleading and kinda sucked. It turns out those two facts are probably connected.  

In the earlier "Sick Around the World," T.R. Reid gave an accurate and entertaining portrayal of several single-payer-like health systems around the world. Many reform advocates hoped this new documentary would discuss single payer as an option for the United States, too, particularly given its popularity among the U.S. public.

The new show did discuss some of the problems with the American health care "system." However having hinted at the illness, it botched the discussion of the cure.  It provided misleading or false explanations about the range of health reform options, completely botched the explanation of guarantee issue, was grossly misleading on mandates and the Massachusetts experience, and not only ignored single payer (we are used to that), but even ignored pubic option!

T.R. Reid was mentioned in the earlier publicity for the show, but chose to withdraw from the program and have his name taken off just a month or so ago.  That has been publicly confirmed.  Based on several private reports, it would appear that he wanted to include a fuller and coherent discussion of health reform options, what they were and why different interests supported them.  He wanted to include not only public option but also single payer.  When he saw how the final editing was going, he disagreed and chose to disassociate himself from it.  No wonder it was so choppy is discombobulated.

As Don McCanne points out, throughout the program, many executives of the private insurance industry were featured, and they confirmed that these deficiencies were very real and needed to be addressed. That's good. What was outrageous is that they were in no way contrite, but instead they implied that they would provide the leadership to make sure that private insurance will continue to manage the financing for health care in America, beginning with an individual mandate for every American to buy their lousy products.

I can only speculate on the motives of PBS, Frontline, and the individual producers and director: It is likely that, after the expose that was "Sick Around the Worlds", they caved into pressure to confine their discussion to nice safe mainstream narratives, regardless of the facts.  The allowable range was from Mandates to AHIP.  Build on the current system of private for-profit health plans, push mandates which both the D.C. establishment and the insurance companies have endorsed. Ignore single payer.  Don't even mention public option.  Pathetic.

Meanwhile I do look forward to T.R. Reid's book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (earlier title was "We're #37" referring to the U.S.'s ranking in the World Health Organization 2000 World Health Report), due out in August.

2. College Loan Program / Pell Grants Reform as a Model

The Obama folks have decided to get rid of the corrupting and wasteful middlemen of banks, and provide college student loan programs (principally the Pell Grants) directly via the government. Cutting out the no-value-added four billion dollar subsidy to the banks, will allow more students to get more dollars at lower cost. There have also been some kickback scandals, with college loan officers directing students to loaners that gave them money.  That's what happens when what should be a public service gets artificially privatized and put into a for profit arena.

No doubt our education blogger have more to say about this subject. It is just that us single-payer advocates have noticed this seemingly real reform, and immediately see an analogy to health care reform. If only the Obama administration and congress would get rid of the similarly no-value added, cost's a lot, distorts the entire system middlemen of the for profit private insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the only middleman I did like lately got cancelled. sigh.

3. "Stock Puppetry"

Admittedly unrelated to health care, but I beg your indulgence for a little bit of humor:

Most of us are familiar with the term "sock puppet" from both its original literal meaning from Lambchop to and more importantly as the internet term for

...a false identity through which a member of an Internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person, like a ventriloquist manipulating a hand puppet.

..."sock-puppeting" is defined as "the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company."

The key difference between a sockpuppet and a regular pseudonym is the pretense that the puppet is a third party who is not affiliated with the puppeteer.

I hereby officially introduce (in follow--up to my comment in a diary yesterday) the term "Stock Puppet" (tm) to refer to the phony corporate journalism used to prop-up our financial system helping to create the pansy scheme economics we have been living through.

Examples include most of CNBC as delightfully exposed by The Daily Show lately.  But also most of the business, economics and real estate reporting, as exposed in an ongoing basis for years now by the indispensible and  indefatigable Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog.

"Stock Puppetry" (tm) is when the journalist and outlet keep using the same "source" to promote the same line, propping up the same nonsense, despite both the source and the outlet having an a priori self interest and bias.

CNBC depends on advertising support from the same corporate interests that it is reporting on. It is owned by the same corporate interests it is reporting on. Its reporters are often from those same lines of work (e.g., traders). They then lob soft ball questions at the CEOs and report the lies as replies as news.  

The reporters, outlet and interviewees are not independent. They all share an explicit agenda to drive the market up, not to report what is true.  They are working in a priori collaboration, but pretending that one is a journalist, the other is a source, telling a balanced story, on an independent outlet.  Hence... "Stock Puppetry"

As noted per links above, Dean Baker has been pointing out over and over again for years, that this is standard operating procedure, with a few exceptions, in most of the mainstream corporate press.

They would interview lobbyist or PR flacks, paid representatives, from the realtors or builders, making happy talk over the real estate market, all the way from the bubble being blown up and continued to do so even way after the bubble popped. They would go out of their way (especially the Washington Post in his coverage) to interview the same hacks and flacks, even after events had proven their prior statements false. And they go out their way to not interview truly independent experts with contrary negative opinions.

The same for the tireless self promoters of privatization, deregulation, self regulation, lack of oversight, tax cuts for the wealthy, "social security is in trouble", anti-union, anti-worker,  "free trade" etc.

Of course, Dean Baker also gets health care reform right. (see there is a health care reform connection!).

Stock Puppetry?

Now that we have a new name for it, what are we going to do about it?

Originally posted to DrSteveB on Thu Apr 02, 2009 at 06:01 PM PDT.

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