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On Public Option, MSM Gets It Wrong

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Consortium News

The American mainstream media is in another snit, having misjudged the prospects for the public option on health care almost as completely as big-time journalists bungled the reporting on the Iraq War and a host of other important stories during George W. Bush's presidency.

Indeed, if you had listened to all the supposedly knowledgeable journalists covering the health-care debate on Capitol Hill, you might have been shocked to learn Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was putting a version of the public option in the bill that he is bringing to the Senate floor.

For instance, CNN's Dana Bash has told listeners to her "no bias" news network that the only piece of legislation that mattered was the one emerging from the Senate Finance Committee, a position shared by nearly all the other "smart" journalists and pundits. That's why, they said, they were devoting so much time to covering every twist and turn of the committee's negotiations.

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That devotion wasn't shaken even by the strange legislative concoction that emerged from the Finance Committee. Since it didn't include the public option, the insider thinking was that the idea was effectively dead, though a public option was included in the four other committee-approved bills, all three on the House side and one from the Senate Health and Labor Committee.

Still, Bash and her MSM colleagues told us that the Finance Committee bill would be the framework for final congressional action and the other four bills would be mostly cast aside. After all, the Finance Committee bill had the support of one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

That conventional wisdom remained set in concrete despite many Democratic members of Congress indicating that the public option was alive and well -- and despite opinion polls showing that the American people favored a public option by about a 2-to-1 margin.

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So, when the MSM's smug certainty went up in smoke on Monday, as Reid announced that he would include a version of the public option with an opt-out provision for states when he takes the legislation to the full Senate, the journalists were in a foul mood.

A new consensus quickly formed that it wasn't that their reporting had been lousy, or that the public option made a lot of sense. or that the people's will was finally being respected. It was that Reid had betrayed them by caving in to the left-wing base of the Democratic Party.

Reid's announcement, declared the Washington Post's snide columnist Dana Milbank, "was an admission of the formidable power of liberal interest groups. He had been the target of a petition drive and other forms of pressure to bring the public option to the floor."

A petition drive, no less. Citizens signing a petition urging their elected representatives to take a position favored by a large majority of the American people. How nefarious!

'Instant Hero'

Milbank further presented Reid's supposed cave-in as a crass political calculation designed to make him "an instant hero on the left."

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"Reid, facing a difficult reelection contest next year at home in Nevada, will need such [liberal activist] groups to bring Democrats to the polls if he is to survive," Milbank wrote.

Nevertheless, Milbank depicted Reid's allegedly opportunistic embrace of the public option as foolhardy, claiming that the Senate majority leader lacked the 60 votes needed to stop a Republican filibuster that would doom the bill.

Milbank quoted the perturbed CNN correspondent Dana Bash challenging Reid about whether he had the 60 votes needed for cloture. "Do you feel 100 percent sure right now that you have the 60 votes?" Bash asked.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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