Monday, July 06, 2009

Here's why the Washington D.C. press corps never talks realistically about the American health care system

If you have ever wondered why the Washington Post, New York Times and major TV networks never discuss singly payer (the only health system that provides universal health care at a reasonable cost) Bob Somerby, editor of the Daily Howler explains with the example of newsperson Margaret Carlson. Keep in mind that Lily Weymouth is the current CEO of the Washington Post, Washington D.C.'s hometown newspaper who recently was prepared to organize dinner salons that lobbyists were to pay $25,000 to $50,000 each to attend and meet with top Washington Post editorial staff and other Washington insiders.
In 2003, the grasping climber Margaret Carlson explained the process with remarkable candor in the 26-page autobiographical chapter which drove her semi-book, Anyone Can Grow Up (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/03). In that chapter, Carlson described the gruesome process by which she attained social standing inside DC’s elite. In her inspiring up-from-steerage tale, she—the child of working-class, Irish Catholic parents—ends up sitting at the right hand of Post publisher Katharine Graham!

What a story! It all began when Michael Kinsley took her to a soiree—at the home of Weymouth’s grand-mother:

CARLSON (page 22): My friends didn’t change from year to year, but their jobs did. It was Michael Kinsley...who first took me to dinner at the big, intimidating mansion of Katharine Graham, the reigning queen of Washington and publisher of The Washington Post. Every few weeks, when Henry Kissinger or Barbara Walters was stuck on the tarmac at LaGuardia, I would get a late call asking if I’d like to fill in. Following the Meg Greenfield rule—call anytime before the main course—I always said yes. Eventually, I would go as me. Like the rings on a tree, my evenings with Graham charted my evolution from rookie journalist to old timer.

“I always said yes,” this classic climber wrote. But when social climbers like the young Carlson agree to say yes, they are typically saying yes to more than a set of dinner invitations. They are also saying yes to the constellation of political views which guarantee them a continuing seat at such Very High Tables.

They’re saying yes to what The Group believes. They’re saying no to everything else.

Today, Carlson is one of the biggest fools in Washington. (She’s also a regular, simpering guest on our biggest “progressive” TV show! Surely, the gods rock with laughter.) But in her very valuable book, she gave us a very valuable look at the desire of these social/career climbers—the desire to gain acceptance at The Highest Washington Tables. But darlings! To gain acceptable at those tables, there are certain things you mustn’t say— mustn’t believe, contemplate or even discuss. Over the past fifteen years, one of the things you couldn’t discuss was this remarkable set of data—perhaps the most remarkable data-set we know of in the world:

Total health expenditures per capita, 2003

United States $5711
Australia $2886
Austria $2958
Belgium $3044
Canada $2998
Denmark $2743
Finland $2104
France $3048
Germany $2983
Ireland $2466
Italy $2314
Japan $2249
Netherlands $2909
Norway $3769
Sweden $2745
United Kingdom $2317

Those are astonishing data. Over the past fifteen years, they’ve almost never been discussed. Everyone but Krugman understands—you simply mustn’t discuss them. Long ago, Kinsley took Carlson to Graham’s house. Last week, he wrote a column in which those data, though highly relevant, simply never appeared.

That dinner at Lally Weymouth’s house wouldn’t have been about giving Kaiser Permanente access to Connolly. If anything, that dinner would have been about giving Weymouth access to her own reporters and editors—giving her the chance to show them where the lines have been drawn. On the national level, Rep. Jim Cooper is not well-known or highly visible. But he played a leading role in defeating Clinton’s health plan—and there he is in Kurtz’s report as Weymouth’s lone confirmed guest!

At dinners like this, Washington’s sprawling collection of climbers learn what they’re allowed to think/discuss. And the pay-offs for consent are huge, as Carlson explained in her book. The heart-warming end to her Climber’s Tale involved her daughter’s wedding. By now, a reigning queen was simply “Kay” in this uplifting tale:

CARLSON (continuing directly from above): One day Mrs. Graham complained that she’d never been asked to my house. A few months later, I was giving a going-away party for Kinsley, who’d been wooed to be editor of by Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It seemed the perfect occasion to hide behind. She came, she tossed salad, she scooped ice cream. She became a fixture at my house.


When Courtney decided to get married in 2000, Kay asked if she would get married in her garden, and that began a wedding my mother would have been proud of. I didn’t make Courtney’s wedding dress, as my mother (and I) had made mine. She preferred one by Vera Wang, proving there can be progress from one generation to another.

A generation of climbers got the message. Their daughters could get that Vera Wang too—if they were careful never to mention the actual shape of world health care.

At such salons, consent gets manufactured within a grasping pseudo-elite. A Kaiser was going to pick up the tab. Was the grand-daughter of a “reigning queen” going to sketch her land’s boundaries?
If you suspect that the major media such as the Washington Post and the TV networks have a very restricted set of views they will permit to be published or discussed, It's true. Margaret Carlson's story explains why. Top pundits and editors get high social status in Washington D.C. if they go along with the prevailing D.C. wisdom and avoid discussing subjects or points of view that the major corporations (advertisers and big time lobbyists) don't want discussed. That's why single payer health insurance, the only system that is both efficient and capable of lowering the overall costs of health care in America, is off limits for discussion and serous consideration. So are most liberal positions these days. The full range of subjects that can be discusses range from very middle of the road to far right wing excluding clear extremism and racism.George Stephanopolus did not parachute in from the Clinton White House and enter the TV hierarchy at the top without understanding these rules. That he took over the Sunday ABC TV news show only shows how well he has met the demands of his masters.

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