Betsy McCaughey and the Media
“… [The New Republic] owner Martin Peretz still stands by her …”
by Jamison Foser
October 05, 2009
The New Republic’s Michelle Cottle examines “the never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey,” including a lengthy examination of the largely-forgotten hilarity and insanity that marked McCaughey’s time as Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Cottle’s article seems to be part of TNR’s continuing efforts to make up for inflicting McCaughey’s lies on the rest of us in the first place. Just this morning, for example, Politico’s Michael Calderone quotes TNR editor Franklin Foer saying of the magazine’s publication of McCaughey’s falsehood-riddled attack on the Clinton health care bill “an original sin that I hope we can expunge.”
Cottle pulls few punches in her profile of McCaughey, beginning with a description of Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron’s opening statement during a recent debate with McCaughey, which Aaron used to make clear his opponent’s dishonesty:
So it is that Aaron finds himself standing in the Crystal Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, running through PowerPoint slides that detail–quote by excruciating quote–McCaughey’s reputation as among the most irresponsible, dishonest, and destructive players on the public stage. He starts with Politifact.com’s categorization of her commentary as “Pants on Fire,” followed by New York Times articles debunking her assertions, followed by complaints from economist Gail Wilensky (adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign and head of Medicare financing under the first President Bush) that “these charges of death panels, euthanasia and withholding care from the disabled give rational, knowledgeable, thoughtful conservatives a bad name.” Next comes a denunciation of McCaughey’s “fraudulent scare tactics” by John Paris, professor of bioethics at Boston College; AARP executive vice president John Rother’s protest that her statements are “rife with gross–even cruel–distortions”; a scolding editorial by The Washington Post about McCaughey’s characterization of White House health policy adviser Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel as “Dr. Death”; and, to wrap it all up, Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, expressing dismay that the “personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person’s name is beyond the pale.” At one point, the debate moderator felt moved to reach over and give McCaughey’s hand a comforting pat.
Cottle concludes that McCaughey’s refusal to acknowledge her own dishonesty is what makes her infuriating:
Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions–and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior–that makes McCaughey so infuriating.
I don’t think that is actually what makes McCaughey infuriating. There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about — because their lies don’t drive major media coverage about an important issue. That’s what’s infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she’s a liar.
That’s what’s infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn’t address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don’t they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn’t they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That’s the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
But she isn’t. And as Calderone notes, TNR owner Martin Peretz still stands by her:
“I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all,” Peretz wrote in an email.
“I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that,” he continued. “But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate.”
Also, Peretz wrote, “their [the Clinton administration’s] worst tactical error was to do up what was I think [was] an eleven-page memo ‘rebutting’ the New Republic article, a sign of its importance and weight.”
The owner of a magazine that published a deeply dishonest attack on the Clinton health care reform efforts thinks it’s appropriate for him to lecture the Clinton administration on why they were unsuccessful in combatting the lies he published?
That’s the story here. Not Betsy McCaughey’s shamelessness — the irresponsibility of the news organizations that promote her, and the arrogance of someone who lectures others for failing to properly clean up his own mess.