PBS Shies from Single-Payer Debate
Editor’s Note: In a U.S. news media that often seems to follow either the Right’s ideological dictates or Corporate America’s financial interests, there is at times hope for something better from PBS and its documentary series, Frontline.
Though Frontline does produce some quality content, the series often appears to stay within some invisible border, like a dog that gets shocked if it ventures over an electronic fence, a behavior on display in a recent Frontline show on health reform, as Dr. Margaret Flowers notes in this guest essay:
It was with a sense of déjà vu that I watched the latest PBS Frontline documentary about health care.
“Obama’s Deal” endeavored to reveal the significant influence of health industry dollars on our political process; however, as in Frontline’s “Sick Around America,” the producers did a disservice by the failure to educate the public about the bigger picture of the health care situation in this nation and the range of possible solutions.
Curiously, just as it was in the health “debate,” single-payer, improved “Medicare for All,” was excluded from the film.
The major point of the influence of health-industry dollars on the reform process, which should have been mentioned, is that these dollars were spent in order to restrict the debate and protect industry profits.
The lucrative status quo would have been threatened if single-payer had been openly discussed because a publicly financed national health program can provide high quality universal health care and control health care costs, something that a private-insurance-based system cannot accomplish.
After watching this film, viewers would have no idea that single-payer exists or know that there is a strong movement for it.
Considering that there have been attempts to push for a national health program for over 100 years in this nation and that, because of a strong grassroots movement, single-payer legislation was nearly introduced on the floor of the House in November and was actually introduced on the floor of the Senate for the first time in this nation’s history last December, the omission appears to be intentional.
Those of us in the single-payer movement are accustomed to being censored by the corporate media. The reason for our exclusion is known: health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations advertise heavily on these airwaves and wield considerable power over the programming.
This was described clearly by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s August 2009 piece titled “Single-Payer & Interlocking Directorates: The corporate ties between insurers and media companies” by Kate Murphy.
The producers at Frontline carefully cut single-payer out of the film. When the host interviewed me for “Obama’s Deal,” we spoke extensively of the single-payer movement and my arrest with other single-payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May.
However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded.
This mischaracterization occurred despite an e-mail exchange following the release of the preview in which I specifically requested that the producers identify that we are a nonpartisan group fighting for single-payer: a health reform model based on evidence of what is effective here and abroad and on health policy principles.
The mischaracterization unfortunately mirrors the way in which the health industry has portrayed the single-payer movement (verified by Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive).
“Obama’s Deal” contained a segment on those who oppose health reform, but nowhere were single-payer advocates given a chance to explain their proposal or motivations.
Neither was it noted that the hatred and fear seen at the summer Town Halls and that factored in the election of Scott Brown were assisted by the stealth organizing efforts of ultra-conservative Dick Armey of FreedomWorks and others fronting for political and corporate agendas.
We have the resources in this nation to achieve the same high quality health outcomes and health security that exist in other advanced nations. One reason for our failure is the intentional misinformation and omission of information in corporate media.
Our public media does a disservice by leaving out the full picture of our broken political process, its effect on the health and economic wellbeing of our people – and the truth of what we can achieve.
Margaret Flowers, MD is a pediatrician who serves as the Congressional Fellow for Physicians for National Health Program.
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