Sen. Minority Leader and candidate for governor Josh Penry wrote an editorial for the Grand Junction Sentinel last Thursday in advance of the health-care town hall held there Saturday by Pres. Obama. The Penry editorial was marked by two of the prominent tactics that have characterized the misinformation campaign waged these past months and intensified in the past weeks against health reform. Penry misquoted the president on health-care rationing and he cited figures compiled by a major health insurance company and described them as “nonpartisan” research.
Penry reposted his editorial to his campaign Website, which is where it belongs. Even as an editorial, the piece should never have made it into a newspaper without undergoing a round of very basic fact-checking. I wrote the editors of the Sentinel about that this morning, asking them about their editorial page policies, and haven’t received a word in return.
Penry’s misquoting of the president on rationing was meant to add fuel to the debunked idea that the Democratic health reform plan could end in so-called death panels. The statistics he cited in his editorial came from the Lewin Group, a front organization for United HealthGroup, an insurance company that serves more than 70 million customers and whose company brands include AmeriChoice, Ovations, UnitedHealth Group International, and UnitedHealthcare. United Health’s intentionally vague and anodyne-sounding Lewin Group is a far cry from anything like nonpartisan, and all of this is well-known to people reporting on health reform. Penry certainly knew it and so should have the editors of the Sentinel.
The debate over health reform is important and it has also been heated and occasionally violent. In his editorial, Penry employed the kind of cheap rhetorical tricks Americans have come to expect from whack email listserves– but also from political candidates with “say anything” Karl Rove-style campaign directors.
Cheap rhetorical tricks on health reform is not what we expect, though, from our Daily Newspapers. Or maybe it is, increasingly, which is part of why newspapers are failing.