Death panels: Another myth that won’t die

Over breakfast at my local eatery this weekend, an argument erupted at a nearby table over "death panels" and the ravings of former Alaska governor and Presidential wannabe Sarah Palin.

"Obama wants to decide who lives and who dies," an elderly woman said, her voice quaking. "The government will kill people."

Her friend tried to calm her down but she wasn’t buying.

"I don’t want my life decided by the government," she continued. "I’m an American. This used to be a free nation!"

In a perfect world, the myth of the "death panels" would have died long ago but this world is far from perfect and lies spread faster than truth in our Internet-driven, Facebook dominated and Twitter controlled society.

In an environment where opinion supplants fact and emotion replaces reason, hysteria rules.

Conservative bloggers often quote Sarah Palin’s Twitter entries or her comments posted on Facebook. They treat each utterance as absolute truth. When Palin came up with the infamous "death panel" post on Facebook, the claim was quickly debunked by media sources that used to be trusted. The Washington Post reported "there are no such death panels mentioned in any of the House bills." David Brooks, a conservative columnist, called Palin’s claims crazy.

Yet polls show many Americans believed the death panel myth and loud, rancorous debate, dominated town hall meetings. The debate became so clouded that a provision for "end to life counseling" disappeared from the Senate version even though that provision provided a valuable service to those facing death.

Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post weighs in:

Ultimately, the media consensus was that Palin had attempted "to leap across a logical canyon," as the conservative bible National Review put it, adding that "we should be against hysteria." But the "death" debate was sucking up much of the political oxygen. President Obama kept denying that he was for "pulling the plug on Grandma." On Aug. 13, the Senate Finance Committee pulled the plug on the provision, with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley saying the idea could be — yes — "misinterpreted."

Perhaps journalists are no more trusted than politicians these days, or many folks never saw the knockdown stories. But this was a stunning illustration of the traditional media’s impotence.

The eruption of anger at town-hall meetings on health care, while real and palpable, became an endless loop on television. The louder the voices, the fiercer the confrontation, the more it became video wallpaper, obscuring the substantive arguments in favor of what producers love most: conflict.

As an ink-stained newspaperman who covers local government and the courts for my hometown newspaper, I deal with people every day who wonder if they are getting "the real story." Because our paper is owned by the Media General news conglomerate, some readers believe that our news is governed by corporate bigwigs in Richmond, VA.

Recently, I wrote on my local news blog about past legal problems of a company that announced plans to build a multi-million dollar data center in our area. I also wrote a story for the paper but some felt the paper had not reported the story accurately while I had, even though I wrote both stories.

The truth may be out there but in this age of information overkill, it gets lost amid the clutter.


  1. lorenbliss

    Nearly on the Sound. Before the adjacent condos were built (many now in bankruptcy thanks to the underlying reality of bankster capitalism), I could see the Sound from my windows. The Mountain — not yet out today (still mostly hidden by her veil: clouds lingering from yesterday’s rain and a more generalized curtain of overnight fog that is gradually burning off) — is east of me.

  2. Stratocaster

    Doug really hit the nail on the head with his closing sentence about the truth being lost in the clutter of information overkill. The truth is that most people don’t know what truth is. If you watch 48 hours or Dateline, when they interview the jury, it is never we knew he was guilty because, it is always we thought he was guilty because. In short, the guy is always convicted on a suspicion of guilt. What ever became of guilty beyond all reasonable doubt? What ever became of truth, justice, and the American way? Scares the hell out of me.

  3. almandine

    Yes, Loren, a nice bitter or amber ale would set a good table for discussion. Dark roasted Sumatran or the like, if you prefer instead.

    Note that I offered no solution to this morass, as some would take umbrage if not offense. I think once before we left it with getting rid of all the pols, the Fed, and the banksters for a start.


    add: Do I recall correctly you’re in the northwest?

  4. lorenbliss

    Once again, Almandine (what a lovely name!), I am intrigued by how we so often start with identical grievances but end with opposing solutions. Too bad we are separated by a continent: would that I could converse with you at length and face-to-face, whether over coffee or alcohol.

  5. RichardKanePA

    Our society, or all societies, play games with death. I remember when there was thought of arresting a nurse during the Katrina disaster, because she offered a dying patients overdoses of pain killers after being told no help would be available any time soon, but help arrived right away. This means that the people saying this assumed it would be alright to offer a dying patient such medicine when no hope of recovery was possible.

    We seem to like to condemn other points of view while we are not leveling with ourselves. We love to accuse others of being extremists.

    Sarah Palin decided to have a child knowing it was likely to have disability issues and knowing she wouldn’t get an abortion if it was. She wants to be proud of herself.

    She and the rest of us our making this into statements about absolutes involving morality in one direction or another and changing each others motives into conspiracy theory.

    Let’s admit there will be no satisfactory solutions to these sticky matters any time soon.


  6. almandine

    Well Loren,

    I was with you right up to the end. I do believe you have hit the nail squarely as regards the health care [reform] fraud. Unless someone is deemed more than a “useless eater” s/he will be dealt with egregiously by the powers that be.

    However, the system you rail against as the cause is Not Capitalism, but our self-serving Plutocracy. Much like a virus (no negative connotation implied), a good capitalist would not kill the host, but would do everything in his power to maximize continued profitability – which resides in continued market exchanges. Killing off even the most unreliable business partners would be self-defeating.

    The Plutocrats on the other hand play that zero sum game by which the value of useless eaters’ demise can be calculated to offset the continued service a useless eater could provide. After all, there are more where those came from.