Nov 032009
Authors: Erik Anderson

Between contradictory poll numbers, rumors of death panels and town hall shouting matches, the debate on health care reform is disintegrating.

Everybody has a poll proving that a “clear majority” of Americans agree with their position on the public option. Obviously, somebody has bad numbers, right?

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll asked Americans if it was important to give people a choice of both a public and private plan for their health insurance. A resounding 72 percent thought it was.

The same poll asked a different group if they favor or oppose a public health care plan that would compete with private health insurance companies (emphasis on the word “compete”). Now, only 48 percent favored a public health care plan. The word “compete” changed the results completely.

Changes in the wording and question order of polls can influence how respondents feel about health care reform. This inconsistency suggests that people do not have strong opinions on a public option, or that the majority of Americans do not know enough to answer without being swayed by nuances in the questions.

The most recent Rasmussen poll showed that only 42 percent support the recently-released House plan, for what it’s worth.

Our uncertainty is understandable. The 1,990 page House plan is not light reading, and there is a lot of competing information out there.

There is a lot of disinformation, too.

As revealed by Tim Dickinson in the September issue of Rolling Stone, the multi-million dollar disinformation industry is up and running again.

If you’ve been exposed to the disinformation industry in the past, you won’t be surprised to hear that it all ties back to tobacco company Phillip Morris. (I covered it before in my column “Manufacturing doubt a multi-million dollar industry,” which ran in the Collegian April 14.)

Betsy McCaughey is the legislation expert that introduced the nation to death panels -bureaucrats that aim to deny life-sustaining treatment to the elderly. Health care reform would be financed by “shortening your mother or father’s life,” she proclaimed.

McCaughey was central to the demise of health care reform proposed under President Bill Clinton.

In her 1994 article for The New Republic magazine called “No Exit,” she alleged that Clinton’s plan would prevent Americans from going outside of the system to purchase health coverage, despite provisions in the bill explicitly stating otherwise. The article was later recanted by The New Republic.

An internal memo of Phillip Morris claimed that they had worked with McCaughey on the article and two others that were published in the Wall Street Journal. (Phillip Morris stood to lose from Clinton’s plan because it was partly funded by a big increase in tobacco taxes.)

That same memo also stated that the company paid the group Citizens for a Sound Economy to create a “grassroots” movement to portray Clinton’s plan as a “government-run health care system replete with higher taxes . rationing of care and extensive bureaucracies.”

Sound familiar?

Citizens for a Sound Economy resurfaced to oppose the new health care reform as two different groups: Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. These groups helped orchestrate the first Tea Parties and town hall protests. Working with these groups was another, Conservatives for Patient Rights, founded by the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, the world’s largest hospital conglomerate.

Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies, while fighting a growing body of evidence that linked smoking to cancer, set up an industry of public relations masterminds and top political strategists that get paid big to manipulate public opinion anytime large corporations stand to lose from a change in the status quo.

Now every time we’re ankle-deep in progress, some half-wit with a Hitler effigy jumps up and starts shouting tirades across the room. These people don’t know it, but most of what they are shouting was scripted in focus groups and PR offices. The American public is being lobbied without even realizing it.

If we continue to let corporations dictate the terms of debate, any and all progress in America can be considered dead on arrival.

Erik Anderson is a senior natural resources major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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