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That Depends on What the Meaning of "Myth" Is

1:06 PM, Aug 19, 2009 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Mark Murray writes at MSNBC.com that yesterday's NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll found that "Americans remain skeptical about White House plans to overhaul the nation's health system." It sure did!

But the poll also finds that "myths endure" concerning pending health care legislation, according to the Journal's Washington Wire. Among these "myths," Susan Davis writes, is the idea that "the overhaul will lead to a 'complete' government takeover of the health care system." Writes Davis: "[T]here is also no actual proposal for that."

Of course there isn't. (Unless you count, you know, John Conyer's HR 676, which imposes "Medicare for all"-style government health care and has 93 cosponsors.)

But the NBC / Journal poll question didn't ask whether respondents thought the bill "was a government takeover of health care." It asked whether the bill "will lead to a government takeover of the health system [my emphasis]." That's a subjective prediction, not a statement of fact.

Some opponents of health care reform believe that the plan - the "public option" in particular - may result in unanticipated outcomes and subsequent government interventions that could crowd out the private insurance market and lead to a system of national health care. This is not an outlandish position. Even Barney Frank has said that the "public option" (which he supports) is "the only way" that "we're going to get to single payer [i.e., government health care]." By the Journal's reasoning, then, Frank is also propagating a "myth," as the House bill does not currently contain provisions for a single-payer system.

The rhetoric of "fact-checking" has allowed journalists to show that a politician's claims or an individual's perceptions may not be true. Which is good. But it has also allowed a lot of journalists to betray partisan biases under the cloak of "truth-telling." Which is not so good.