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Obama Faces Digital Destruction

What's killing his health reform? False spin by video, blogging and cable news.

Ben Shingler 19 Aug 2009TheTyee.ca

Ben Shingler writes regularly about online media for The Tyee.

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Message manglers: US health reform opponents.

President Barack Obama's administration signaled this week that it may be willing to make yet another concession in an attempt to gain support for its proposed reform of the United States' health care system.

While it remains up for debate to what extent scrapping the government insurance option from Obama's plan would hurt the proposed health reforms, the growing list of compromises has made one thing abundantly clear -- the president has struggled to control his message in the face of an onslaught of misinformation spread via online video, blogging, and cable news.

Hosed on YouTube

Obama has attempted to explain his health plan with town hall meetings, primetime press conferences, and a multitude of online platforms, but the essential message seems to have been lost somewhere en route.

Popular clips such as the one below, featuring a U.S. soldier at town hall in St. Louis, Missouri, have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online, with the most dramatic parts replayed on cable news.

It's not exactly clear, from this video, why the soldier wants an apology from Senator Claire McCaskill, nor why the health reforms are an affront on the constitution, but the overriding message is nevertheless a powerful one: a soldier home from combat doesn't want the government infringing on his freedom.

Many of the angry citizens at these town hall meetings have, of course, been planted there by organized groups opposed to the reforms.

For example, a man at a recent town hall meeting -- identified simply as "an angry tax payer" by Fox News -- suggests during the question-and-answer session he will be fined $2,500 annually if he doesn't buy health insurance.

Turns out that the man is Robert Broadus, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2008 congressional elections -- a fact the cable news network neglects to point out.

Lies left uncontested

In another popular clip, Michigan resident Mike Sola (who says he has no affiliation to the Republican party or lobby group) shouts to his congressional representative at a town hall: "Under the Obama health care plan that you support, this man would be given no care whatsoever," referring to his son, who is in a wheel chair because of cerebral palsy.

In a subsequent interview on Fox, the question of whether the proposed health bill would actually have the impact he suggests is never properly addressed.

Obama has tried to counter the misinformation, rising anger and fear by staging his own forums, posting online videos and literature, and, most recently, writing an opinion piece in the New York Times.

In the op-ed appearing Sunday, the president attempted to simplify his message down to two succinct, clear points that everyone can understand.

"If you don't have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform," he writes. "If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need."

For a country with the most expensive health care system in the world -- and nearly 50 million citizens without health insurance -- those goals seem reasonable.

But the discussion for exactly how to go about reaching them has so far been stifled. And with about a third of the senate and all of the congressional seats up for grabs in 2010, elected officials will likely be doing their best to avoid helping to pass any controversial legislation, making significant changes to the health system appear less and less likely.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Video, Politics

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