PBS Lashes Back

Frontline hired former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid to put together the documentary.

Reid did the reporting.

He turned over his interviews to the Frontline producers.

And they came back with a documentary Reid couldn’t agree with.

Frontline tried to get Reid to narrate the film anyway – whether he agreed with it or not.

Reid refused.

Reid and Frontline parted ways.

After “Something is Rotten at PBS” ran last week, I got a ton of e-mail.

So did Frontline.

“Something is Rotten at PBS” struck a nerve.

This week, Frontline lashed back.

Frontline issued a statement yesterday attacking “Something is Rotten at PBS” – saying that the article “falsely characterizes both the reporting in ‘Sick Around America’ and the disagreement between Frontline and T.R. Reid.”

Frontline defends “Sick Around America” as an objective piece of mainstream journalism.

Frontline says that “Sick Around America,” in fact, “made no assertions about the path health care reform should take, but simply reported on the current state of health insurance in the country, focusing primarily on how inadequacies in the current private health insurance system, both for-profit and non-profit companies, were negatively impacting many Americans.”

T.R. Reid, on the other hand, was an advocate with a point of view, Frontline said.

“The dispute with Mr. Reid centered on a decision to include a section on the recent attempts by Massachusetts to reform its health care system,” Frontline said. “Mr. Reid objected to the inclusion of Massachusetts, the only state to require its citizens to purchase health insurance, and to require insurance companies to sell them policies with an adequate standard of coverage.”

“Reid repeatedly told Frontline that including Massachusetts in the program at all, was to advocate for that kind of reform as opposed to Reid’s preference of a ‘Medicare for all,’ one payer system for the entire country.”

“Frontline’s position was that simply reporting on the state’s plan was not advocacy and, in fact, our reporting would focus not only on the benefits, but also on the problems with the Massachusetts plan. We think any objective viewing of that sequence in ‘Sick Around America’ will confirm Frontline’s view that it was a piece of reporting not advocacy.”

Frontline noted that “on March 17, just three weeks after he asked to be removed from the film, a Denver magazine reported that T.R. Reid said he was interested it being appointed to a vacant seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, citing that his concerns about health care reform in the U.S. were ‘enough to push him from the reporting side over to the policy-making side.  And he thinks Colorado would be a perfect testing ground.’”

“Frontline’s editorial guidelines explicitly state that ‘when working on any politically controversial programs the producer [or correspondent] should engage in no personal political activities…and should not lobby for or against any specific piece of legislation.’”

“In the end, Frontline believes the dispute centered on a conflict between Frontline’s journalistic commitment to fair and nuanced reporting and its aversion to policy advocacy and Mr. Reid’s commitment to advocacy for specific health care policy reforms, for positions he apparently advocates in his forthcoming book.”


Reid is biased.

And Frontline is an objective, neutral observer.

I couldn’t reach Reid to respond to Frontline’s attack on him.

But last week, he told me he didn’t think single payer could pass in America.

Instead, he favored giving Americans an option to buy into a public plan that would compete with private, regulated non-profit health insurance companies.

Reid has a point of view.

So do I.

I believe the health insurance corporations – whether for-profit or non-profit – are engaged in what should be considered criminal activity – selling basic health insurance to the American people to gain profit,  outrageous salaries, power and privilege.

And these private insurance companies are deserving of the death penalty.

Countries like Canada and the UK agree. It’s illegal in those countries for a private company to sell basic health insurance.

Other countries like Germany, Japan and Taiwan heavily regulate private health insurance companies – so much so, that they would be unrecognizable to health insurance execs in this country.

So, I have a point of view as to how to remedy the situation. (In fact, I, and a group of friends last month launched singlepayeraction.org – to secure single payer health care in the United States in our lifetimes. We believe one million Americans will get the job done. Sign on and donate at singlepayeraction.org.)

Our motto – no compromise with the health insurance industry.

Either we die first.

Or the health insurance corporations die first.

Fight to the finish.

(By the way, according to a Institute of Medicine report, 22,000 Americans dies every year because of a lack of health insurance. That’s 60 deaths a day. Again, either they die first. Or we die first.)

Reid has a point of view.

I have a point of view.

But the Frontline producers don’t have a point of view?

Is that why they included no advocate for single payer in their documentary?

Is that why they included no advocate for a point of view supported, according to recent polls, by the majority of Americans, the majority of doctors, the majority of health economists and the majority of small business people?

Is that why they included no mention of single payer in their documentary?

(Frontline says I made a factual error by assuming that Karen Ignagni, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, represents only for-profit health insurance companies. I didn’t assume that at all. Of course, Ignagni’s group represents both non-profit and for-profit health insurance corporations. But the two types of  insurance companies in America differ little in the level of their disregard for Americans. I was just pointing out that Frontline was giving Ignagni a free ride – misleading Frontline’s viewers into believing that forcing them to buy from American insurance corporations would create a similar system as in some countries in Europe – like Germany and Switzerland –  where the insurance industry is heavily regulated, where profits are banished, where executive salaries are a fraction of what they are here.)

I salute Mr. Reid for telling Frontline and PBS to go stuff it.

As for his advocacy for a public plan to compete with the private insurance companies – I disagree with him.

A single payer doc in Ohio – Dr. Johnathon Ross –  put it this way to me last year.

The health insurance industry is like a vicious dog, Dr. Ross said.

Those who would create a public plan to compete with the health insurance are just kicking the dog in the face.

The dog is going to counterattack and rip your face off.

Better to put the dog out of his misery.

Yes, singlepayeraction.org has a point of view.

Death to the health insurance corporations.

Health and life to Americans.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER is editor of Corporate Crime Reporter and founder of singlepayeraction.org

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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