FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission

In the old George Carlin joke, the TV sportscaster announces: “Here’s a partial score from the West Coast – Los Angeles 6.”

For a brilliant comedian like Carlin – who skewered corporate powerclass structure and political/media propaganda – that’s one of his more innocuous jokes. But it’s sharply relevant today as corporate TV news outlets serve up a series of partial scores. Call it “propaganda by omission.”

Take the coverage that followed Thursday’s Democratic debate. Bernie Sanders didn’t object in the debate when Joe Biden hung a price tag on Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan of $30 trillion (over 10 years). Sanders responded by offering the other score: “That’s right, Joe. Status quo over 10 years will be $50 trillion. Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing health care to every man, woman, and child in this country.”

The $50 trillion figure for continuing the status quo (actually $47 trillion) comes from the ”National Health Expenditure Fact Sheet” of the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

I checked the post-debate news coverage. As in the Carlin joke, I found many references to the partial score: the $30-32 trillion estimated cost of Sanders’ legislation. But not the other score: the more costly estimate of sticking with a system in which health insurance is provided by for-profit corporations.

I watched, for example, the next day’s in-depth report on CBS Evening News lasting a full two minutes. (That’s “in-depth” nowadays on nightly newscasts.) The $32 trillion estimate was prominent, but the other score was omitted – no estimate for staying with the status quo. When the report ended, anchor Nora O’Donnell accentuated the bias by saying: “That’s an expensive plan, Ed. Thank you.”

CBS opened its report speaking of “government-run healthcare plans being touted by liberal Democrats.” It’s well-known that “government-run healthcare“ is a GOP/Fox News/insurance industry talking point. As is “government takeover” of healthcare. Just ask GOP propagandist Frank Luntz.

Of course, when Medicare simply provides the coverage – whether to older people today or everyone tomorrow – that’s NOT “government-run healthcare.”

As I recently wrote to the L.A. Times in response to a biased poll question: “Doctors and hospitals are private today within Medicare in the U.S. (I know because I’m old enough to be on Medicare) – and they would remain so under a Medicare for All system, just as doctors and hospitals are private today under Canada’s Medicare for All system. Insurance is government-provided; not the healthcare itself.”

It’s easy to explain why Medicare for All is more cost-effective than the corporate-insurance system. Less bureaucracy and wasteful paperwork. No sales commissions. No exorbitant CEO compensation – averaging $18 million per healthcare CEO last year. No insurance company profits; the “big 8 health insurers” raked in $7 billion in one quarter last year.

But confusion, not clarity, is the job of TV news – which is so heavily sponsored by drug and healthcare companies. (Night after night, big pharma is the main sponsor of network newscasts.) And confusion is the job of industry ads and corporate politicians like Biden, who receives more healthcare industry donations than any other Democratic candidate.

That’s why we keep getting partial scores.

Besides the reduction in financial cost, imagine the reduction in human cost – hardship and anxiety – if our country joined every other wealthy country in achieving truly universal health coverage.

Which bring us to a partial score on another crisis causing hardship and anxiety today: climate change. The Green New Deal proposal in Congress to address the problem, while creating millions of high-paying jobs, has been savaged as “too expensive” – with Mitch McConnell and Republicans incessantly invoking a concocted and ridiculous figure of $93 trillion.

As with Medicare for All, moneyed elites want to omit the other score – the price tag of sticking with the status quo into a future that Bill McKibben describes as “a modern Dark Ages.” From science-denying Republicans to solution-denying corporate Democrats who seek a go-slow “middle-ground,” there’s an attempt to downplay the more expensive cost of deny and delay, including:  rising seas and rivers, more damaging hurricanes and floods, worsening droughts and wildfires, buckling bridges and roads, increased air pollution and hospitalizations, premature deaths, crop failures, extinct species, spread of new diseases, intensified migration and more brutal civil wars.

McKibben argues that the Green New Deal “costs pennies on the dollar” compared to the bleak and costly future predicted by scientists. McKibben, of course, doesn’t sponsor TV news. The fossil fuel industry does.

In a country as wealthy as ours – when progressive proposals to address the crises of climate, healthcare and social inequality are routinely shot down by corporate politicians and media as “too expensive” – George Carlin’s quip reminds us to demand the other score: the horrific cost of our unequal and unsustainable status quo.

More articles by:

Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and cofounder of the online activism group RootsAction.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
Patrick Bond
Covid-19 Attacks the Down-and-Out in Ultra-Unequal South Africa
Eve Ottenberg
Capitalism vs. Humanity
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 2: Panic On the Streets of Tehran
Jonas Ecke
Would Dying for the Economy Help Anybody?
Jeff Mackler
Capitalism is the Virus!
Andrew Moss
Incarceration, Detention, and Covid-19
Farzana Versey
Prayers, Piffle and Privation in the Time of Pandemic
Will Solomon
In the New Dystopia
Dean Baker
The Relative Generosity of the Economic Rescue Package: Boeing vs. Public Broadcasting
Dr. Leo Lopez, III
We Need a Lot More Transparency From the CDC
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Reflections on a Glass of Homemade Cider
Rashid Nuri
Homegrown Crisis Response: Who Grows Your Food?
Mark Luskus
Worst Case Scenario: Healthcare Workers Need Masks, ASAP
Volker Franke
The Virus That May Bring us Together
Mitchell Zimmerman
A Q & A on the GOP’s Call for Elder Sacrifice
Olfat al-Kurd
COVID-19 Could Be Catastrophic for Us: Notes From Gaza
Eileen Appelbaum - Roesmary Batt
Hospital Bailouts Begin…for Those Owned by Private Equity Firms
Nabri Ginwa
Carcinogens
Jill Richardson
Efficiency vs. Resilience
Lee Ballinger
Eddie Van Halen and the Future of Humanity
David Yearsley
Beset by Bach
Robert Koehler
Developing a Vaccine Against War
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail