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Monday, February 23, 2009

If it's Sunday, it's another agenda-driven story in the Tribune-Review

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Well, here's a shocker: the Tribune-Review carrying water for its publisher in the news section.

The Trib has some talented folks working for it, but their efforts are often undermined by the agenda of its owner, Richard Mellon Scaife. This happens so often as to be nearly a dog-bites-man story (or, as the Trib might report it, "socialist cur bites invisible hand of free-market capitalism" piece). In fact, I'm not even sure what good it does to point out stories like this piece from yesterday's paper. But the issue -- Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's healthcare-delivery system -- is important, so what the hell.

Rick Stouffer's "Obama pursues universal health care," opens up with some play-both-sides-against-the-middle back and forth. But soon enough, we see the telltale signs of a reporter held hostage to his boss's agenda:

"Everyone agrees on the need for affordable, quality health care," said Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based think tank Pacific Research Institute. "There are two camps: one that favors a market-based plan that empowers physicians and patients, and another that wants to expand government's role." The president's proposals fall under the second camp, Pipes said.

Well, of course it does. Stouffer doesn't -- can't -- tell you this, but in 2007 alone, the Pacific Research Insitute received $200,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. As you might expect, that grant-making organization is controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife.

This is par for the course at the Trib, as we've written previously. The paper's news and op-ed sections often cite stories by right-wing think tanks bankrolled by Scaife, without identifying the connection: The process, which has been called "information laundering" by at least one Tribble I know, is a way to sneak the publisher's agenda into the paper without telling readers what's going on.

This particular piece, though, scores a somewhat more unusual twofer, witness this passage:

"Obama is aiming to get universal coverage, which is good during a time of economic crisis when people are losing their jobs," said Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School Business Administration professor, and an acknowledged health care expert. "But he relies excessively on the government, the care provider and the regulator."

Again, the Trib doesn't say so, but Herzlinger isn't just a professor at Harvard. She's also a scholar at the conservative Manhattan Institute. Which -- guess what? -- is also supported by Scaife. In 2007, the Sarah Scaife Foundation gave $240,000 to Manhatta.

Just looking at Scaife's 2007 spending -- the most recent year available -- his investment in this article appears to be nearly half-a-million dollars.

In fairness, the Trib piece does talk to a couple folks who are more open to Obama's plan, among them Pitt professor Beaufort Longest, an expert on health policy. Beaufort says he likes Obama's proposal: "Expanding health care coverage is much needed, particularly with what's happening with the economy, and simultaneously, he wants to make the system more efficient."

On the other hand, by this point we've already been told -- by Bob Laszewski, head of Washington, D.C.-based Health Policy and Strategy Associates -- that Obama's plan "is more about cost shifting than it is making the system more efficient ... Insurance is more affordable because [Obama] spends billions of dollars subsidizing access for everyone."

Laszewki, I'm happy to say, is one government skeptic who can't be accused of taking money from Scaife. He gets it directly from the healthcare organizations themselves. The HPSA Web site notes that among its clients are "health insurance companies, casualty insurance companies, HMOs, Blue Cross organizations, hospitals, and physician groups."

And of course, the piece closes with this dire warning from Herzlinger: If Obama's plan goes through, "The federal government will control all expenditures for health care, a board will tell people what they can and can't buy."

Yeah, that would suck all right -- imagine having some faceless bureaucrat deciding what kind of medical procedure you can or can't get. What a betrayal. It'd be almost as bad as a publisher trying to insert a partisan agenda into your news coverage.

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