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Did Dick Morris and Eileen McGann Read Anything about the Obama Health Plan? Did Their Editors?

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As a HuffPo writer, my biggest anxieties flow from my direct link to the universe with no editor censoring or checking what I write. I often envy my mainstream media colleagues who have careful editors who fact-check and at least provide some time-lag in case I dash off something intemperate or stupid--or both.

Apparently, there is less adult supervision than I previously thought. Consider this specimen from yesterday's New York Post.
http://www.nypost.com/php/pfriendly/print.php?url=http://www.nypost.com/seven/07212008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/os_health_rx__cover_illegals_120816.htm

In an op-ed, titled "O's Health Rx: Cover Illegals," Dick Morris and Eileen McGann slam the Obama health plan for its alleged generous coverage of undocumented immigrants.
Morris and McGann ask: "do we really want to give them federally paid coverage equal to what US senators get, as Obama proposes?" They then go off on a tear:

Covering illegals adds dramatically to the cost of any program - and would encourage more folks to enter America illicitly.

Obama's plan will likely have a horrific effect on some local health-care systems.

Illegals now get free emergency-room treatment for life-threatening conditions -- as any other American who's entered an ER in an area with lots of illegals recently well knows....

But now they'd be eligible for the entire range of medical services, all free of charge. That would trigger severe rationing: bureaucrats deciding who gets to see an oncologist, who can have an MRI -- and even who can have bypass surgery and who'd die for lack of it.

These decisions would be made not on the basis of legal status but on the brutal facts of triage: Treat the 37-year-old illegal with his whole life to live before you spend scarce resources on an overweight, diabetic, 80-year-old citizen with high blood pressure who smokes.

They conclude:

McCain need to hit the Obama plan for treating illegal immigrants to free, federally subsidized health insurance -- and hit it hard.

Reading this tale of woe, I first thought this was a newspaper takeoff on that controversial New Yorker magazine cover: Take an apparently reasonable conservative hit job on Obama, start out reasonably, then exaggerate it beyond all reason to highlight its absurdity.

The article has some great elements: Barack Obama would leave Angela Lansbury to die in Cabot Cove so he can free resources to treat illegal aliens who came to suck up the free care. I myself would have added a few things. Maybe the alien should be an Islamist terrorist visiting San Francisco to complete a gay marriage ceremony, Michelle Obama's lesbian Afrocentric knitting circle serving as official witnesses. He'll get some free liposuction, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, to fix those ugly chin lines.

Then I realized: My God, Morris and McGann are actually serious.

This op-ed would raise some awkward and hard questions for Senator Obama, except for one thing: The Obama health plan does not cover undocumented immigrants, who would remain ineligible for almost every federally social assistance program.

It took some digging to find these features of the Obama health plan. Too lazy to call the Obama campaign, too unimportant to receive secret campaign documents, I entered the words "Obama health insurance undocumented" into a website called www.google.com.

This led me to the New York Times website, which included the following transcript of the January 21 2008 Democratic debate:

JOHNS: Senator Obama, we all know what universal health care is, as Senator Clinton just said, sort of the idea that everybody deserves health care. And I have not been able to sort of zero in on your position on this one question: Does your plan cover the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country?

OBAMA: It does not.

JOHNS: Why not?

OBAMA: Well, because I think we've got limited resources. And it is important for us that, when we've got millions of U.S. citizens that aren't yet covered, it's important for us to make sure that they are provided coverage.

There is a lot more of the same stuff, some on another website, called www.barackobama.com. This precise issue was debated ad nauseum during the Democratic primaries, when Senators Edwards, Clinton, and Obama debated what the term "universal" really meant, and how none of the three proposed to include undocumented immigrants in their health plans.

If you still care, Morris and McGann's article is filled with other mistakes. For example: "In fact, about one in four of those lacking insurance is here illegally." The real number is about one in seven. Moreover, undocumented immigrants are a young, generally healthy group that makes very low use of medical resources. Once you see the real howlers, mere careless use of statistics seems kind of superfluous.

Deconstructing this essay may seem like a waste of time. I admit that the Post is a better place for funny headlines (e.g. "Headless body in topless bar"), the sports page, and today's update on Lance Bass's love life than for its deep policy analysis. I further admit that thrice-disgraced political operative Dick Morris is one of the last people one would turn to when depth or veracity is needed. Still, one expects a newspaper to get some basic facts right. How can a major newspaper print an op-ed whose core factual premise is transparently false?

Here on HuffPo, Mark Kleiman has lamented the lack of adult supervision on the op-ed page in the otherwise fastidious New York Times. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-kleiman/why-wont-journalists-chec_b_104706.html Mark makes a great point, noting that Edward Luttwak published an erroneous essay on the finer points of Islamic law. But hey, that was pretty arcane stuff. And at least Times editors made some attempt, however lame, to check Luttwak's story. Morris and McGann ran with something every campaign reporter knows is false, and that can be checked in 45 seconds on Rupert Murdoch's Blackberry.

Does the Post check anything at all? Now they've got me wondering about that Lance Bass thing, too.