THE BLOG
05/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

On Health Care Reform, the Fox News Noise Machine Is Cranked to 11

You know those special amps used by Spinal Tap that go to 11, in order to provide "that extra push over the cliff"? It appears Fox News has gotten hold of some and hooked them up to its coverage of health care reform.

As the reform bill moved closer to a vote in the House, the Fox News noise machine went into overdrive, hurling every false and misleading claim it could muster.

The week in Fox News health care hysteria began with an oldie-but-goodie -- Steve Doocy, Bill Hemmer, and Bill O'Reilly all claimed or suggested that the bill will, in O'Reilly's words, "require American taxpayers to fund abortion." But it doesn't, at least not beyond what is currently permitted under current law. Fox News, unfortunately, is not alone in repeating this falsehood.

Then, Doocy and Hemmer, joined by Neil Cavuto and several other hosts, jumped on the idea that a legislative procedure the House is reportedly considering to pass the Senate's version of health care reform would allow them to do so without a vote. Wrong again -- the House would need to vote to implement that procedure.

Carl Cameron, however, broke through the noise on this issue, pointing out that the process would simply pass the bill "in one vote instead of two" and that the process "has been used, literally, for centuries" -- indeed, Republicans made copious use of the "self-executing rule" when they controlled Congress. Even Charles Krauthammer conceded that it's constitutional. Still, that didn't keep Alisyn Camerota from scoffing that the rule "might as well be a self-immolating rule."

Fox News then pounced on a survey claiming to have found that 46 percent of primary care physicians would consider leaving their profession if health care reform passes. O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and contributor Dr. Marc Siegel all portrayed the survey as having been published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Except it wasn't. The article was written by the physician-recruiting firm that conducted the survey, and it actually appeared in an employment newsletter produced by the publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine, not the Journal itself. Further, the survey itself was not all that scientific -- done via email contacts taken from the recruiting firm's database -- so any claim that the survey's results accurately reflect the view of the American medical community is dubious at best.

Fox News' Megyn Kelly did eventually note that the survey was "not a scientific poll." Yet, hours after Kelly corrected the record, Glenn Beck insisted that "The New England Journal of Medicine says that if this bill is passed nearly one-third of doctors will quit practice medicine."

(Beck, meanwhile, is keeping up the long tradition of Fox News hosts pushing partisan political agendas by joining with Republican Rep. Steve King to promote an anti-reform rally in Washington.)

Fox News contributor and serial misleader Dana Perino made her own non-contribution to the health care debate, asserting that the reform bill's Medicare investment tax on those making over $200,000 a year is "so disturbing ... because the people who make that money are the small business owners." In fact, fewer than 1.3 percent of small business owners would be affected by the tax.

When the Congressional Budget Office released new numbers detailing how the reform bill would reduce the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years, Fox News didn't want to talk about that -- it spent far more time highlighting how much the bill would cost instead of how much it would save. And when that didn't seem to work, it tried to discredit the CBO as untrustworthy and unreliable. Never mind that when the CBO issued "favorable" numbers last fall on a Republican health care reform plan, Fox News praised the CBO as "nonpartisan."

The Fox News spin is even confusing its own hosts. Brian Kilmeade can't quite comprehend how a bill can cost money yet reduce the deficit, and Kelly admitted, "I don't understand anything they're talking about when it comes to this potential law."

Fox News' inept war against health care reform, while in keeping with its function as the communications arm of the Republican Party in exile, is making itself look like the Spinal Tap of news. It doesn't really need that "extra push over the cliff" -- after all, that's what it's been speeding toward for years.

At this rate, it probably won't be too long before a Fox anchor spontaneously combusts.

(A version of this column is posted at Media Matters.)