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Late Night: The Teawads Aren’t the Problem Here

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So a story that probably all your wingnut cousins posted all over Facebook has turned out to be crap: 

When I checked the exchange – plugging in Johnson’s county and her age – I soon found a Blue Choice Gold PPO plan priced at $332 monthly (just $7 more than she had been paying for the plan that was cancelled). Co-pays to see a primary care doctor would run just $10 ($50 to visit a specialist) and she would not have to pay down the $1,500 deductible before the insurance kicked in.

My radar went up. Recently, I have been reading more and more reports regarding “fake Obamacare victims.”

Now I couldn’t help but wonder: Who are these folks in the Star-Telegram story? The paper profiled four people who supposedly had been hurt by Obamacare. When I Googled their names, I soon discovered that three (including Johnson) were Tea Party members.

The paper describes them as among Obamacare’s “losers,” but the truth is that they didn’t want to be winners. Two hadn’t even attempted to check prices in the exchanges.

Meanwhile, it appeared that no one at the Star-Telegram even attempted to run a background check on the sources, or fact check their stories. I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”

First of all, there are no “background checks” for sources other than Googling them, really. I hear this all the time from those criticizing reporters who get taken in: “WHY DIDN’T THEY RUN A BACKGROUND CHECK?” Newsrooms aren’t CSI. You can run people through things like court databases and some other services, some of which are free and some of which are hella expensive, and you don’t usually do that for stories that are getting tossed off in ten minutes. You do that for stories where the new police chief turns out to be a child molester, or the guy down the street might be a terrorist.

You should, however, attempt to find out if what your sources are telling you is total bullshit, which usually costs nothing.

It still seemed to me remarkable that she had simply stumbled on three Tea Party sources. Had they sought her out? Why had she believed that one couple in the story would face a staggering $20,000 deductible? (Under the ACA the deductible on a family plan is capped at $12,750.)

When you’re looking for someone pissed off about something, you can stand on a street corner polling passers-by or you can call an advocacy group that might be able to put you in touch with, say, people pissed off about Obamacare. It’s a reasonable thing to do to call up your local Tea Party and ask if they’ve heard of anybody who’s had a rough time, because if I had a rough time with Obamacare and was mad about it, I might seek out those of a similar view.

Again, that these are tea people is not the issue (though disclosing it might have helped some). It’s that they were tea people who lied to you.

But a lack of fact checkers does not explain why the newspaper ignored the news that one of its “victims” had found good coverage. No editor’s note. No comment. No clarification.

Which is really what the problem is. Lack of accountability. Whenever somebody bores on about how the Internet is the death of truth or whatever we’re saying these days to compare pixels unfavorably to Noble Print, I think of stuff like this. Even if they do print a correction, in 9-point type on the inside page, who’s going to see it? Who’s going to post and repost it the way the original story got posted and reposted?

It’s out there now, a zombie lie like all the others, that Obamacare hates these people and wants them to pay thousands of dollars a month or be put to the death panels.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.