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Christopher: Obamascare Stories Don’t Die, They Multiply

After spending weeks on these pages debunking every Obamacare “horror” story that the mainstream media fed the public at the start of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, the flood of destructive lies slowed to a trickle, and was shunted off into the drainage ditches of partisan outlets and think tanks. Over the weekend, though, a fresh crop of these bogus stories sprang into the print and online bloodstream, leading to the uselessly quiet and tardy conclusion that maybe, just maybe, there are no real Obamacare horror stories.

The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik, who was one of the few reporters debunking these things in real time, reached that conclusion while detailing the latest steaming pile of scare stories. In a piece headlined “Maybe there are no genuine Obamacare horror stories,” Hiltzik talks about the tale of Julia Boonstra, whose plight is featured in an Americans for Prosperity ad, and whose story, of course, doesn’t add up:

The Affordable Care Act provided her with cheaper coverage than she had before, while allowing her to keep her doctor and maintain her treatment. Kessler didn’t mention it, but Boonstra plainly benefits from another provision of the ACA: the ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions. Patients living in the pre-ACA world of individual health insurance with conditions like leukemia were constantly in danger of losing their coverage and becoming uninsurable. That’s not legal anymore.

Hiltzik goes on to review just a few of the other old favorites, and cites another new one, a constituent named Bette Grenier who was featured in Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers‘ State of the Union response, and whose sad tale was the result of her own refusal to actually use the Obamacare exchanges to shop for health insurance. She was simply telling McMorris Rodgers about the expensive plan that her insurance company offered to replace her old, non-compliant plan.

In addition to Hiltzik, the new crop of Obamascare lies has been getting attention from The New York TimesPaul Krugman and bloggers like Salon.com’s Brian Beutler, who identifies a new wrench in the Obamascare toolbox: attacking those who tell the truth as attackers of the sick:

Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., knows all about this dilemma. The right’s derp Howitzer spray-fired at Peters all weekend, because his lawyers sent threatening letters to station managers in Michigan who are running an Americans for Prosperity ad featuring Julie Boonstra, whose Obamacare “horror story” isn’t supported by the facts.

“The fact that Representative Peters would sic his legal team on a Michigan mother battling cancer to muzzle her tells you everything you need to know about his record of putting politics over people,” reads a statement from AFP’s Michigan state directer Scott Hagerstrom. “Julie Boonstra was brave enough to tell her story about how Obamacare is making her life worse and instead of offering compassion and solutions, Rep. Peters responded with intimidation … This attack on her credibility is disgusting, unwarranted, and inexcusable. Congressman Peters and his indecent campaign team should be ashamed of themselves.”

This isn’t actually new; the same tactic was used by my critics when I debunked bogus stories from people who, at best, were ill-informed about their own health insurance options. What is new is the use of the tactic by a political organization, on a politician, and Beutler correctly identifies the dynamic that has kept the White House from openly engaging with these stories.

That brings me to the good news and bad news about Obamascare stories. The good news is that they are no longer coming from sources that are considered trustworthy by ordinary people, like CNN or CBS News. In fairly short order, the first round of debunkings appears to have shamed mainstream outlets into something more closely resembling fair coverage. Political ads and speeches are self-evidently suspect, so the damage from these new stories doesn’t figure to be quite as bad.

The bad news is that an army of Michael Hiltziks can never unring those early bells, and those same trusted news sources also aren’t shining a light on this new crop. Day after day, I watched liberal programs ignore the destructive falsehoods being spread by mainstream outlets, in favor of scolding the likes of Sean Hannity and the Republicans. Whose mind is Sean Hannity ever going to change about anything?

The reason for this is that media criticism is not something the left does well. Given a few dozen bogus Obamascare stories to work with, and liberals will see this as de facto proof that opposition to Obamacare is a pack of lies, a set of fictions that speak for themselves. Contrast that to the way conservatives freaked out over the changing of a single line in a Kate Zernike story about Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). They know how to mobilize, and they see the value in it.

This kind of pressure does work. It worked in getting the mainstream outlets to stop putting out these stories, and even to get a conservative think-tank to issue a correction of sorts. If liberals had mobilized around the destructive, life-and-death falsehoods that were being spread by the mainstream media about Obamacare, then CNN et al might not have simply turned off the tap, but been forced into cleaning up their Superfund site of harmful coverage.

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