On Wednesday morning, USA Today published an opinion article written by President Trump on the subject of healthcare reform in which, according to The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, “almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.”
The op-ed was centered on the false premise that a piece of legislation entitled “Medicare For All” that has recently gained traction among the Democratic caucus is an effort to “eviscerate Medicare” and “take away the benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives.”
In fact, the source that Trump links “eviscerate Medicare” to is a New York Times analysis of Medicare For All that concludes that current Medicare recipients “would have more generous coverage.”
As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias writes, this blatant misrepresentation of the legislation is the “core lie of Trump’s op-ed.”
It is no coincidence that the op-ed comes less than a month before the November 6 midterm elections and as polling suggests a strong shift among older, white voters from the Republican party to the Democratic party, it is clear the op-ed was designed to stoke unsubstantiated fears of a Democratic Congress eliminating insurance coverage for seniors.
This political tactic of fear-mongering is nothing new, but in the pre-Trump era journalists did a better job of accompanying political falsehoods with fact checks that informed readers.
Another outright lie is Trump’s claim that he has fulfilled his campaign promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act – the 2010 legislation that House Republicans have failed to repeal more than 50 times.
While Trump has repeatedly claimed he would not support a Republican “repeal and replace” bill that did not cover those with pre-existing conditions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sided in June 2018 with Republican states in a lawsuit that sought to nullify the ACA.
Trump also echoes the false Republican talking point that Democrats have cut Medicare “by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare,” a lie that was given four pinocchios by the Washington Post.
Instead, it has been Congressional Republicans who have sought to privatize Social Security and cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid. Back in September 2017, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney “openly bragged” to Politico about how he sold Trump on cutting Social Security Disability Insurance.
And just two weeks ago, White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow suggested the administration would look at “larger entitlement” cuts after the midterm elections.
In spreading these lies, Trump is obfuscating the reality regarding healthcare reform. Previously, politicians and elected officials had to rely on their own platforms for political messaging and it was the responsibility of journalists to sift through the noise and inform readers on falsehoods and misleading claims.
By publishing this troubling op-ed however, USA Today is unwittingly aiding and abetting the disinformation campaign being waged by the Trump administration.
After USA Today received intense backlash from readers and others in the news media, the outlet published a supplementary fact check article that debunked the multitude of lies it had already spread.
This column may break the record for the number of falsehoods from a President ever published in a newspaper op-Ed. Just this tweet alone is false – “outlaw private health care plans” and “letting anyone cross our border” Huh? Fact check: false and false. Come on USA Today. https://t.co/1SPKMztmJL
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 10, 2018
USA Today not only published a White House press release disguised as an “op-ed by Donald Trump,” it is using its Twitter account to blast out the article’s lies to 3.6 million followers. https://t.co/5qpjfDOWHh
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 10, 2018
Bill Sternberg, USA Today’s editorial page editor, defended the paper’s handling of the story by calling the op-ed “newsworthy,” and insightful as to the GOP’s strategy ahead of the midterm elections.
However, this defense fails to recognize that false political propaganda is too unfounded in truth to qualify as an informed opinion. The decision to publish a fact-checking article an entire day after the original op-ed is also puzzling.
In an environment where the majority of readers don’t expend much attention beyond headlines, USA Today’s decision to publish this op-ed is troublingly symptomatic of editorial malpractice.