Frontline Fronts for Corporations, Not the Public

It was with a sense of déjà vu that I watched the latest Frontline documentary about health care. “Obama’s Deal” endeavored to reveal the significant influence of health industry dollars on our political process; however, as in Frontline’s Sick Around America, the producers did a disservice by the failure to educate the public about the bigger picture of the health care situation in this nation and the range of possible solutions.

Curiously, just as it was in the health “debate,” single payer, improved Medicare for All, was also excluded from the film. The major point of the influence of health industry dollars on the reform process which should have been mentioned is that these dollars were spent in order to restrict the debate and protect industry profits. The lucrative status quo would have been threatened if single payer had been openly discussed because a publicly-financed national health program can provide high quality universal health care and control health care costs, something that a private insurance based system cannot accomplish.

After watching this film, viewers would have no idea that single payer exists or know that there is a strong movement for it. Considering that there have been attempts to push for a national health program for over 100 years in this nation and that, because of a strong grassroots movement, single payer legislation was nearly introduced on the floor of the House in November and was actually introduced on the floor of the Senate for the first time in this nation last December, the omission appears to be intentional.

Those of us in the single payer movement are accustomed to being censored by the corporate media. The reason for our exclusion is known: health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations advertise heavily on these airwaves and wield considerable power over the programming. This was described clearly by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s August 2009 piece titled “Single-Payer & Interlocking Directorates: The corporate ties between insurers and media companies” by Kate Murphy.

The producers at Frontline carefully cut single payer out of the film. When the host, Mr. Kirk, interviewed me for “Obama’s Deal,” we spoke extensively of the single payer movement and my arrest with other single payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May. However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded. This occurred despite an email exchange following the release of the preview in which I specifically requested that the producers identify that we are a nonpartisan group fighting for single payer: a health reform model based on evidence of what is effective here and abroad and on health policy principles. This mischaracterization unfortunately mirrors the way in which the health industry has portrayed the single payer movement (verified by Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive).

“Obama’s Deal” contained a segment on those who oppose health reform, but nowhere were single payer advocates given a chance to explain their proposal or motivations. Neither was it noted that the hatred and fear seen at the summer Town Halls and that factored in the election of Scott Brown were assisted by the stealth organizing efforts of ultra-conservative Dick Armey of FreedomWorks and others.

We have the resources in this nation to achieve the same high quality health outcomes and health security that exist in other advanced nations. One reason for our failure is the intentional misinformation and omission of information in corporate media. Our public media does a disservice by leaving out the full picture of our broken political process, its effect on the health and economic well-being of our people and the truth of what we can achieve.

Margaret Flowers, Co-Director of Popular Resistance, National Co-ordinator of the Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign, and Co-chair of the Green Party US. Read other articles by Margaret.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. r jackowski said on April 16th, 2010 at 12:44pm #

    Good article. Frontline has done some good reports in the past. In Vermont the leading health care advocacy organization (which supports Single Payer) has refused to use the words ‘SINGLE PAYER’. When I questioned this, I was told that those words were too divisive and would eliminate any support from church groups. Because of that I have limited my participation.

  2. kbzeese said on April 16th, 2010 at 1:40pm #

    That is a terrible reason to not use the words “single payer.” A lot of us in the movement have started to use the phrase “Improved Medicare for All” because people don’t know what single payer is, but most do know what Medicare is. Further, Medicare is a very popular and successful aspect of U.S. health care.

  3. r jackowski said on April 16th, 2010 at 1:51pm #

    Medicare is NOT what is usually meant by “Single Payer”. Medicare does not cover dental, vision, or long term care. The usual meaning of “Single Payer” is the system that covers ALL medically necessary health care.
    Also, Medicare does NOT eliminate the insurance companies. Single Payer would finally kill off the insurance companies and therefore all of the money that goes to them would then be put into medical care instead of profits for Wall Street investors.

  4. Deadbeat said on April 16th, 2010 at 1:52pm #

    kbzeese writes …

    A lot of us in the movement have started to use the phrase “Improved Medicare for All” because people don’t know what single payer is

    What Mr. Zeese illustrates is exactly why the Left loses the ideology war every time. They refuse to DEFEND ideas. Ms. Jackowski is correct that the term “Single Payer” should not be abandoned but defended. If people are unaware of what single payer is then it is the fault of the Left for not EDUCATING citizens. Mr. Zeese excuse to abandon Single Payer is the same reason many on the Left use to abandon Socialism.

    “Improved Medicare for All” is an abandonment from “Single Payer” because “Single Payer” makes clear about eliminating the role of the private sector from health care. It is a much more RADICAL position and you will not win anything, especially in these times, with compromise.

    With Mr. Zeese willingness to compromise you can kiss any kind of real reform GOODBYE!!! Same old shit from the “Left”.

  5. r jackowski said on April 16th, 2010 at 2:12pm #

    This seems to be a common problem – the abandonment of “words”. Language is important. When the war started there were actually some objections to anyone using the word “peace”. Shocking.

    Now we have the Press referring to innocent slaughtered civilians as “insurgents”. The use of that word is an obvious attempt to propagandize and dehumanize. I have made a poster saying “George Washington was an Insurgent”. It is available free for anyone to use. See it on flickr under the name GrammaJax.

  6. r jackowski said on April 16th, 2010 at 2:17pm #

    Link to “George Washington was an Insurgent” poster.

  7. kbzeese said on April 16th, 2010 at 2:19pm #

    Obviously I disagree. I am not abandoning the idea of getting rid of the insurance industry — that is the whole point of single payer. The reason we say “improved” Medicare for All is exactly the shortcomings that r jackowski points out. Medicare needs to be expanded to cover all health issues so there is no need for private insurance (although in most single payer countries they do not do away with all insurance, they shrink it to being a tiny part of health care).

    The reason to move from single payer is because so few understand the term. We need to find ways to communicate with people so they know what we want. And, we need to be able to do it quickly because sound bites are part of our culture. Improved Medicare for All is a term that more people will understand. It is not perfect rhetoric, but an improvement. Usually the way I use it is “single payer, improved Medicare for all,” so I get the best of both worlds.


    The goal of communication is to communicate clearly — it not just to hear ourselves talk. It is to persuade people to support our view.

  8. beverly said on April 16th, 2010 at 2:35pm #

    Example #101 of why I stopped watching/listening and donating money to public radio and TV a few years ago. The more indy media I read, I discovered NPR/PBS were as co-opted and corrupt as mainstream media. In fact, I consider NPR/PBS to be mainstream media.

    Excellent point Deadbeat. The Left renders itself irrelevant by refusing to defend its ideas. Unlike the right wingers who will fight to the death for their ideas – no matter how lethal, stupid, and ill-advised said ideas are. Right now, the Left is freaking out about the Tea Partiers. Instead of on-the-sidelines hand wringing, the Left should be in the streets too, protesting their Democratic Party masters’ complicitness in the domestic and foreign policy disasters that plague us daily.

  9. r jackowski said on April 16th, 2010 at 2:41pm #

    KZ…I see your point, but one of the most important points that needs to be communicated is about insurance companies. It is their profit motive that is killing at least 45,000 per year. That means that insurance companies are far more dangerous than ‘terrorists’.

    Reuters is right NOW reporting: “…The alliance seeks to leverage Cigna’s traditional strength with employers and Humana’s deep experience with Medicare plans for the elderly.

    The Cigna-Humana products are expected to be available beginning July 1, subject to regulatory approvals. The companies will coordinate services and share financial results equally….”