Watching Betsy McCaughey get savaged on MSNBC this morning, I almost felt bad for her, a woman getting shouted down by dudes who think she has no business speaking. Then I remembered: She actually has no business speaking.
At least not to ostensibly reputable media outlets.
Jamison Foser at Media Matters spells it out: "The problem with Betsy McCaughey isn't that she's a liar," he writes, "it's that the media gives her a platform to lie.... As I write this, McCaughey is on MSNBC, talking about health care. Why? What has she ever done to deserve such a platform?"
If you need a refresher on just what it the former lieutenant governor of New York has done to warrant so much attention, start with The New Republic's "No Exit: The Never-Ending Lunacy Of Betsy McCaughey."
A constitutional scholar by training, McCaughey (pronounced "McCoy") blazed to fame in 1994 as the person who drove a stake through the heart of Hillarycare, with a detailed (and, as it turned out, false) takedown of the plan published in this very magazine. Fifteen years later, she has reemerged for an encore, penning op-eds and making the TV and radio rounds to issue apocalyptic warnings about the horrors lurking in the fine print of Obamacare. Pick an inflammatory, misleading rumor that has sprung up in this debate, and chances are McCaughey had a hand in springing it.
Yep, that includes "death panels"! But wait, we should probably take into account that TNR's embarrassed about publishing McCaughey in the first place (and winning a National Magazine Award for a load of bull). Is she really that bad? Yes! Rep. Anthony Weiner, who had to debate her last night (and who, along with moderator Dylan Ratigan, went after her on MSNBC), reiterates the basic issues in the clip below.
You could ask Politifact, which has a 'liar scale.' They call her claims 'pants on fire.' John McCain's advisor said that the charges amounted to 'fraudulent scare tactics.' ... Ezra Klein in the Washington Post: 'She's a liar, but she's an exciting liar.' I think that qualifies as a compliment in this context.
He then goes on to offer a "listener's guide to Betsy McCaughey," in which he details how she lies ("quoting" from the bill and citing page numbers, counting on the listener not to look it up and discover what she said is nowhere to be found) and sums up what she lies about: "The theme is, whenever there's a discussion about saving money in Medicare, Medicaid or anything? She says someone's gonna die. When there's any discussion about having an efficiency..." Etc., etc. Basically, when there's any healthcare discussion at all involving Betsy McCaughey, someone's gonna die. Or, well, you know what I mean. Weiner reportedly also called McCaughey ""pyromaniac in a straw man factory," which pretty much nails it.
But that brings us back to the MSNBC clip. On the one hand, it's delicious, both for the skewering of McCaughey and the hilarious devolution of the whole thing into a playground battle of wits. (McCaughey: "You're not a very good moderator." Ratigan: "Well, you're not a very good answerer!" Later, after Weiner tells McCaughey that name-calling is beside the point, she retorts, I swear to you, "No, you're the name-caller!") On the other hand, the fact that it's two noisy guys going after an absurdly easy target only reinforces Foser's very fair question: Why does this interview exist at all? Why is anyone other than Fox News still pretending that Betsy McCaughey has one useful thing to say about healthcare reform? "This is why public discourse in America is broken," says Foser, echoing Latoya Peterson, who wrote back in August that the media continuing to give people like that a platform "is going to be the death of intelligent political discussion."