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Hannity, Rove And Earhart Continue Fox News' Death Book Distortions

Reported by Ellen - August 25, 2009 -

As Media Matters has repeatedly reported, Fox News has been agog over the latest excuse to accuse the Obama administration of trying to kill American patients: the so-called “death book” the Veterans Administration recommends for patients considering end-of-life issues. In its zeal to attack Obama, the “fair and balanced” network has conveniently overlooked and distorted the facts that indicate otherwise. Predictably, Super Distorter Sean Hannity picked up the falsehoods and ran with them last night. He was joined by his favorite partner-in-bias, Ainsley Earhart, and Bush administration smearmeister Karl Rove. With video.

Anytime Earhart shows up on Hannity, it’s a safe bet that some seriously unbalanced reporting is about to ensue. She didn’t disappoint last night. Almost all of Earhart’s “report” was a rehash of conservative talking points made by former Bush administration official Jim Towey in his accusations against the Obama administration’s “death book.” Earhart never seemed to feel the need to fact check a single thing Towey said, though she must have known he was likely to have a partisan agenda. In fact, several of Towey’s assertions have been debunked. But Earhart somehow either never discovered that for herself or else deliberately decided not to tell the “we report, you decide” network’s viewers.

For example, Earhart said, “This booklet was first published back in 1997, then later promoted as the VA’s preferred living will guide. Jim Towey, the former director of faith-based initiatives during the Bush administration, says after the Bush White House looked at how this book was treating complex health and moral issues, the VA decided to suspend its use.” In fact, In February 2007 the Bush administration's VA issued a directive listing the guidebook as an example of the type of documents Veterans Health Administration practitioners should give to patients who want help drafting living wills. Jed Lewison, of Daily Kos, has found a sampling of VA website links referencing the so-called "death book" while Bush was president, starting in February, 2001 up until December, 2008. How come Earhart never found them?

Earhart played a long quote of Towey saying, “When a veteran comes back from Iraq, they shouldn’t be given a book like this. They should be encouraged to talk about their preferences and how they can maintain their dignity.” Had Earhart bothered to check, she would have known that the booklet encourages patients to consider, talk about and write down their preferences.

Instead, Earhart gave her summary of a VA response to other issues. It wasn’t clear whether she had asked the VA whether what Towey said was true. She merely said a VA spokesperson “denied that this was an official document, calling it only a quote, planning tool. They also said quote, the booklet is designed to help veterans deal with excruciating questions about what kind of health care they would like to receive if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.” Earhart added disapprovingly, “But that explanation’s not satisfying a lot of folks.”

After Earhart, Hannity brought on Karl Rove. There was no guest to balance him, though the subject did come up later on the “Great American Panel” which included two somewhat liberal guests, Bob Beckel and Judith Miller. But none of them got the kind of time to devote to debunking the accusations as Earhart and Rove got in making them.

Hannity began by saying (falsely) to Rove, “This book came out in 1997… Bush administration… got rid of it. Obama brought it back.”

Rove claimed that some Bush administration officials “worked tirelessly to get this quickly removed and killed and deep sixed.” Kind of a “Mission Accomplished" thing, I guess.

Like Earhart, Rove didn’t bother to actually read the book either, it seems. “The book is designed to encourage people towards a certain direction, which is to give up and accept pain,” he said. Oh really? Then why does it repeatedly mention such options as “avoiding pain and suffering” (P. 24), “I believe that controlling pain is very important,” (P. 22)?

Rove went on to note that at the end (he referenced “page 99” but the booklet I found only goes up to page 52) patients are referred to a number of associations about specific diseases but the only advanced directive group was “Compassion and Choices,” which he claimed is the Hemlock Society. (Note: the copy I found of the “Your Life, Your Choices” refers (erroneously, it appears) to a group called “choices” and the copy on the VA website has that page missing altogether) . I’ll take Rove at his word that Compassion and Choices is the Hemlock Society, though I did not find that association anywhere. It’s definitely a group devoted to choice-in-dying but their Good to Go resource guide seems very neutral in the way it presents the issues, asking, for example, "Do your spiritual or religious beliefs affect your attitudes about a terminal illness, treatment decisions, or death and dying? Do you believe life-sustaining treatments should never be withheld or withdrawn? Or do you believe that when there is no hope of recovery, death should be allowed? Are there specific kinds of life-sustaining treatment you would want to have if you were diagnosed with a terminal condition? If you could not eat or drink, would you want a feeding tube?”

Then it was time for Hannity to do a little distorting of his own. “This is what was in the House version,” Hannity falsely claimed. “I read the bill,” Hannity boasted. “425-430, end-of-life counseling sessions every five years or more for the elderly which… you know it’s going to be some government bureaucrat that’s basically telling you how to save money - 'Aw, you’ve lived a good life. Aw, you don’t want to be a burden to your children.'… It’s right there in the bill. Yet they denied it and took it out.”

As Media Matters pointed out after a similar, previous boasting session from Hannity, the bill requires mandatory coverage of end-of-life counseling, not mandatory counseling, and it allows a patient to request counseling from a "qualified care provider,” defined as a physician, a nurse practitioner or qualified physician’s assistant. It would not be a bureaucrat.

Why is "fair and balanced" Fox playing fast and loose with the facts?