Filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on CNN‘s Situation Room on July 9 to talk about his new film Sicko—but ended up having an animated discussion with host Wolf Blitzer about a CNN “fact check” of the film that made several embarrassing errors.
The piece–dubbed a “Reality Check” by senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta–claimed that Moore “fudged the facts” when critiquing the U.S. health care system (click here to watch the clip). Gupta starts by acknowledging that the U.S. healthcare system placed 37th in the World Health Organization’s rankings. The fact that Moore contrasts this with the Cuban system led Gupta to “catch” him: “But hold on. That WHO list puts Cuba’s healthcare system even lower than the United States, coming in at number 39.”
The fact that the U.S.’s healthcare system does about as well as a Third World island that’s been under economic sanctions for the past five decades isn’t much of a catch to begin with. But Cuba’s WHO ranking actually appears in Moore’s film. (As Moore’s website pointed out, when CNN aired the relevant clip from his film, a CNN logo covered up Cuba on the list.)
Gupta’s next fact check:
Actually, Moore was much closer than Gupta: according to the Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. per capita healthcare spending was projected to reach $7,092 in 2006, and $7,498 for this year.
On a July 10 debate with Moore on CNN‘s Larry King Live, Gupta tried to claim that these projected numbers were somehow invalid, as if the continuously rising costs of healthcare should not be taken into account when discussing healthcare expenditures. Ironically, during the same discussion, Gupta cited Medicare’s looming insolvency as a reason not to support expanding the program–a financial crunch that of course is also based on projections of steadily rising healthcare costs.
What’s more—Gupta’s “reality check” got the film’s claims wrong: Moore said Cuba spent $251 per person, not $25.
Gupta went on to claim that Sicko portrays “medical utopia elsewhere,” when in fact studies show the U.S. system is better in some respects:
This is a grossly misleading characterization of the Commonwealth Fund’s survey; instead of stressing that the study found that the United States did better than one country with universal care in terms of waiting time, Gupta could more relevantly have focused on the fact that four out of five of the universal healthcare countries studied (including Britain) outperformed the U.S. on the very measure that he singled out to show that you don’t find “medical utopia elsewhere.”
It’s worth noting that the study that Gupta cited placed the U.S. as the worst overall of all the healthcare system studied, placing it last or next to last in all but one of eight criteria, while spending almost twice as much per capita as the next most expensive system. Gupta’s example was a clear case of cherry-picking–selecting only the data that fits your argument–something he accused Moore of doing.
When Moore confronted CNN‘s Blitzer about the inaccuracies in their “reality check” segment, he responded: “Well, if we get that confirmed, obviously, we’ll correct the record.” And CNN did correct one thing—Gupta acknowledged his error about Cuba’s per capita spending ($25 versus $251). On CNN‘s Newsroom (7/10/07), Gupta seemed taken aback by the whole thing, saying, “Yesterday there was a lot said by Michael, quite frankly, lots of numbers thrown around, and it can get admittedly somewhat confusing.”
He did not apologize for criticizing Moore for using current healthcare figures rather than outdated ones, or for implying that Moore concealed Cuba’s healthcare ranking, or for misleading viewers about the findings of the survey on waiting times. “We’re comfortable with what we presented,” Gupta said, aside from misrepresenting what Moore reported about Cuban healthcare costs by a factor of 10, which Gupta attributed to “an error of transcribing the number down incorrectly.”
“As a journalist and a doctor the facts are extremely important to me,” Gupta claimed. That priority is not at all evident from his report on Sicko, which instead suggested that his chief goal was discrediting Moore’s film. In pursuit of that mission he ended up making more serious factual errors than any he actually found in Moore’s film. Gupta’s failure to retract the other falsehoods, beyond his “transcribing” error, suggests that facts are actually of little importance to him compared to maintaining the pretense that he is an expert and that activist/journalists like Moore are not to be trusted.
The tendency for mainstream journalists to resist criticism is not surprising. Gupta’s CNN colleague Kyra Phillips perhaps said it best when she referred to the second part of Moore’s interview with Blitzer: “You can tune in to the Situation Room at 4:00 Eastern for a little more unedited Moore interview, if you can stomach it.”
The implication couldn’t be clearer: If we make false claims about your work, it’s downright rude of you to say something about it.
ACTION: Contact CNN‘s Situation Room and demand that they correct the other mistakes in Gupta’s “fact check” on Michael Moore’s film.
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