Jeff Greenfield Responds to FAIR

CBS reporter misses the point on healthcare

CBS senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield promptly responded to FAIR's June 25 Action Alert critiquing his report on Michael Moore's film Sicko and public opinion on single-payer healthcare. But his argument--which appears in full below--avoids the core issues raised in FAIR's alert.

Greenfield's defense tries to make a distinction between Moore's position on healthcare and a single-payer system similar to the one outlined in HR 676, a bill supported by dozens of members of Congress. Greenfield writes: "FAIR's critique is not. The organization is comparing apples and oranges; actually, apples and bowling balls is more like it." Greenfield argues that what Moore is advocating is not a single-payer system, but a "government-run system in which the doctors work for the government, as they do in Britain, Canada and elsewhere." Thus, Greenfield's contention that "no one has come close" to Moore's position means that HR 676 is (as Greenfield put it) an apple, and Moore wants a bowling ball.

For someone trying to make fine distinctions about various healthcare systems, it is puzzling to see Greenfield lump together the programs in Britain and Canada. The group Physicians for National Health Program (PNHP) points out that while Britain's system is roughly equivalent to a system where doctors work for the government, "In most European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan, they have socialized financing, or socialized health insurance, not socialized medicine. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector."

Nonetheless, it is ironic that Greenfield's report would include footage of a press conference where Moore spoke in favor of HR 676; if Greenfield were correct, Moore would have been on hand to endorse something he rejects. Yet Moore said at the press conference: "Thank you, Dennis Kucinich, for running for president, and at each of the debates bringing up this very important issue.... I have been encouraging people to get behind HR 676.... I ask Americans across the country who are asking me, 'What can we do?' This is something you can do. Write to your member of Congress and say, 'Get behind HR 676.'"

Physicians for a National Health Program—the national physician organization dedicated to implementing single-payer—is campaigning in support of Moore's film. The same is true of the California Nurses Association, who are rallying support for a single-payer bill in the state. Moore appeared at the group's June 12 rally in support of SB 840. When he appeared on Pacifica's Democracy Now (6/18/07), host Amy Goodman asked Moore, "So you’re talking about single payer." Moore responded: "Yes."

Clearly, Moore would be happy with a system that resembled either Britain's or Canada's. FAIR's point was that the media have treated the idea that government should pay for healthcare for all as far outside the mainstream. Greenfield's report on Sicko did much the same. It's good to see that his response implicitly acknowledges that a single-payer system is well within the mainstream of U.S. public opinion; we look forward to seeing that reflected in future reports on CBS News.

Jeff Greenfield's response (6/25/07):

FAIR's critique is not. The organization is comparing apples and oranges; actually, apples and bowling balls is more like it.

Michael Moore is very clear about what he is proposing: it is not simply a "single payer" system. What Moore advocates is a government-run system in which the doctors work for the government, as they do in Britain, Canada, and elsewhere. He devotes part of "Sicko" to an interview with a British doctor, who lives in a fine home and drives a nice car, to make his point that state-employed doctors need not face privation. Later in the film, he answers the charge of "socialized medicine" by noting that we already have "socialized" police officer, firefighters, and teachers: all of whom are public employees.

Unless I am very much mistaken, this is very different from the "single payer" system that Rep. Kucinich advocates; nor is it supported by the members of congress who back a "single payer" system. (Medicare, for example, is a government-paid system; but recipients go to the same doctors the rest of us do).

Similarly, what polls show is that most American do indeed want major changes, and believe it is a matter of public responsibility to provide health care for all--that is very different from the proposition that Americans are open to a government-run system along the lines most other industrialized nations have.

My point is not that such a system is a good or bad idea; only that what Moore advocates is simply not on the political radar. Moore himself told me in an interview that there is a "pioneer mentality," an "everyone for himself" tradition that needs to be confronted if his goal is to be achieved. In this regard, Moore shows a much clearer understanding of the American political climate than does FAIR.