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Unbelievable update: The crappiest NYTimes column on Obamacare just got crappier; Update: Kristof’s disingenuous non-response

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By Michelle Malkin  •  December 2, 2009 07:51 PM

Scroll for updates…Kristof non-responds…holes remain…

Today, I did something that Pulitzer Prize-winning NYTimes columnist Nick Kristof apparently didn’t do: I talked to a spokesman at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon.

I called them up after OHSU’s Dr. Johnny Delashaw left a comment about Kristof’s piece spotlighting the horrible plight of John Brodniak, an Oregon man with a neurological condition that he says no one would treat.

Kristof used Brodniak’s plight to argue for universal health care, decry Brodniak’s deadly lack of insurance (even though he got Medicaid coverage in August), and lambaste doctors for refusing to treat Brodniak due to low reimbursements.

Well, OHSU confirmed for me two things:

1) OHSU is a safety-net hospital not far from where Brodniak lives. The hospital accepts all Medicaid patients and would not turn Brodniak away.

Okay, are you ready for Number 2?

2) Brodniak is a patient at OHSU — and has been a patient there for the past three weeks.

In other words, at the time Kristof’s article was published this past Sunday, Brodniak was already being treated and cared for by some of the best neurologists in the country!

The spokesman told me that the Brodniaks were willing to confirm “reluctantly” for me that he has been a patient there for nearly a month, but they refuse to talk to me directly. The spokesman also told me that OHSU will not make its doctors available for further comment on the matter.

Kristof’s readers have been raising money to pay for the Brodniaks to get him treated. But Brodniak is covered. He doesn’t have to pay a dime.

Will Kristof tell his readers the rest of the “horror story?” Or isn’t the whole truth fit to print in the Fishwrap of Record?

Here’s a screencap of his blog post promoting the column for posterity:

A reminder of the hysterical title of Kristof’s piece: “Are We Going To Let John Die?”

Er, why don’t you pose that question to the doctors who have been treating John Brodniak the past three weeks and tell your readers to stop bashing Joe Lieberman for opposing the Demcare public option?

***

Kristof’s readers and supporters continue to point to his column on Brodniak as the archetypal argument for Obamacare (scroll through the hundreds and hundreds of comments here).

So: John Brodniak, a man who already has government health insurance and is already being treated for his illness, is the New York Times’s poster boy for why we need a new, massive nationalized health care system in order to cover and treat more people like Brodniak…who is already covered and being treated.

Sorry, this Pulitzer Prize-level logic and journalism is giving me a headache.

***

Not that he’ll pay attention to non-Pulitzer Prize peons in the blogosphere, but I’m e-mailing the NYTimes ombudsman. You can, too: Here.

***

For the lazy MSM journalist who doesn’t want to click through the links to my original dissection of Kristof’s column, here were my main points:

…Kristof reports that Brodniak has been diagnosed with cavernous hemangioma. And more tragedy:

With John unable to work, he lost his job — and his insurance coverage. Esther had insurance for herself and for her two children (from a previous marriage) through her job building manufactured homes. But she couldn’t add John to her plan because of his pre-existing condition.

Without insurance, John has been unable to get surgery or even help managing the pain. When he collapses or suffers particularly excruciating headaches, Esther rushes him to the emergency room of one hospital or another, but an E.R. can’t do much for him. One hospital has told them not to come back unless he gets insurance, they say. That meant that the couple had no income — and no insurance for anyone in the family, including the children. Neighbors have helped, and a community program has paid the rent so that they are not homeless. But bills are piling up, and John and Esther don’t know how they will cope.

The column crescendos with a clarion, hysterical call to Congress to Do Something:

John’s story is not so unusual. A Harvard study, to be published next month in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that almost 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a consequence of not having insurance. John may become one of them.

If a senator strolled indifferently by as John retched in pain, we would think that person pitiless. But isn’t it just as monstrous for politicians to avert their eyes, make excuses and deny coverage to innumerable Americans just like John?

Kristof follows up with a blog post on his column titled, “The Human Toll of our Health System.” The comments section is filled with doctor-bashing single-payer zealots bemoaning Brodniak’s case and heaping praise on Kristof for his brilliance. Kristof writes:

Read his story and see if you still think the need for universal coverage isn’t urgent. His story seems to me the best rebuttal of the skeptics.

Of course, my column doesn’t get into the issue of costs. They are a real issue, for universal health care is expensive. But as I’ve noted the annual cost of health reform and the annual cost of our Afghan deployment is about the same — except the former is paid for, while the latter isn’t.

How crappy is this piece? Let us count the ways:

1) Crappy journalism. Read through the column and you won’t find a single doctor, hospital official, or Oregon Medicaid official quoted. Did Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kristof bother to try and confirm Brodniak’s medical condition with another source. Nope:

The doctors warn that pressure from the growth could lead a major blood vessel nearby to burst, killing him. “They tell me I’m a time bomb,” John said. With a touch of bitterness, he adds, “It sort of feels as if they’re playing for time to see if it bursts, to save them from doing anything.”

I’m not a physician, and I certainly can’t speak to the medical issues here. But I have examined John’s medical records, and they appear to confirm his story.

As for why Brodniak hasn’t been able to get the surgery he says he needs, all we have is this:

John says the principal obstacle to treatment appears to be simply his lack of insurance.

(empahsis added)

And why won’t any doctor do the surgery? All we have is what Brodniak told Kristof:

In August, he qualified for an Oregon Medicaid program, but he hasn’t been able to find a doctor who will accept him as a patient for surgery, apparently because the reimbursements are so low.

Deep investigative journalism there!

Would a New York Times editor ever allow a conservative columnist arguing against Obamacare to get away with this kind of sourcing?

I have contacted Oregon’s Medicaid office, by the way, for comment and response to Kristof.

2) Crappy emotionalism. The column leaves the tear-jerking impression that Brodniak is just inches away from dying for lack of health insurance — and that he is a shining example of why, in Kristof’s words, “universal coverage” is so “urgent.”

But, um, Kristof himself reports an inconvenient fact in his overwrought column: Brodniak has government health insurance! You read it in the sentence quoted above:

In August, he qualified for an Oregon Medicaid program…

So, the problem isn’t the absence of a government-run safety net. The problem is apparently too-low reimbursements in his case. But Kristof apparently didn’t seek any confirmation of Brodniak’s assertion that those considerations (a general problem in Oregon) were specifically at the heart of Brodniak’s apparent experience with denial of care.

And Kristof apparently is too busy gnashing his teeth about heartless politicians and greedy doctors to think about what Obamacare would actually do to solve what he and Brodniak assert is the underlying problem.

Let me help: Obamacare would slash government health care reimbursements, not raise them. Open any local newspaper and you’ll find a doctor decrying the proposed Democrat cuts, Sherlock. See also: 45% of doctors would consider quitting under Obamacare.

3) Crappy follow-up. Kristof leaves the distinct and dire impression that Brodniak’s wife and children were also cruelly left out in the cold — and that only “universal coverage” can save them all! But you may recall that Obama signed massive tobacco tax hikes into law to expand S-CHIP. Kristof doesn’t say whether Brodniak had applied for his children prior to gaining Medicaid coverage and if not, why not.

Kristof actually does hit on a very real problem that needs fixing: Dependence on employer-based health insurance. The GOP and conservatives have proposed alternatives to address this problem. Kristof is silent on the matter.

Too practical. Not human drama-inducing enough.

Reader Greg e-mails another unsolved mystery: “[I]f someone lost his insurance because he lost his job, why didn’t he qualify for COBRA coverage? It’s expensive, but if this condition is life threatening as Kristof claims, then John himself has apparently put a price tag on his own well being.”

4) Crappy hypocrisy. Kristof sounds the usual moonbat talking points in invoking the cost of the war in Afghanistan to justify shrugging at the costs of a government health care takeover.

He might be able to get away with this if had been a consistent opponent of the Afghanistan invasion from day one. But back when New York Times columnists backed the Afghanistan invasion in the months after the 9/11 attacks, Kristof argued passionately that the war wasn’t merely worth the cost — but was actually a net life-saver.

Remember?

A Merciful War
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: Friday, February 1, 2002

One of the uncomfortable realities of the war on terrorism is that we Americans have killed many more people in Afghanistan than died in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Over the last couple of months I’ve tried to tabulate the Afghan death toll. My best guess is that we killed 8,000 to 12,000 Taliban fighters, along with about 1,000 Afghan civilians.

So what is the lesson of this? Is it that while pretending to take the high road, we have actually slaughtered more people than Osama bin Laden has? Or that military responses are unjustifiable because huge numbers of innocents inevitably are killed?

No, it’s just the opposite.

Our experience there demonstrates that troops can advance humanitarian goals just as much as doctors or aid workers can. By my calculations, our invasion of Afghanistan may end up saving one million lives over the next decade.

What happened to your cost-benefit calculator, Mr. Kristof?

5) Crappy junk science. Kristof ends his column by citing the bogus health statistic that won’t die. Let’s look again at the quote:

John’s story is not so unusual. A Harvard study, to be published next month in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that almost 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a consequence of not having insurance. John may become one of them.

As I reported last month, the study was the work of dyed-in-the-wool single payer zealots who had no way of assessing whether the survey participants received insurance coverage between the time they answered the questionnaires and the time they died and no way of assessing whether the deaths could have been averted with health insurance coverage. A significant portion of those classified as “uninsured” may not have even been uninsured, based on past studies that actually did verify insurance status. But the agenda-driven researchers just took the rate of uninsurance from the original study (3.3 percent), applied it to census data, and voila: more than 44,000 Americans are dying from lack of insurance.

So, Kristof cites a junk science study to bolster his rallying cry on behalf of a man who might become the next casualty of lack of health insurance. Except that he does have health insurance and the current single-payer-friendly Democrat proposals on the table would do nothing to save Brodniak from death.

Pultizer Prize-level journalism from the Fishwrap of Record.

***

Pssst. NYTimes “opinion media monitor.” Are you there?

***

I’ve highlighted Kristof’s shoddy health reporting before.

See:

KRISTOF CITES DISCREDITED ABORTION STATISTICS
KRISTOF DEFENDS BOGUS ABORTION ANALYSIS
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH, MR. KRISTOF

***

Hey, where’s that NYTimes “opinion media monitor” when you need him/her?! From NYT ombudsman Clark Hoyt’s September 26 column:

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.

***

11:37pm Eastern Update: Well, Kristof can’t be bothered to respond to my Tweets directly — or to actually read anything I’ve written about his crappy column — but he did have time to add this update to his blog post tonight:

UPDATE 3: Several readers are asking about a Michelle Malkin account claiming that John was already receiving treatment at OHSU. John had one appointment there. He says he was told to give up, that they could not help him, and he was despairing when he told me about it; their version is different, that he was under “observation.” In any case, he says that after the column appeared, he suddenly got a series of phone calls from OHSU saying that they wanted to see him and could address his needs after all. In any case, it now appears that he will get treated, and other doctors are also offering him assistance.

I didn’t merely “claim” that Brodniak was being treated. The Brodniaks, through OHSU, informed me that John Brodniak has been a patient there for three weeks. Not “one appointment.” Not “under ‘observation.’” He has been a patient there for three weeks.

Note how, once again, Kristof relies solely on Brodniak’s accounts to him (“he says,” “he says,” “it now appears”).

“In any case, it now appears that he will get treated:” Complete disingenuousness.

He has been treated, Mr. Kristof. He was getting treated BEFORE you tried to make a federal case out of him not being treated.

Joe Wilson moment.

Before you start bashing the OHSU doctors, I remind you, Mr. Kristof, of your own words in your column:

“I’m not a physician, and I certainly can’t speak to the medical issues here.”

I remind you that there are also many other remaining holes in the story — see here.

Here’s a question: Brodniak claims the “closest E.R.” to him “told him not to come back.” Several readers who work in E.R.’s cite federal law prohibiting such behavior. Which hospital was it, and which personnel, told Brodniak that, Mr. Kristof?

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