Was Obama a liar?

September 10, 2009 | By | 14 Replies More

I’m shaking my head at the terrible news coverage of Republican Joe Wilson’s outburst during Barack Obama’s health care speech last night. I’m not denying that Wilson’s rude behavior is news, but look what’s missing in prominent articles covering this story: Was Obama lying?

It would seem that reporters should be asking whether Obama ever previously took a position on whether illegal aliens should be covered under what he proposes to be the new health care plan.  Consider this AP article, which does what you expect. Wilson is rude; Wilson called the President a liar during a nationally broadcast session of Congress; the President looked stunned; Wilson was heavily criticized; John McCain is applauded for saying the obvious, that Wilson should apologize; Wilson does apologize; lots of head shaking; what will his behavior mean for Republicans?

If I were teaching journalism school, I would tell my cub reporters to figure out whether Obama has ever promoted national health care coverage for illegal aliens. Then I would tell them to report on this central issue.

If Obama has promoted health care coverage for illegal aliens, he was a liar. If he has never taken this position, then Joe Wilson is a liar. If Obama had previously taken the position that illegal aliens won’t be covered, then Joe Wilson is a big fat despicable liar.

If Joe Wilson turns out to be a liar, then his apology would need to go much further than it did; it would need to admit not only that he was rude but that he was the liar; he would need to admit that Obama never advocated health care coverage for illegal aliens. In any case, Wilson should be cross-examined like this by reporters: On what basis did you claim that Obama was lying? Show us your evidence.

If Wilson has no evidence, he should admit that he had no evidence, and then he should add that he makes things up and that he is exactly the sort of mindless obstructionist to health care that shouldn’t be part of the conversation because he is not an evidence-based being.

Unfortunately, the media is once again running wild with the conflict of the moment, with the apology and all the head-shaking.  Instead of covering the obvious issue that would put an end to the big sideshow, most news stories have side-stepped it.

This issue of coverage for illegal immigrants is important for many people. It would be great for the illegal immigrants, of course, but it would also drive up the bill for all of those people who pay taxes (this would include many illegal immigrants). This is an important and contentious issue that needs to be addressed clearly. But when Joe Wilson shouts that Obama is a liar, the media can’t even get to the point: Was Obama a liar? It is so damned difficult to keep the media focused on the actual terms of proposed health care reform.

I do think shouting “Liar” at a President could be appropriate, even in Congress, if the President were lying about an important issue.  It would be an extraordinary thing to do, but what if, for example, the President was lying to Congress that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that a war would be a cheap cake-walk when he knew these to be lies.   In that case, I would think it would be appropriate for a dissenting member of Congress to stand up and call him a liar in order to spare the lives of several thousand American soldier, to prevent tens of thousands of soldiers from being maimed and to prevent the deaths, injuries and homelessness of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people.  Too bad no member of Congress had the guts to stand up and break the silence in early 2003.


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Category: Media

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (14)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:


    I found myself wondering the same thing as I read those stories this morning. This goes back to our recent discussion on the biases in the mainstream media- biases that affect what they choose to focus on.

    Political scientists and pundits have long focused on the style of reporting on politics known as "horse-race" reporting. In other words, they report on the details of who is "winning" rather than the substance of politics. And there are very intriguing, structural reasons why news gets reported that way, but it also helps sell more news. I almost prefer to think of it as soap-opera reporting though, focused on issues of personality and inter-personal conflict rather than issues of character, intellect, and substance.

    In that style of reporting, which is far too common, the truth or falsity of the issue at hand truthfully cannot be called "news"– the newsworthiness of an item springs from the cast of characters involved and the ways in which those characters conflict on a personal level.

    For what it's worth, I found this article which indicated that Obama was opposed to covering illegal immigrants (other than children) under his plan, and this article from MSNBC which fact-checks Obama's speech and finds him credible on this issue. Of course, I also found this article which claims the exact opposite, but appears to have a Republican bias.

  2. Jay Fraz says:

    It seems more and more like the media has been appropriated as a form of information warfare rather than an actual news source.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Also important to point out that Representative Wilson may not have been motivated solely by a disinterested quest for the truth.

    …over his entire congressional career, health professionals represent Wilson’s top industry contributors, donating a total of $244,196 to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics OpenSecrets.org database. He received another $86,150 from pharmaceutical companies, $73,050 from insurance companies and $68,000 from hospitals and nursing homes.

  4. Tim Hogan says:

    Brynn, I checked the article you referenced as possibly Republican biased. The "Newsmax" e-zine is a fanatically rabid far right wing racist neocon rag.

    But, to give the devil its due, I examined the so-called "Heller Amendment."

    The "Heller Amendment would NOT do what the GOP demagogues claim.

    By allowing agencies currently not allowed access to confidential Social Security and equally confidential employment information, illegal but, documented aliens which have fraudulent Social Security Numbers and have fraudulently obtained employment would be guaranteed federally provided health insurance benefits.

    Current law requires EMPLOYERS to verify the legal status of ALL their employees. I've had to fill out I-9s many times.

    BUT, the GOP can't put the onus on employers to simply follow the current law, they have to bail the employers out, and substitute the maximum amount of invasion of our personal privacy possible in its place!

    Oh, and while some agencies are at it, they'll have access to ALL our private confidential Social Security information AND our employment history.

    Gee, I sure want any government agency which wants my private confidential information to have it!

    So, the next time some rude, ignorant yobbo from a state which still has the Confederate flag in its state flag yells; "You Lie!" to a President making a speech to a joint session of Congress, make sure the asshole has his facts straight. I know it doesn't matter to the MSM but, someone should!

    Mr. Wilson deserves censure, and he should resign, like his also pathetic GOP governor pal.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Until last night's raucous triggered a discussion regarding health care and illegal immigrants, had any of us heard any meaningful discussion on that topic? It took a boorish man's yell to get us to ask a basic question regarding health care reform.

    What else haven't we yet discussed in any detail? What will it take to get the discussion going? A car full of circus clowns? Strippers? People committing suicide wearing signs that contain health care topics that we aren't discussing but that we should be?

    Why aren't we having meaningful discussions on this really important issue? Maybe we can't talk anymore as a country. Maybe the process is so utterly broken that we're incapable of doing anything other then watching our country founder–at least until we can't afford our big screen TV's, our computer games, our beauty pageants, our professional sports and the other things that we use to keep ourselves from dealing with issues that we should be discussing.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Today, I received timely email from Josh Levy of Free Press (here's the website):

    The media are derailing the health care debate.

    All summer, I've been outraged as headlines and newscasts fed public hysteria about "death panels" and "socialized medicine" at the expense of substantive coverage of the issues.

    Health care is literally a life-and-death concern. But the media are failing, and fear is winning.

    Fight Fear-Mongering in the Media:

    Donate to the Free Press Action Fund

    Last night was no exception. President Obama took the unusual step of making his case to a joint session of Congress with his arguments for health care reform, but the headlines are all about one disruptive congressman who shouted “you lie” during the speech.

    For the past 24 hours, the media have focused on the controversy surrounding Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst, but not on the substance of his claim — that the president lied about coverage for undocumented immigrants — which is demonstrably false.

    Once again, the media are distracting us from the facts surrounding a vital national issue.

    We Need a Real Debate:

    Help Us Hold the Media Accountable

    Free Press is working hard to create a media system where Big Media’s tiresome echo chamber doesn’t dictate public policy. We're:

    -Building a citizen movement to hold the media accountable as they continue to pursue ratings instead of the truth;

    -Creating a more diverse and independent media system that would provide an antidote to this kind of irresponsible journalism;

    -Supporting quality journalism and strong public media to help restore real debate;

    -Pushing for media policies that benefit all of us, not just giant corporations;

    -Empowering citizens and journalists with an open and accessible Internet free of corporate gatekeepers.

    If these are also YOUR goals, visit Free Press and get involved. http://www.freepress.net/

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    "Let me see you

    Make decisions,

    Without your televisions.

    Let me hear you speaking

    Just for me."

    Lyrics from the song "Stripped" by Rammstein

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, the yappers have been demagogiung on abortion and immigrants since before HB3200 passed the House.

    The theory is that despite the specific language of Section 246 of the bill banning undocumented aliens, and the President's promise on abortion, that at some as yet undetermined future time after implementation, federal funds for healthcare will necessarily be mixed with state funds and because employers don't check, as required by federal law, employees' legality of employment or some states let illegals have drivers' licenses, they'll get healthcare. The abortion issue is similar, what with all the states which use federal Medicaid funds for abortions (federal law prohibits such use!).

    The fact that some "debate" is believed to be necessary about these false issues is the truest measure of the pitiful state of reportage in our country. In a "rush" ( pun intended!)to be "fair" and hear "both sides," the media reports these big, huge, whopping and gynormous lies of the right as though they were true. It is then left to reform advocates to decry the false controversy while the right has its paid sycophants (Lewin-owned by a health insurance company foe of reform!) put out false numbers in support of the false controversy. With unlimited resources, opponents of reform have been successful at confusing consumers BUT, not yet at getting consumers to oppose reform.

    The "Lie!" shout was, IMHO, a deliberate and coordinated attempt by reform opponents to focus attention away from substance and on to other things. Oh, and Illinois Congressman John Shimkus left the speech early and Minority Leader John Boehner was 'tweeting' as the President spoke!

    These people will stop at nothing to make healthcare reform President Ogbama's "Waterloo" and the President needs to stop mollycoddling scoundrels and swat them like flies (he's good at that, remember?)!

  9. ahrcanum says:

    Republican and Democrat immigration and border control policies need a complete overhaul. If Pelosi and Pres O give amnesty to the 12 million or so illegals, would that not then entitle them to our nationalized health care program? I realize many people come here for work but with unemployment so high, the option of finding employer funded health care is diminished.

  10. Karl says:

    I was for the 46 million Americans before I was against the roughly "10" million which leaves the anchor "babies" caught in the fray.


    They may be living in America but they are not legally Americans until some act of Congress grants them similar "rights" once reserved for only its citizens.

    Would any US citizen get free medical treatment in Mexico?

    Obama may not have stated he was for illegal aliens getting public health insurance, but he implies by the use of the numbers that their number significantly impacts the "crisis."

    Call it what you want, the use of unclear numbers which included the illegal aliens as in need of insurance makes it clear to me he wanted to use their presence to influence the matter.

  11. Welcome back, Karl. I was afraid you'd abandoned us.

    Of course their numbers impacts the problem because they do use emergency room services, which contributes to costs. Including them in an assessment of the problem doesn't mean they'll be included in the solution automatically.

    But while Americans likely wouldn't get free health care in Mexico, there are many countries where we would.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      A friend of mine (an American citizen) had a serious medical issue with his leg while traveling in Spain two years ago. He went to the hospital and promptly received professional treatment and some drugs for an infection. He tried to pay on the way out, but the staff refused any payment.

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Was "You lie!" a racist display? Maureen Dowd thinks so.

    But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.


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