The Essence of Truth

The Wall Street Journal news pages are following up on a contention made in an op-ed the newspaper ran, namely that President Obama was a little loose with the facts in his big health care speech.

In an article headlined “Obama Used Faulty Anecdote in Speech to Congress,” reporter Jonathan Weisman writes:

President Barack Obama, seeking to make a case for health-insurance regulation, told a poignant story to a joint session of Congress last week. An Illinois man getting chemotherapy was dropped from his insurance plan when his insurer discovered an unreported gallstone the patient hadn’t known about.

“They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it,” the president said in the nationally televised address.

In fact, the man, Otto S. Raddatz, didn’t die because the insurance company rescinded his coverage once he became ill, an act known as recission. The efforts of his sister and the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan got Mr. Raddatz’s policy reinstated within three weeks of his April 2005 rescission and secured a life-extending stem-cell transplant for him. Mr. Raddatz died this year, nearly four years after the insurance showdown.

Don’t worry, though. The White House says the president “got the essence of the story correct.”

No, he didn’t. The president said Raddatz died because of a delay in treatment. That didn’t happen. So why did the president think it did?

Obama speech writers appear to have been informed by erroneous media reports, including an article on Slate.com that stated, “The delay in treatment eliminated Raddatz’s chances of recovery, and he died.” Its author, Timothy Noah, said Wednesday that he wasn’t contacted by the White House and didn’t realize Mr. Raddatz hadn’t died because of the treatment delay.

You need to have better confirmation than media reports before you put such a charged anecdote into a presidential speech before Congress.

In the Bush Administration, we ran into our own fact-checking issue surrounding “those 16 words” about British intelligence reporting that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake from Africa. In that instance, the line was approved by everyone from NSC to CIA – and the British maintained that it was correct. Hard for a speechwriting office to do more than that.

To bring this full circle, it was that 2003 speech that formed the basis for the first Joe Wilson’s discredited claims that President Bush was a liar.

Last week’s speech brought notoriety to the second Joe Wilson for shouting that President Obama is a liar.

It’s clear that President Obama didn’t intentionally lie. But it’s also clear, contra Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s assertion, that highlighting the president’s mistake isn’t a case of playing “gotcha.” It’s a matter of expecting that the president will, in fact, ground “the essence” of his arguments in truth.

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  • The essence here is not about the death or being saved/alive, the message was about how important a health care to a person especially if life and death matters.

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