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Quite Possibly the Crappiest NYTimes Column for Obamacare Ever
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See update: Brodniak sob story debunked!

Nick Kristof is the recipient of not one, but two Pulitzer Prizes for journalism. He has traveled the world, writes critically acclaimed books, and counts Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie among his glamorous friends. He is also the author of what may quite possibly be the crappiest New York Times column for Obamacare ever.

It is subtly titled, “Are We Going to Let John Die?” and is dripping with the emotional and policy intelligence of your average Democratic Underground commenter. Kristof tells the sad story of John Brodniak, 23, a sawmill worker from Yamhill County, Oregon. 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.


A Merciful War


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.






Twitter users, Kristof is here.


Update: A doctor’s message for Nick Kristof — and NYTimes readers point out more holes.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Health care, New York Times