For once, mainstream journalists did not retreat to the studied neutrality of quoting dueling antagonists.
They tried to perform last rites on the ludicrous claim about President Obama’s death panels, telling Sarah Palin, in effect, you’ve got to quit making things up.
But it didn’t matter. The story refused to die.
The crackling, often angry debate over health-care reform has severely tested the media’s ability to untangle a story of immense complexity. In many ways, news organizations have risen to the occasion; in others they have become agents of distortion. But even when they report the facts, they have had trouble influencing public opinion.
In the 10 days after Palin warned on Facebook of an America “in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel,’ ” The Washington Post mentioned the phrase 18 times, the New York Times 16 times, and network and cable news at least 154 times (many daytime news shows are not transcribed).