NBC: After Town Hall 'Madness' Obama Condition 'Stable'; Don't Fact Check Obama

NBC on Tuesday night tried to turn public opposition to ObamaCare into a “split” in public opinion discovered in a new NBC News poll as Chuck Todd assessed Obama's health effort is “still in serious condition politically, but it is stable,” and he listed four charges against the Democratic bills which he asserted have “been checked independently and proven to be false,” yet NBC didn't inquire about any claims from Obama and other liberals that those same groups have discredited. (Asked their TV source of health policy news, 64 percent listed ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or MSNBC. Another 23 percent said Fox News, only 7 percent named MSNBC.)

Todd also tried to minimize the impact -- of what he derided as the “town hall madness” -- by attributing the view of them to partisan positions without mentioning how independents consider them beneficial: “And those town halls -- the country is evenly divided -- 43 percent say they've done more harm than good; 42 percent say they've done more good than harm. And by overwhelming majority, Democrats believe they're harmful. Republicans believe they're good.” On MSNBC.com, however, NBC News deputy political director Mark Murray pointed out: “Independents believe, by a 50-34 percent margin, that the protests have done more good.”

Todd recounted how “Obama's overall job approval rating has dropped -- now just 51 percent [down 2 points], with 40 percent disapproving. On health care the President's job rating, while unchanged, still only has 41 percent approving, 47 percent disapproving.” But “it's even worse for Republicans in Congress. Just 21 percent approve of how they are handling health care – 62 percent disapprove.” Despite a 13 point gap, Todd saw a “split” in opinion: “The public is split over reform efforts: 54 percent worry the President's efforts go too far and will make the system worse; 41 percent are concerned reforms won't go far enough.”

Todd recited four claims he declared false:
55 percent believe illegal immigrants will get health care insurance. 50 percent believe taxpayer money will be used to pay for abortions. 54 percent believe the government will eventually take over health care. And 45 percent believe the plan empowers the government to decide when to stop giving medical care to the elderly.
“Every single one of those statements has been checked independently and proven to be false,” Todd maintained before concluding:
The bottom line on health care is that when this town hall madness started three weeks ago the President's plan was in serious condition. It's still in serious condition politically, but it is stable.
As for the accuracy of those criticisms, they are really more predictions of what the proposed policies will lead to, whether because of intended or unintended consequences. Last week, ABC's Kate Snow wasn't so certain as Todd about abortion: “Will health care reform lead to taxpayer-funded abortions? Unclear.”  

FactCheck.org does indeed identify some conservative claims as “false,” but they also list some liberal claims as “false,” though NBC didn't ask about those or note how advocates are also making questionable assertions. Amongst a list of “7 falsehoods” FactCheck.org named “The Bill Is Paid For” and “Families Will Save $2,500.” Another posting discredits Obama's insistence everyone will be able to keep their current insurance and doctor.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the lead story on the Tuesday, August 18 NBC Nightly News:
LESTER HOLT: Good evening. I'm Lester Holt in for Brian Williams. We begin tonight with the results of an exclusive new NBC News poll concerning how Americans feel about the job President Obama is doing, and about an issue that could define his presidency – health care. And on both questions, it seems Mr. Obama has hit a rough patch. His job approval rating has dropped five points since the start of summer. And our new poll taken in the middle of those much-talked-about town hall meetings also finds the country still deeply divided over how far the government should go to reform the health care system. NBC's chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd joins us now to break down the numbers. Hello, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Good evening, Lester. Look, it's been a heated three weeks on health care, no doubt about that. And while there is a large majority that agrees there needs to be a major overhaul of the health care system, it's about the only point of agreement in this poll. The scenes are familiar now. Passionate support.

CLIP OF PROTESTERS: Health care for all!

TODD: Passionate opposition.

CLIP OF PROTESTERS: Who's going to pay?!

TODD: For the President the debate hasn't been particularly helpful. For the third straight month, Mr. Obama's overall job approval rating has dropped – now just 51 percent, with 40 percent disapproving. On health care the President's job rating, while unchanged, still only has 41 percent approving, 47 percent disapproving. Lyle Rexler of Brooklyn is withholding judgment.

LYLE REXLER: You know, we won't know how good a job he did until we find out whether, you know, he gets something through. Then we'll find out if he did a good job or not.

TODD: It's even worse for Republicans in Congress. Just 21 percent approve of how they are handling health care – 62 percent disapprove. The public is split over reform efforts – 54 percent worry the President's efforts go too far and will make the system worse; 41 percent are concerned reforms won't go far enough. Clarence Mills, an Obama supporter from eastern Maryland, believes the President needs to be flexible.

CLARENCE MILLS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: I think he ought to deal with the public, you know, and see what the people want, you know, listen to the people and do what they want him to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN TALKING TO SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I'm sorry, sir, I just don't believe you.

TODD: And those town halls – the country is evenly divided – 43 percent say they've done more harm than good; 42 percent say they've done more good than harm. And by overwhelming majority, Democrats believe they're harmful. Republicans believe they're good. Michelle Mockey of Lawrenceville, Georgia, voted for John McCain in 2008.

MICHELLE MOCKEY, MCCAIN VOTER: I think the town halls are a good idea. I think that they are allowing people to vent some frustration.

MILLS: Most of the people that's doing the yelling and screaming, they're showing their dark side.

TODD: As for those controversial allegations about what's likely to happen, the President has some work to do.

BILL LAKE: But he is not really communicating with the average American out there.

TODD: 55 percent believe illegal immigrants will get health care insurance. 50 percent believe taxpayer money will be used to pay for abortions. 54 percent believe the government will eventually take over health care. And 45 percent believe the plan empowers the government to decide when to stop giving medical care to the elderly. Paulette Bruno's South Florida e-mail inbox has been jammed.

PAULETTE BRUNO: People over the age of 65, God forbid if they have a serious illness, such as cancer, they're going to be pushed off to the side, and they're just going to be left to die.

TODD: Lester, to clarify, every single one of those statements has been checked independently and proven to be false. The bottom line on health care is that when this town hall madness started three weeks ago the President's plan was in serious condition. It's still in serious condition politically, but it is stable.

HOLT: And, Chuck, over the weekend, the administration expressed some willingness to negotiate in the so-called public option. Do the numbers from this poll bear out that decision to be a bit more flexible here?

TODD: It does. We've asked the public option question the same way two months in a row. And last month, there was a bare plurality were in favor of it. This month, a bare plurality are against it. And it's Democrats against Democrats. Base liberal Democrats are very much gung ho for this idea. Nearly 80 percent approve of the plan. But the nonliberal Democrats that live in some of these conservative rural areas, they are less supportive, still supportive, but less supportive. And it may explain why he's having a tough time selling other Democrats in his own party, Lester.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center