Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, December 22, 2002
Tilting at Windbags

Mark Kleiman did a fine post a few days ago showing how phony claims of 'liberal bias' are drummed up out of nowhere, referencing an article on Bill Frist. Today, Instapundit and the liberal bias whiners are at it again.

Glenn accuses the Times of 'recycling lies' about Frist, citing a post by Tennessee blogger and journalist Bill Hobbs.

The Times article referred to does say, in the 14th paragraph of an overwhelmingly positive profile, that Frist 'is certain to face new scrutiny over racial issues'. The next paragraph refers to the Marion Barry quote that Josh Marshall has recently mentioned. Paragraphs 16 - 19 say:

Also in that campaign, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat from Memphis, demanded that Mr. Frist apologize to African-Americans for remarks that he and a supporter made. Mr. Frist, going to a largely black march against crime, had asked a worker to obtain imprinted pencils to distribute, requesting unsharpened pencils.

"I don't want to get stuck," he told the aide.

A supporter also said the bus was getting "deeper into the jungle" as it approached a black neighborhood.

Mr. Frist said at the time that his remark was not racial and that he could not be held responsible for his supporter's remark. But some blacks said he had been racially insensitive.

Hobbs and Instapundit both call this a 'lie' without giving any explanation of what they mean. No claim is made that Frist never made the remark about 'get[ting] stuck', so they appear to be referring to the claim that this remark had racial connotations - something that the Times never says, but attributes to 'some blacks', the only named critic being plainly identified as a Democratic elected official. At most the Times is making a mountain from a mole hill - or, more accurately, with an offhand reference 16 paragraphs deep into the story, making a slightly larger mole hill out of a miniscule mole hill.

Hobbs, however, isn't finished. He has another post 'exposing' liberal bias which surely sets some kind of record. Check out the opening paragraphs of the sloppy kiss that Hobbs labels 'the liberal media's biased attack on Sen. Bill Frist':

WASHINGTON -- Lawmaker by day, Good Samaritan by night, Sen. Bill First, R-Tenn., is a wealthy doctor-turned-politician who occasionally attends art openings at his family-endowed museum -- but prefers to spend his vacations visiting remote African villages to dispense lifesaving care.

It goes without saying that he pilots his own plane.

So Frist fits neatly into the melodramatic script of Trent Lott's fall from power, cast as the new majority leader called on to rescue the party in a moment of peril. "He really shows the true compassionate conservatism," in the words of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

But this plot twist raises a thorny question that only time will answer: Can those delicate surgeon's fingers manage the backslapping, arm-twisting, hand-holding and pocket-picking that comprise the sometimes grubby backroom reality of a Senate leader's life?

Some of the phrases applied to Frist later in the article include: "notoriously independent...superstar surgeon... expertise... idealism...a Dr. Kildare idealism...the son of a Tennessee legend... a daredevil lad...cosmopolitan...personified the Bush administration dream of conservatism with a friendly face...Party leaders get dreamy-eyed when they picture the new majority leader saving a life on the Capitol grounds-as Frist has done a couple of times in the past eight years. (Once, he resuscitated a collapsed tourist; another time, he tended to the grievously wounded gunman who killed two Capitol police officers. )...toured AIDS-ravaged countries with rock star Bono... an astute and willing negotiator...Tarplin said he was struck by Frist's `ability to synthesize very, very complex subject matter`... worked to provide greater access to health care in impoverished communities... a Boy Scout in all the positive ways... smooth demeanor..."

It's just shocking that the liberal media can use such vicious language about a public figure and get away with it. I hope Sen. Frist has a good libel lawyer.

Here's how the nasty liberal media handles the most dodgy part of Frist's background:

In the late 1980s, the Frist family company was swallowed in a hostile takeover, and Frist's father and brother ceded management control to the owners of what became Columbia/HCA. In 1997, FBI raids on company hospitals turned up widespread Medicare fraud. According to attorneys for the whistleblowers who revealed the massive overbilling, HCA engaged in illegal practices even before the takeover. But Thomas Frist Jr. returned to the helm of the company as unpaid chairman and chief executive, and worked to restore trust in the company.

The account is sloppy on the facts. The merger took place in 1994, not the 1980s, and no other report I found described it as hostile. According to this acount, written during Columbia founder Rick Scott's glory days, HCA initiated the deal. Business Week mentions that after the merger Thomas Frist, Jr remained vice-chairman. The article attributes the claim that illegal practices existed before the merger to "attorneys for the whistleblowers", but briefs filed by DoJ also allege illegal acts preceding the merger by over 5 years. Note that the merger is again described as a takeover. And Forbes stated that HCA's guilty plea on criminal fraud in December, 2000 followed "a seven year investigation" - i.e. an investigation started before the merger. And the article doesn't mention at all the NLRB ruling that Columbia/HCA illegally refused to recognize a nurses union in Kentucky - in this case also some of the illegal acts preceded the merger, although most took place afterwards. These inaccuracies give a false impression maximizing the distance between the Frist family and the illegal activities at HCA. The article also mentions that Thomas Frist returned as CEO without pay in 1997 after the company fell into legal trouble, but neglects to mention that in 1992, his income of $125 million from stock options made him the highest paid executive in the country.

With all this, why does Hobbs find the article to be a "biased attack"? Exactly one word, 'wealthy', which the freeper Hobbs cites favorably complains is applied to Frist but not to Hillary Clinton (who is in fact far less wealthy than Frist). Never mind that the article is glowing enough to have been written by an unusually devoted mother, and soft-pedals or even falsifies some facts to make Frist look better. The presence of one word, neither negative nor inaccurate, alters everything. That one word is enough to prove 'liberal bias'.