In the wake of a FAIR Action Alert (4/6/09), Frontline has responded to critics of its documentary Sick Around America, defending the film’s focus on mandatory private health insurance and its exclusion of the single-payer option. (Frontline’s full response follows.)
In an email response to FAIR (4/7/09), Frontline characterized FAIR’s charge that the documentary presented mandatory for-profit healthcare as the only alternative to the current U.S. healthcare system as “untrue” because the film’s narrator acknowledged that “other developed countries bar health insurance companies from making profits on basic care and cap their administrative costs.”
While it’s true that FAIR’s alert had not cited that statement, it did note that this point had been made in the film by a source. As FAIR’s Action Alert explained, though, “the only alternative to the current U.S. healthcare system that was examined in any depth in Sick Around America was Massachusetts’ system of mandating that people buy insurance from for-profit health insurance companies.”
FAIR’s alert also pointed out that Sick Around America misrepresented the findings of Frontline’s earlier documentary, Sick Around the World (4/15/08). In response to a statement by a spokesperson for health insurance trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans that her industry could offer universal coverage if the government mandated all citizens to have insurance, the film’s narrator stated, “That’s what other developed countries do.”
Frontline’s editors have denied that this was misleading, emphasizing in a letter responding to an article by Corporate Crime Reporter’s Russell Mokhiber (4/2/09) that “America’s Health Insurance Plans represents both for-profit and non-profit companies.” (The Frontline editors’ full response is at the bottom of this email.)
It’s true that this industry lobby group represents some non-profit companies, but the narrator’s claim is still misleading. Most of the health insurance companies represented by America’s Health Insurance Plans are for-profit–while, as FAIR’s alert pointed out, no developed country other than the United States relies primarily on a system of for-profit insurance. Frontline’s report conveyed the opposite impression.
Frontline’s editors have also been dismissing the fallout between Frontline and journalist T. R. Reid. Reid had worked on Sick Around the World and told Mokhiber that he left the production of Sick Around America because he felt that it contradicted the earlier film, which had emphasized that no other countries used for-profit health insurance and had examined the models of Taiwan’s and Britain’s publicly funded healthcare systems.
The editors stated, “Frontline believes the dispute centered on a conflict between Frontline’s journalistic commitment to fair and nuanced reporting and its aversion to policy advocacy and Mr. Reid’s commitment to advocacy for specific healthcare policy reforms, for positions he apparently advocates in his forthcoming book.”
Misleading the public about global healthcare systems and failing to explore any of the publicly funded alternatives to America’s private insurance system, is a strange way indeed of demonstrating commitment to “fair and nuanced reporting.”