Monday, August 10, 2009

Confusing Town Halls and Health Care Attacks

A favorite Warren Zevon song is "Lawyers, Guns and Money." Motivation and means to get what you want, or the tools to wage battle.

In the case of our current health care debate, all we need to do is simply replace "Guns" with "Words."

Unless you've been on vacation in another country with your Blackberry turned off, the big news these past few days has been the disruptions at town hall meetings to discuss health care reform and an almost hourly claim-counterclaim avalanche of stories about the bill before Congress.

Accusations are flying. Fingers are being pointed. Police are being called in to help escort members of Congress out of nasty town hall meetings. Aides and staffers are staying up late to counter statements and brief reporters on background.

It's a classic disinformation campaign, for those who have followed national politics the past century.

Yes, Americans could do their own digging and get the facts about the proposed legislation. And, they could also see whose goose could be cooked. Or, you can let others do that.

For instance, reporters and special interests are digging, eventually discovering what appears to be some old-school dirty politics. Check out how the Sierra Club is battling this and turning up some interesting information. Fascinating that an environmental group could find their niche in this one.

This incredible trail of information (or misinformation) campaigns is helping (hurting?) the quest to bring this issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness. BBQ and cocktail party discussions include personal stories that point out what's wrong with our nation's health care system. Some of us are even watching "Sicko" again just to see just how England's National Health Service really pulls it off.

So, what does this tell us?

Simply - this health care initiative must be really, really important. And it's time to pay attention. It's time to understand there are major disinformation efforts under way to deliberately confuse us.


Never in this century has a president come this far to a major overhaul of the nation's health care system.

It's not like we didn't know this battle was coming. This was a priority for Obama during the campaign, and the essence of his pledge to Sen. Ted Kennedy that earned him Kennedy's endorsement.

If anything, this is a battle for mindshare. And, communications are at the heart of this battle.

So far, the tactics and strategies cover the gambit.

On the opponent's side, there are these examples: Disrupt town hall meetings with either "plants" or with citizens who have been fed scary, but wrong, information. Overwhelm the news media with claims and "facts" to the point that proponents are forced to respond, thereby causing the news media to cover the battles rather than provide us clear, unbiased information about the bill's contents.

Or, feed the media with juicy tidbits about who is behind the campaigns and, again, it draws attention and time away from discussing the merits and fine points of the bill.

The White House has been aggressive, particularly on the social media and Internet fronts. The Reality Check Web site is too hard to resist (Nice to see former Los Angeles television reporter Linda Douglass in one of these clips). Yet, some want the White House to fight harder and, perhaps, dirtier.

Frankly, these strategies are nothing new. Just the execution, the channels and the frequency are different.

So, where will this go? Will we see a new communications strategy?

My instincts tell me: No. The old tactics still seem to work. At least, for the opposition.

Even as the best communications and political strategists on both sides are, right now, plotting the next move (in what seems to be an almost hourly process), it seems we will continue to see a strategy of: Punch, then counter-punch. Claim, then counter-claim. Fact, then the real facts.

Why no new thinking? The fundamentals -- money and fear -- are still present and too easy to resist.

And, so, money and fear will drive the rest of this debate.

Can opponents create enough confusion, fear and anger among the populace to start a small revolt or significant letter-writing effort to further stall the reform bill or generate enough compromises that this is no longer a "reform" initiative? Will special interests opposed to the bill calculate that being exposed - eventually - about their large cash outlays to front groups and questionable tactics is worth the risk? Is there enough cash among proponents to wage an advertising campaign once the August recess is over?

Lawyers, Words and Money. I'm sure Warren would approve.

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