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Posted by on Oct 10, 2007 in Health, Media, Politics | 26 comments

Guest Voice: Frost Bite

NOTE: The Moderate Voice from time to time runs Guest Voice posts by readers who don’t have their own website or some people who do who want to present their view to TMV’s diverse readership. Guest Voice columns do not necessarily reflect the opinion of TMV or its writers. This is by The Mystery Reader whose identity is known to yours truly (and he has had our respect for his thoughtfulness for years), but who wishes to remain anonymous.

Frost Bite

By The Mystery Reader

I don’t know why President Bush wants to stop kids who really need help from getting CHIP. All I know is I have some really good doctors. They took great care of me when I was sick, and I’m glad I could see them because of the Childrens Health Program.

On September 29, the Democratic Party introduced the American public to Graeme Frost, 12, a young man who received medical treatment after his family was involved in an auto accident. His speech — the “Democratic response” to President Bush’s radio address that week — was perfect. He was not in a “serious auto accident.” He was in a “really bad car accident.” He did not “receive care for critical injuries.” He “needed a big surgery.” No doubt, the Democrats would have added a teddy bear or a cute puppy to complete the picture, but such props, unfortunately, are not really visible over the radio.

The blowback, to put it mildly, has been intense. For the last week, conservative bloggers have not been kind to either young Master Frost or to his family, alleging the family was not truly needy and generally nosing around the Frosts’ personal life. The New York Times covers the controversy rather well, noting the opposite sides that conservatives and liberals have taken on this this family.

Bloggers here at TMV, particularly Shaun Mullen and the esteemed Mr. Joe Gandelman, have been extremely impassioned in their defense of the Frost family, arguing forcefully that it is unfair to attack a 12-year-old child and that examining the Frosts distracts from the overall SCHIP debate.

They are wrong on both counts.

Today, Ed Morrissey, responding to TMV blogger Shaun Mullen’s post, takes a reasonable stand, essentially arguing that looking into the Frosts’ background is in-bounds. However, Morrissey adds:

However, the response on the Right sometimes outstripped reason. Rather than just argue the facts, some in the comments section here and elsewhere went too far in speculating about finances and motives of the Frost family.

I mostly agree with Morrissey, but I want to add a little bit more here. In any discussion of policy, it is generally understood that each side is free to attack the other side’s arguments, examining both overall arguments and the support for those arguments.

On Sept. 29, the Democrats presented the Frost family as a living, breathing argument in favor of expanding SCHIP. I fail to see how an examination of the family, including its finances, through interviews and an examination of public records (as well as those records the family is willing to give) is any worse than dismantling a simpler argument that a faceless family of such-and-such income and assets should qualify for SCHIP.

A failure to examine the Frost family, in fact, amounts to simply accepting at face value Democrats’ assertion that the Frost family is poor, that young Master Frost was in an auto accident, and he and his family would not have received necessary medical care without government assistance.

The fact that young Master Frost is 12 rather than 21 does not grant the Democrats’ argument an exemption from this particular rule of debate or from the proper scrutiny that members of the media should give any any and all policy arguments … particularly when one side or the other invokes children, senior citizens, veterans, puppies, or any other sympathetic class to put forward a policy argument.

Young Master Frost and his family have, in fact, turned out to be fairly good examples of the types of people who would benefit from SCHIP. They’re middle class — lower middle class for their area, in fact, their children are uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions, and they encountered unexpected medical costs that were beyond their means to pay. But these sorts of facts cannot be found without a thorough examination.

In sum, turning young Master Frost into a mascot for SCHIP renewal was not the conservatives’ choice — it was the Democrats. Any inquiry into the family’s background flows from this decision.

The viciousness of some of the criticisms, however, does not, and vitriolic attacks against the family, particularly those based on innuendo, supposition, and rumor, are out of bounds, and rightly condemned.

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  • George Sorwell

    So, it’s okay to complain stridently about a 12-year-old?

    Yet strident complaints about about grown men who have reached senior military rank are so far beyond the pale that they must be denounced?

    No sale!!!

  • C Stanley

    Strident complaints in the form of fact checking in the case of Petraeus, were not denounced. In fact that’s exactly what Congress should have been doing, and what anti-war activists should have focused on rather than character assassination.

    FTR, I thought the Congressional resolution was stupid and a bit too close to censorship- but I don’t buy the analogy you’re making, George.

  • jjc

    The viciousness of some of the criticisms, however, does not, and vitriolic attacks against the family, particularly those based on innuendo, supposition, and rumor, are out of bounds, and rightly condemned.

    To me, this is burying the lead.

    I simply don’t think that inspecting the public records in regards to this family was ever the issue. That said, I’ll agree that the public records were and are fair game.

    But are the people themselves? Do they become “celebrities” because the kid delivered a speech over the radio, subject to self-styled right-wing paparazzi?

    I don’t disagree with any of the individual points made here, but it seems to me the emphasis is entirely off.

  • George Sorwell

    C Stanley–

    The attacks on this 12-year-old kid and his family are character assassination?

    Many, many, many of the people doing it are hypocites who boldly expressed outrage over attacks on an adult.

    Deny what you want. Defend what you like.

  • krit

    So the message to the Frost family should be- don’t get involved in a political cause that you believe in, because you are leaving yourselves and your child open to vicious attacks from the right? As, far as I can see they were standing up for what they believed in. That’s supposed to be how our democracy works. They have committed no crime in doing so. Those who stoop to lower themselves by smearing others are the real culprits.

  • C Stanley

    Maybe we should define what everyone thinks should have been a fair response. Some seem to say fact checking was appropriate. What kind of fact checking? Was it inappropriate for any journalists or bloggers to contact the family? If that became an overwhelming number of calls, is that harrassment? I’m not sure where we draw these lines, and I think different people are drawing them in different places.

    Kim: I think there’s a big difference between getting politically involved, and even encouraging your kids to do so, and putting your child forward as the human face of a problem for a political party’s usage in the public debate.

  • C Stanley

    C Stanley–

    The attacks on this 12-year-old kid and his family are character assassination?

    Many, many, many of the people doing it are hypocites who boldly expressed outrage over attacks on an adult.

    Deny what you want. Defend what you like.

    You’re using apples and oranges to make your point, George. Some people questioned Petraeus’ facts, which is appropriate, others chose to denigrate his reputation which was not. Some people chose to check the facts behind this family’s need for SCHIP (and the writer of this column argues that this was appropriate) and other people tried to denigrate the family which was not.

    If the apples are the appropriate criticisms in each case and the oranges the inappropriate, you’re trying to compare the orange in the Petraeus story to the apple in the Frost story. The writer of this post didn’t defend the oranges who actually did attack Frost.

  • C Stanley

    C Stanley–

    The attacks on this 12-year-old kid and his family are character assassination?

    Many, many, many of the people doing it are hypocites who boldly expressed outrage over attacks on an adult.

    Deny what you want. Defend what you like.

    You’re using apples and oranges to make your point, George. Some people questioned Petraeus’ facts, which is appropriate, others chose to denigrate his reputation which was not. Some people chose to check the facts behind this family’s need for SCHIP (and the writer of this column argues that this was appropriate) and other people tried to denigrate the family which was not.

    If the apples are the appropriate criticisms in each case and the oranges the inappropriate, you’re trying to compare the orange in the Petraeus story to the apple in the Frost story. The writer of this post didn’t defend the oranges who actually did attack Frost.

  • krit

    CS- I don’t. Often political change comes after putting a human face on the issue. That’s how civil rights activists worked- putting kids right on the front lines, and how antiwar activists tried to end support for Vietnam.

  • George Sorwell

    C Stanley–

    Fact checking?

    How many wrong facts were being thrown about the 12-year-old kid and his family yeaterday?

    And when the facts were known? Why don’t I answer that one my quoting from the Mystery Reader, author of this very post:

    Young Master Frost and his family have, in fact, turned out to be fairly good examples of the types of people who would benefit from SCHIP. They’re middle class — lower middle class for their area, in fact, their children are uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions, and they encountered unexpected medical costs that were beyond their means to pay.

    The Mystery Reader goes on to say:

    But these sorts of facts cannot be found without a thorough examination.

    So I’m not buying your explanation that this was nothing but a fact-check. Once again, the Mystery Reader sums up what it was:

    alleging the family was not truly needy and generally nosing around the Frosts’ personal life.

    As far as your desire to define this on the narrowest possible grounds, I’ll quote myself:

    No sale!!!

    Deny what you want. Defend what you like.

  • George Sorwell

    I apologize for my spelling errors in the previous comment.

    I hope my meaning, however, was clear.

  • Uncle Joe Mccarthy

    nice strawman argument

    thorough examination is one thing….spreading lies through wingnut radio and wingnut blogs is quite another

    mystery reader…please link to the right wing blogs and/or wingnut talkers that are now saying…”gosh, this family perfectly fits into what the schp program was made for”

    they cant be found

  • capelza

    The viciousness of some of the criticisms, however, does not, and vitriolic attacks against the family, particularly those based on innuendo, supposition, and rumor, are out of bounds, and rightly condemned.

    I agree this is burying the lead.

    Fact checking, I mean actual fact checking, would have stayed a lot of the egregious behaviour. I would like to think so. But honestly I don’t think it would have. fact checking would have defeated the purpose..to kill the messenger.

  • hanginjohnny

    The viciousness of some of the criticisms, however, does not, and vitriolic attacks against the family, particularly those based on innuendo, supposition, and rumor, are out of bounds, and rightly condemned.

    I agree-
    – this is the modus operandi of pundits who type off pithy statements in order to rabble-rouse and shore up ready support for half-baked fallacies. Agit-prop chumming is what it amounts to. It should not be the hallmark of journalism in the 21st century. So many play Blind men and the Elephant. And what they end up with is too much junk in the trunk.

    Particularly egregious of this off-hand sniping ( at least that stood out in my mind) Was Malkin’s notation of a bumper sticker on the family vehicle- what does that have to do with anything? Maybe that evidence of date was their hope for a better Republican president. Innuendo is their stock in trade- what it boils down to is idiocentric intellectual laziness.

  • C Stanley

    George: Sorry, but you’ve totally confused me. You quote the story to show that Mystery Reader is defending the fact checking, and then you say that my assertion that he was defending fact checking is wrong? I don’t follow you.

    I’m not sure what you think I’m denying or defending, or why you keep including those admonitions. Maybe if you could tell me what you think I think, I can clarify if you are correct or incorrect. Otherwise I think we need to give it up, because I don’t think either of us is clairvoyant.

  • C Stanley

    George: Sorry, but you’ve totally confused me. You quote the story to show that Mystery Reader is defending the fact checking, and then you say that my assertion that he was defending fact checking is wrong? I don’t follow you.

    I’m not sure what you think I’m denying or defending, or why you keep including those admonitions. Maybe if you could tell me what you think I think, I can clarify if you are correct or incorrect. Otherwise I think we need to give it up, because I don’t think either of us is clairvoyant.

  • George Sorwell

    C Stanley–

    You are free to argue that what happened to this 12-year-old was a good-faith effort to check the facts. And that any collateral vitriol was regrettably irrelevant.

    I’m free to argue that the party of Swift-boating was doing its normal Swift-boating. And that the vitriolic smear was the point.

    The Mystery Reader concedes that now that all the facts are in, the Democrats were right–the kid from the car accident fairly qualifies for SCHIP. So I guess we’ll see if the baseless accusations just disappear. Just as I guess we’ll see if President will now concede that people who make $50,000 a year may, in fact, need a government program for health insurance.

    Do you think those baseless accusations will disappear, C Stanley?

    You’re free to belittle my comparison between the 12-year-old from the car accident and the senior military commander in Iraq. Just as I’m free to say the comparison is obvious, and shows the obvious hypocrisy and desperation of the people attacking the kid.

    This has been a public thread. I’ve had my opportunity to make my case. Just as you’ve had yours.

    Have a great evening!

  • jdledell

    George hit the nail on the head. So many nasty suppositions flew around the right wing websites – the 2 kids paid 20k/year for school, the house is worth more than 500k, they could have gotten insurance thru Insuraweb for pre-existing conditions etc etc . None of these websites will ever retract or confess their lies. That is the REAL problem with this situation. Fact checking is okay as long as you continue to reveal the facts as they emerge. Gunning and Running is not.

  • pacatrue

    I couldn’t disagree more. Here’s why:

    1) The purpose of the reaction was to bash the Frosts’ characters so that there is no human face to the program. Why do I say this? What if we had discovered through “fact-checking” that the Frosts were slightly above the target income bracket for the program? What would this have meant? Nothing, other than the fact that Democrats are lousy at choosing representatives. After all the Frost family might be the one exception with 400,000 other appropriate benificiaries. The only way to find out if the Frosts are evidence of serious waste in the program would have been to do a broad study of the recipients and really look for an actual pattern. This was not done and reveals nothing about the program. The Democrats held up someone to be the face of the program, and many are now kicking that face over and over until it becomes disfigured.

    2) The only long-term effect of this will be to keep more people out of politics. If some politician whom I genuinely supported wanted to use my four-year-old as an example of the benefits of some program, I would certainly think long and hard about it, even if I supported the program. We already make the lives of professional politicians miserable, keeping many otherwise good candidates out. Do we want to keep extending this magnificent “fact-checking” treatment to private citizens who make a single public appearance as well?

    3) Yes, of course, a 12 year old should be treated differently than a 21 year old. Nothing random about that idea. It’s called adulthood.

    When Joe mentioned the Democrats planned to use a 12-year-old to deliver their radio address, I expressed concern in the comments with using a child who would very likely immediately receive lots of abuse. The Democratic leadership was wrong to do so, and the people now throwing the predicatable abuse are even more wrong.

  • Doesn’t it seem ODD that, in defending the right of the rightie blogosmear to go after a severely injured 12-year-old kid (while pretending that the intense vitriol NEVER took place, that Captain “Special” Ed is being “reasonable”) …

    Er, doesn’t it seem odd that in arguing for the massive assault on the family’s privacy, the holding up to ridicule of the parents, especially the father (including Mark Steyn’s Marie Antoinette post today, even MORE clueless than his classically elitist snark yesterday in NRO’s the Corner) …

    Doesn’t it seem ODD that the “Mystery Reader” is all in favor of outing anything about the Frost family, since they’re now IN the debate, but that the “Mystery Reader,” now in the debate, as well, remains safely anonymous?

    There’s a word for snootily holding others to a standard that you yourself won’t be held to.

    But I can’t, for the life of me, recall what that word is.

    Hmmm.

  • Captain Ed has devolved into a partisan hack just like so many of those in the blogosphere with occasional attempt to display rationality. But not too much.

    The thing is that there was no fact checking involved in what happened with the Frost family. There was misrepresentation and half-truths. Anyone who claims otherwise has no credibility.

  • Sam

    Harto, its the internet, we are all anonymous. Unless you feel that the handle “Harto” is somehow more revealing than “Mystery Reader”. And if a family is going to be held up as an example of a policy thats working you better well believe they are going to get scrutiny to see if that example holds up. They volunteered to sacrifice their privacy when they agreed to this. We all knew the swift boating would begin shortly afterwards, and so did they.

  • domajot

    It’s a case of separting what, theoretically, could have happened from what actually did happen.

    In theory, certainly fact-checking is legitimate and should have been expected. The Frosts may have been too naive to expect it, but their Dem guides, as seasoned veterans of political wars, have no valid excuse for not expecting it.

    In actuality, what happened was a smear campaign, during which facts were deliberately ignored or twisted. The misrepresentation of facts has never been retracted, as far as I know. What happened doesn’t deserve the ‘fact checking’ cover.

    Ed Morrissey and this post talk about the theory, but not the actuality. While I agree that the theory holds true, the implication that it has anything to do with what happened is totally an utterly false.

    Before the next round of fact checking, perhaps eager ‘jounalists’ like Malkin could take a course in investigative reporting to learn how it’s done properly. Then we’ll ta;k again.

  • domajot

    CS-
    The analogy to the Petraeus hearings does not really hold up, .

    Granted, the MoveOn ad had a despicable headline.
    Not only is name calling inappropriate, it’s stupid.

    However, lack of fact finding was never the problem. We shouldn’t confuse the facts of what Perraeus was presenting with the facts on which the criticism was based.

    The stated goal of the surge was political reconciliation in Iraq.
    Petraeus (and the administration) were saying that the surge had success in reducing violence. One set of facts supported that.

    Critics were saying that the goal of reconciliation had not been met. Another set of facts sepported that.

    In the beginning, the surge was always talked about in terms of the reconciliation it woudl enable.
    When the language now refereed only to reducing violence, confusion was inevitable,
    I know, the reconciliation goal has been moved further back in the timeline and the surge is now all about reducing violence and earning trust.

    Changing the languare has a bad history re Iraq, as the reasons for going to war also changed with regularity. As a result, changing the language about the surge had the prdictable result.

    Fact checking has nothing to do with the crisitcism of Petraeus. Language disparity did.

  • C Stanley

    This has been a public thread. I’ve had my opportunity to make my case. Just as you’ve had yours.

    George,
    You’re right, you and I both have every right to make our case in this forum. What you don’t have the right to do, though, is put words in my mouth and then argue against them as though I said them. That’s why I pressed you to find out what it is you think I said, and here, apparently is the problem:

    You are free to argue that what happened to this 12-year-old was a good-faith effort to check the facts. And that any collateral vitriol was regrettably irrelevant.

    Show me when I argued that everything that has gone on has been a good faith argument??

    The post by Mystery Reader, as I understand it, is an attempt to delineate between that which was good faith fact checking and that which was not. I agreed with him. So from where do you draw the conclusion that I was arguing something different, or that I was saying that the attacks were irrelevant?

  • C Stanley

    Doma: I agree that the comparison between the Petraues ad and the reaction to the Frost case doesn’t hold up. That was actually the point I made to George, so I don’t know why you addressed that comment to me. It was his analogy; take it up with him if you’d like.

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