- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

Recalling that a Roper-Freedom Forum poll of 136 Washington reporters and bureau chiefs in the newspaper and television news industries found that 89 percent had voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 7 percent had voted for President George Bush, Wall Street Journal Editor Robert L. Bartley observed in his Monday column, "The editor operates can only operate by applying to the day's events ideas and categories he already carries around in his head." The very next day the press perfectly illustrated Mr. Bartley's point.

In a front-page story headlined "Democrats See, and Smell, Rats in GOP Ad," The New York Times reported that a Republican National Committee television ad contained the word "rats" in one frame, which lasted one-thirtieth of a second, in a 900-frame, 30-second ad. The word "rats" was actually the final segment of the word "bureaucrats," which the ad broke down in parts to emphasize its major theme. The spot, which began running Aug. 28 in 33 cities, criticized Vice President Al Gore's Medicare prescription drug plan, which would be implemented by government bureaucrats. Mr. Bush's competing prescription drug plan, by contrast, would rely greatly upon the market.

It really was that simple. The Times, however, which had been given the ad by the Gore campaign, intoned all sorts of conspiracy theories related to subliminal messages. All of a sudden, as if on cue, a network feeding frenzy ensued. ABC's Diane Sawyer grilled Mr. Bush about when he learned of the controversy. CBS's Bryant Gumbel, arguably television's most shallow and hard-left journalist, which is saying a lot, declared that the ad "struck a new low." CNN, informally known, for good reason, as the Clinton News Network, discussed the rat problem all afternoon.

Putting the ad in context, of course, would have been too much to expect from this gang. As it happens, it was an awful decision by Medicare's bureaucrats earlier in August that precipitated the GOP's ad. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala confirmed three weeks before the ad began running that Medicare's bureaucrats had decided to reduce by 30 percent the reimbursement rate paid to doctors for cancer drugs they administered in their offices and clinics to an estimated 750,000 Medicare cancer patients.

The GOP ad began running Aug. 28. On Sept. 5, Mr. Bush cited Medicare's cancer drug decision to defend his argument that Medicare's bureaucratized financing agency was "rigid and sluggish and slow to change" and, as a result, posed "a hazard to your health" undeniably a hazard to the health of 750,000 Medicare cancer patients.

Guess what? Three days later Miss Shalala announced that the plan to reduce payments for the cancer drugs would be deferred indefinitely. What's more, the Medicare bureaucrats who had made the initial hare-brained decision admitted that they had failed to realize that it would have drastically disrupted the entire system of cancer treatment. Admittedly, it's impossible not to smell any rats in this brouhaha. Most assuredly, however, they have nothing to do with the GOP ad, which 750,000 Medicare cancer patients can thank for the reversal of a bureaucratic decision in the Clinton-Gore administration that certainly would have further jeopardized their fragile health.

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