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That snippet gets used in the ad. Later in his answer, Obama said maybe some patients should get a pacemaker faster, if that keeps them healthy. “I mean, this can cut both ways,” he said. Those words aren’t in the ad.

Jamieson, who directs a fact-checking project, says both ads are examples of “deceptive dramatization.” Ryan’s plan would not affect current Medicare beneficiaries. And the doctors’ ad makes it sound as if Obama is gutting Medicare, when his law slows the program’s future growth. Moreover, it’s unrealistic to suggest that either party believes it can jettison older voters.

Erica Payne, a former Democratic Party fundraiser who founded the New York-based Agenda Project, said she stands by the Ryan ad. “It’s dramatic, but it’s accurate,” said Payne, head of the public policy and advocacy group.

Ophthalmologist Jane Lindell Hughes, a founder of Texas-based AmericanDoctors4Truth, defended the Obama ad as a parody that responds to Payne’s commercial. “It was absolutely a valid use of the president’s voice,” she said.

People targeted by health scare campaigns say the attacks can accomplish two things: turning an individual into a pariah and shutting down legitimate consideration of new ideas.

Pediatrician and health care expert Don Berwick, Obama’s first Medicare chief, said he was never able to overcome the label of “rationer in chief” pinned on him by GOP critics, no matter how often he said he opposed rationing.

“When a myth gains traction … it creates a terrain of silence,” said Berwick. “A new kind of calculus is needed here, in which people believe engagement about the truth is wise.”

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin was GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s policy chief in 2008 when the campaign unveiled a plan for a health insurance tax credit financed by limits on the tax-free status of employer coverage. Although the idea had support from some prominent Democrats, and analysis showed it could work, it got pounded.

That “reflects a deeper truth,” Holtz-Eakin said. “Health care is a big issue to the American people. If it’s not … you can’t make hay of it in a political sense.”

The woman who asked Obama about a pacemaker for her centenarian mother said she was dissatisfied both with the president’s response and how his opponents are using it in their ad.

“It was just tit for tat,” said Jane Sturm of Long Island, N.Y. “It’s not using intelligent reasoning.”



Annenberg Center: