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Transcript:

July 10, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Quality, affordable health care's on the critical list in America. And so is the newspaper business. So maybe it's not surprising that one of the most powerful papers in the country attempted an unholy alliance, trying to turn a profit from its newsroom's coverage of the fight for health care reform.

You may have missed the story because it broke on the eve of the July 4th weekend. The publisher of THE WASHINGTON POST, Katharine Weymouth — one of the most powerful people in the nation's capital — invited top officials from the White House, the Cabinet and Congress to her home for an intimate, off-the-record dinner to discuss health care reform with some of her reporters and editors covering the story.

But she then invited CEOs and lobbyists from the health care industry to come, too — providing they fork over $25,000 a head, or a quarter of a million if they want to sponsor a whole series of these cozy little get-togethers. And what is the inducement she offers them? Nothing less than — and I'm quoting the invitation verbatim — "An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done." The invitation reminds the CEOs and lobbyists that they will be buying access to "those powerful few in business and policy making who are forwarding, legislating, and reporting on the issues."

Remember, the invitation promises this private, intimate, and off-the-record dinner is an extension "of THE WASHINGTON POST brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard."

Let that sink in. The "stakeholders" in health care reform in this case do not include the rabble — the folks across the country who actually need quality health care but can't afford it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night of this little soiree, a bouncer would drop kick them beyond the beltway.

In other words, before you can cross the threshold in Washington to reach "the select few who will actually get it done," you must first cross the palm of some outstretched hand. The dinner was canceled after the invite was leaked to the website politico.com — by a health care lobbyist, of all people. But it was enough to give us a glimpse into how things really work in Washington. A clear insight into why there is such a great disconnect between democracy and government today, between Washington and the rest of the country.

According to one poll after another, a majority of Americans not only want a public option in health care, they also think that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power over policy, that money in politics is the root of all evil, and that working families and poor communities need and deserve public support when the market fails to generate shared prosperity. But when the insiders in Washington finish tearing worthy intentions apart and devouring flesh from bone, none of these reforms happen. Oh, they say, "it's all about compromise, all in the nature of the give-and-take of representative democracy." That, people, is bull — the basic nutrient of Washington's high and mighty.

It's not about compromise. It's not about what the public wants. It's about money, the golden ticket to "the select few who actually get it done." And nothing will change. Nothing. Until the money-lenders are tossed out of the temple, and we tear down the sign they've placed on government — the one that reads: "For sale."

I'm Bill Moyers.

ANNOUNCER: There's more at our web site. Log onto PBS.org and click on "Bill Moyers Journal." You can watch Wendell Potter's complete congressional testimony, review the different proposals for health care reform and follow the money the health industry is lavishing on friendly politicians.

That's at PBS.org.

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