Like the bad penny of legend, Betsy McCaughey keeps turning up. During the Clinton administration she wrote a very dishonest article on health care for the New Republic, which helped scuttle reform efforts. Now, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly blog, she’s making stuff up about the Obama administration.
Given her renewed prominence, it might be worthwhile to revisit A.M. Lamey’s classic Sans Everything blog post on her, which can be found here. Lamey’s posting (and his accompanying article for the Believer) destroyed nor only McCaughey’s credibility but also any reputation Andrew Sullivan might have as an editor.
As every freelance writer knows, most magazine articles come and go without a trace. Only a small handful trigger any reaction when they appear. But how many continue to be denounced and debated over a decade after their publication? I know of only one: “No Exit” by Elizabeth McCaughey, which was The New Republic’s cover story for February 7, 1994.
McCaughey’s article was an attack on Bill Clinton’s plan to extend health insurance to all U.S. citizens. McCaughey’s analysis was seriously misleading, for reasons I tried to explain in a 2004 article for The Believer called “Reckless Falsehoods” (linked below). Now American journalist Ezra Klein has revisited McCaughey’s essay, in a blog post that characterizes it as a “dishonest, fearmongering article.”
Klein is right to continue to make an issue of McCaughey’s story and the pernicious role it played in defeating the Clinton plan. I also second his recommendation of the work of James Fallows, who gives a lucid summary of the McCaughey affair in his 1997 book Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. What is especially noteworthy about Klein’s post, however, is that it has generated a response from Andrew Sullivan, who was editor of The New Republic when McCaughey’s essay appeared.