What Passes for Journalism

Two examples of shoddy journalism that irked me.

The first, described on Twitter as being an example of “Tory values”:

In a bid to crack down on so-called ‘health tourism’, 20 NHS trusts across the country have taken part in a government pilot scheme to trial identity checks for patients. The results of the pilots are due to be published later this year, but doctors, patients and health organisations have spoken to Politics.co.uk to raise serious concerns about the impact they have had.

“One of the worst cases involved a pregnant French woman who was of Asian descent,” one doctor says. “She arrived for a routine scan and was asked by reception staff if she was eligible for free care. She told them that she was French and had never needed to provide ID before. The receptionist told her that she didn’t ‘seem French’ and called the Paying Patients department to question her further.

“The woman was so upset by what was happening that she had a panic attack. I was called to check her over. I had to tell the Paying Patients department to leave the room because they had upset her so much.”

Sorry, but this doesn’t pass the smell test. Firstly, French people habitually carry ID with them everywhere and I doubt it’s a habit they ditch when they move to the UK unless they’ve been there many, many years. And to access the healthcare system in France they need to produce a separate carte vitale, which most French people carry in their wallets alongside their ID. It is therefore highly unlikely a pregnant French woman went to a hospital expecting treatment without bringing some form of ID. It is even less likely she had a panic attack on being asked for some.

Secondly, I have a hard time believing a hospital receptionist said she didn’t “seem French”: this isn’t the 1970s, and even the NHS would have given their receptionists some rudimentary training as to how to deal with those without ID. According to the journalist who wrote it, the doctor witnessed the whole thing – yet later she says he or she was “called to check her over”. Did the doctor stand idly by as this woman went into a panic attack, waiting to be called over? And who called her? Or was she actually out of earshot when the “didn’t seem French” remark was made (which I suspect is more likely) in which case who are we relying on for the quote?

This whole thing looks to me like an embellished story fed to a gullible reporter by an anonymous doctor who doesn’t like the policy. As a piece of journalism, it fails to establish key details of the story and doesn’t make sense even on a superficial level.

The BBC, reporting on the withdrawal of subsidies to health insurance companies, doesn’t do much better:

US President Donald Trump will end subsidies to health insurance providers designed to help low income households, as he continues his attempts to dismantle Obamacare.

The White House announced the move hours after Mr Trump signed an executive order allowing the sale of health insurance plans which are exempt from some of the law’s regulations.

The announcements come after Congress repeatedly failed to repeal Obamacare.

They were instantly criticised.

Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement denouncing the end of subsidies as a “spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage” which would harm the poorest citizens.

Meanwhile, critics of the initial announcement argued it could de-stabilise the Obamacare market by encouraging healthy consumers to leave their current plans, prompting a spike in premium costs for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions.

According to a statement from the White House, the subsidies, which run into billions each year, were not legal.

This might come as a surprise to the BBC, but rulings on legality are not made in the White House but in courts. As the Washington Post reported last August:

Republicans have long protested the payments, and in late 2014 the GOP-led House filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration, contending that the subsidies were unconstitutional because Congress had not made a specific appropriation for them. Last year a federal district court ruled in the House’s favor, and the Obama administration appealed the case to the D.C. Circuit.

All Trump has done is stop the appeal. The illegality of the payments is therefore not a matter of a White House statement, implying its merely Trump’s opinion, but something ruled upon by a federal court. It’s yet another example of Obama deciding to do things on his own without consulting Congress, as he was constitutionally obliged to do. Not that you’d know that if you relied on the BBC for information.

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36 thoughts on “What Passes for Journalism

  1. So this piece of fiction is written by someone with zero knowledge of how the French society and health system works?

  2. So this piece of fiction is written by someone with zero knowledge of how the French society and health system works?

    Yes. Now to be fair she’s writing about a French person’s encounter with the British health system, but had she a basic clue about France she’d have smelled the same rat I did.

  3. I never cease to be amazed when Remoaners complain when the UK starts doing something that’s totally normal on the Continent. Like asking for ID for things. Or having foreigners register with the authorities.

  4. Since the poorly written and laughably named Affordable Care Act passed, there have been several instances in which Obama unilaterally made changes to the law to fix glaring problems caused by the sloppy construction of a law that was shoved down the throat of Americans. None of those unilateral changes, including the payments described in this article, were legal. Anyone who treats such blatant illegality with a shrug and a denial is a partisan hack and a hypocrite.

    I often think I should be grateful to such people, who include many, many journalists, for making my life easier by shrinking the list of humans that I must take seriously.

  5. From the article;
    “The government says the pilots involve asking all patients for two forms of ID to establish whether they are eligible for free care or not.”

    Which looks a bit odd, given that the NHS Number is a thing, and the card says “It is proof that you are entitled to NHS treatment”.

    So unless the NHS Number is no longer, or the database is completely fucked (which is quite likely), there’s something else going on here.

  6. “Not that you’d know that if you relied on the BBC for information.”
    The BBC’s reporting on the USA is consistently weak. I assume it’s because their US correspondents just talk to their pals at the Washington Post and CNN, then regurgitate the current party line. Blogs saved me from reliance on the BBC where it came to US news.

  7. Its everywhere, have a look at this NYT article about the “uncomfortable findings” of and audit commissioned by May, maybe it was just about keeping the great Brexit deferral of the front pages. And well done May in effectively stopping Brexit, maybe she is better at her job than we thought she was.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/world/europe/uk-race-audit-ethnicity.html

    Well of course whites are more likely to have jobs and own their homes when compared to the recently arrived economic migrants from the third world. They have only been developing Mud Island for thousands of years, creating and inheriting wealth, breeding extended families and establishing deeply rooted social connections what else would you expect. Yet this article and no journo (unless a UK one has) points this simple observation out.

  8. Which looks a bit odd, given that the NHS Number is a thing…
    Ducky – I’m not familiar with the NHS card; is it picture ID, or a non-photo document? If the latter, I would assume that they are trying to establish two things: first, that John Smith is entitled to NHS treatment (by way of NHS Card / Number), and; the person receiving treatment is indeed John Smith (by way of photo ID). But, as I say, I’m not familiar with the document.
    On our side of the pond we are just going through a process (not without screw-ups along the way, natch) of merging the non-photo “care card” which establishes the right to treatment, like an NHS card, with the photo-ID driver’s license, for that very reason

  9. Further on the above NYT article and the “uncomfortable findings” revealed in the Race Disparity Audit, I just skimmed the UK press and the analysis is probably worse. The Guardian, cough, basically threw it out and said that the audit was merely documenting yesterdays news, the actual status was worse today, the UK was in grave danger of falling behind and that we all know in our heart of hearts that change is just simply not happening fast enough. It seems to be about the need for speed when it comes to social change and the UK just not being fast enough on this measure. Maybe they should have put up a benchmark on how fast it could be done and see where the UK sits relative to other countries, especially the European ones in the race to multiculturalism. That way the speed targets could be easily set, monitored and measured and we could call out any future poor performance with relative ease.

    Surely there is one pommy journo out there that will call this type of reporting out for what it is, illogical, dishonest and Marxist tosh.

  10. A question borne of ignorance of your system:

    Do French people receive free treatment through the British NHS?

  11. @Bobby B – if they are legally resident in the UK then they are eligable for NHS treatment.

    What seems to be entirely absent from the debate is that British nationals resident (i.e. not on holiday) in e.g. France are obliged – like all other than the poorest natives – to purchase health insurance. Contrary to popular belief, most of continental Europe doesn’t have “free” healthcare.

    I laughed myself silly a while back when some middle-class lefty friends of mine said “if I have to pay to see a doctor, I’ll move to France!”. Great. You’ll move to France. Can I be there when you receive your first invoice for… seeing a doctor? Can I film your reaction?

  12. Re the first article.
    Doctors and nurses like to see themselves as saints. By sending their bills to the NHS and not the patients they fool a lot of people into believing that they are. Hence they can rely on public support whenever they want a pay rise.
    BBC employees have similar self regard.
    Hence the one supports the other.

  13. “One of the worst cases involved a pregnant French woman who was of Asian descent,” one doctor says. “She arrived for a routine scan and was asked by reception staff if she was eligible for free care. She told them that she was French and had never needed to provide ID before. The receptionist told her that she didn’t ‘seem French’ and called the Paying Patients department to question her further.”

    This seems entirely plausible to me – sorry Tim. Yes, I’m sure they got diversity training, but NHS “gatekeeper” staff are not world-renowned for their sensitivity and many seem eager to cultivate a reputation for rudeness. Can quite easily imagine one of them struggling to express themselves clearly about this one, and perhaps not trying all that hard to phrase it in a politically correct way.

    For comparison – one of the postgrads at my Oxbridge college was an Australian lady of Indian heritage. Very very many people expressed their surprise, when they started talking, that she had a thick Ozzie accent – people had expected her to have a London or Mancunian or Indian or maybe North American accent, all of which were common among ethnically Indian students, and the resulting cognitive dissonance took folk aback. Probably shouldn’t have done – lots of people of Indian descent in Australia after all, though to be fair this is years ago now and there weren’t quite so many then – but it didn’t conform to their stereotypes and so the confusion set in.

    Some very cultured, well-educated, well-travelled, urbane, cosmopolitan individuals – not just from Britain but from around the world – struggled with this one, and the words that garbled out ranged from the politer “your accent surprised me” to the instantly regrettable “didn’t look very Australian”.

    I know a Dutch guy of Hindu descent (via Suriname) who loves asking people where he’s from because they never get it right and (him not being terribly PC himself) he can play a kind of PC one-upmanship game on them (“Stereotyper!”) which is quite funny if you’re in on the joke. I’ve heard that Chinese-Jamaicans and Indian-Trinidadians cause similar confusion abroad. People are fairly aware of French people of Arab and African descent – the BB&B football team of ’98 being the poster child – but French people of Asian descent are less visible and I can easily imagine awkwardness arising from it.

  14. Incidentally, I’m a regular visitor to my hospital. There are scary official signs everywhere reminding people that if they can’t prove their entitlement, the NHS is NOT free and they will be charged. The signs warn that this even applies to UK citizens if they have recently returned from living abroad – hence even a UK passport and NHS number is not strictly sufficient to prove eligibility. Though the signs are remarkably uninformative about what papers they do want to see, so even if you had seen the warnings before attending you wouldn’t know what was expected of you.

    Nevertheless, as a white guy with thoroughly British accent, I don’t bother taking any ID whatsoever. Never been asked for it, don’t think I ever will. To be fair, being a regular customer might help. But I’m sure that officialdom is mostly going to harass people of darker skin tone or who speak with funny foreign accents. The vast majority of whom will likely have full rights to treatment, but who may not be carrying the unspecified required level of proof. If racism campaigners think this is a bit off, I’m not going to blame them.

  15. This whole thing looks to me like an embellished story fed to a gullible reporter by an anonymous doctor who doesn’t like the policy.

    This remark could be applied to 90% of reporting about the NHS.

  16. This seems entirely plausible to me – sorry Tim.

    Fair enough! What you say makes sense, and the NHS – like any state-run organisation – are more than capable of making cack-handed statements. I just thought it appeared a little too convenient for me.

  17. There are scary official signs everywhere reminding people that if they can’t prove their entitlement, the NHS is NOT free and they will be charged.

    Yeah, and this French woman would have been hard-wired to expect this, which is why I have trouble believing the story.

  18. I never cease to be amazed when Remoaners complain when the UK starts doing something that’s totally normal on the Continent. Like asking for ID for things. Or having foreigners register with the authorities.

    Indeed, I’ve noticed most of those singing the praises of the Continent in support of Remain don’t seem to have much experience of living here.

  19. I laughed myself silly a while back when some middle-class lefty friends of mine said “if I have to pay to see a doctor, I’ll move to France!”.

    Heh!

  20. “Yeah, and this French woman would have been hard-wired to expect this, which is why I have trouble believing the story.”

    I completely get where you’re coming from – the rudeness and apparent racism of the receptionist was entirely believable to me, the reaction of the woman involved might be more explicable if she had been in the UK a while and got used to the idea that anyone can waltz into hospital treatment without proof of ID despite all the officious signs, then all of a sudden she is inexplicably singled out, her identity is rudely cast into doubt and she is being told she may not be eligible for the healthcare she obviously needed. I can see that being upsetting and a shock to the system, particularly the racist subtext of it, even if the idea of bringing ID to treatment is not alien to her. (If she had been to hospital several times before without anyone checking for ID, it wouldn’t be unnatural to get used to the British mentality of it not being needed here.)

    Agree whole-heartedly about some of the more enthusiastic British proponents of the EU having little idea how things are done over there. If it really were such a utopia one wonders why so many Europeans, even from the developed EU states, make their way over to this backwards little island… or why more young Brits don’t make the reverse move.

  21. Since leaving the UK, I have had only one experience of using an NHS hospital as a patient. They didn’t know what to do with my health insurance card. As far as they were concerned it might as well have been issued in Alpha Centauri, not Germany. They never attempted to bill my insurer (I’d have heard about it), even though there is a straightforward system for doing this throughout the EU.

    The system is mostly easy (tldr: for emergency care you get treated as a local and pay the same co-pays a local would, which of course varies dramatically from nothing in the UK, nothing or token in Germany, €50 for a GP visit in Ireland etc, insurer might reclaim a very small portion of the costs from you when you get home.) But as the NHS isn’t set up for charging people at all, the staff have no idea what to do.

    It will take another massive bureaucracy alongside the existing one (not our job mate), which will of course cost more to run than it ever charges foreign patients.

  22. But I’m sure that officialdom is mostly going to harass people of darker skin tone or who speak with funny foreign accents

    In a byegone (and dare I say saner) age, still within living memory for some of us, this would be called ‘discretion’ or ‘common sense’. Reviled as it now seems to be, any such targeting would probably at least have the merit of achieving a higher hit rate and fewer wasted bureaucrat hours.

    I am so pale as be almost translucent and speak with an obviously native English accent. Eighteen months ago I had a heart attack. I have the good fortune to live close to one of the regional cardio-thoracic centres, so was treated very quickly (and very efficiently, I must say). Just after lunchtime the following day I was woken up by a bureaucrat with a clip board and given a personal letter suggesting I was not entitled to NHS treatment, and demanding that I supply proof of my identity and entitlement in the form of various documents – and all this to be done by a deadline just a few days.away on pain of being billed/prosecuted, etc. Apparently I was not ‘on the computer’, having had the temerity to leave my home town and relocate to a different part of my own country the previous year. An explanation of my circumstances cut no ice with the hatchet-faced harridan, but then I can’t blame her personally: even if there was a vestige of common sense left in her head, the use of discretion is likely seen as gross misconduct in the public sector.

  23. I got treatment twice in the U.K., once in the eighties, the other around 2007. I was never asked for an ID or payment. I was very obviously an American. Did I find some loophole?

  24. Trevor. By implication, less racially pure English people should expect to be thus woken by hatchet-faced harridans but white male people should enjoy the “discretion” they were so used to in bygone days of yore, because of their skin colour and plummy accents.

    Surely the best approach is to not have hatchet-faced harridans waking anybody. There are easier ways of doing it, but the NHS is simply not set up for it.

    It’s not very nice being on the receiving end of the opposite of that “discretion” you are so used to expecting, is it? Aren’t you, privileged, only to have not had it on this single occasion! Think on it a little.

  25. Isn’t it all just part of the Catch-22 we’ve established around identity?

    Here in the USA, we have a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico. We also strive to enforce the idea of not discriminating based on race. So, our border people can check aggressively to see if whites, asians, blacks, or Aleuts are properly citizens of this country, but run into all sorts of trouble if they ask Hispanic people that same question.

    Similarly, TSA checks out whites, blacks, and asians very carefully at airports, but treads lightly with people of Middle Eastern appearances. They fear accusations of profiling.

    In your hospital situation, it sounds as if it’s difficult to check out the very people most likely to not qualify for NHS service – people who appear to maybe be less likely to be a citizen.

    We’re all handicapped by politeness.

  26. Similarly, TSA checks out whites, blacks, and asians very carefully at airports, but treads lightly with people of Middle Eastern appearances. They fear accusations of profiling.

    I’m Irish.

    Back in the 1980s, when I lived briefly in London and travelled many times between Dublin and London, I was regularly pulled aside at Holyhead or Luton or Heathrow and asked a few questions.

    Mostly it was just a minor inconvenience and it never bothered me too much. I was sceptical that such measures really deterred any Provo from travelling to England but, I figured, the Brits could hardly not carry out such checks.

    It never occurred to me however that British security should be required to stop other nationalities just so as not to appear to discriminate against us Irish: that every second 20 something Spanish or Japanese man should be pulled aside and questioned, just so that my sensibilities would be spared.

    Now, in our middle age, I and my wife look like the middle aged couple in Matt of the Telegraph’s cartoons. Our kids are adults and we have begun to enjoy kids-free short breaks away in various continental cities.

    Unfortunately, we appear to meet the security profile of Mr and Mrs Carlos the Jackal. Most recently, in Rome airport, in a security queue containing almost every nationality, and booked on a flight to Dublin, we were nonetheless taken aside for additional measures. My wife’s tablet was swabbed and deemed to test positive for explosives. This created a flurry of excitement on the part of security staff who, I suspect, were as well trained as shelf-stackers in a supermarket. Fortunately, a further test was negative and, after several supervisors had been called and passports further scrutinised and scanned, we were waved through in a manner which suggested that we should consider ourselves lucky.

    What security analysis would suggest that a milk-bottle white, middle aged Irish couple would be likely to bomb a plane from Rome to Dublin?

  27. “What security analysis would suggest that a milk-bottle white, middle aged Irish couple would be likely to bomb a plane from Rome to Dublin?”

    Warning signs that should trigger a secondary security check:

    – Heterosexual alpha male?
    – White and suspected member of the Christian culture?
    – Married with children?
    – No criminal record?
    – Self supporting?
    – No body piercing or conspicuous tattoos?

    If you want to be treated like a fine gael these days then you need to be like Leo Varadkar.

  28. “My wife’s tablet was swabbed and deemed to test positive for explosives.”

    Poor you! Oh you must have been heartbroken, your lives ruined! Run to the Mail and get a photo taken with your arms crossed!

    If you are of Asian/middle-eastern appearance, this happens. Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

    This myth that white heterosexual protestants are picked on is just that. A myth, spread by recall bias among those who are used to “discretion”. “Oh I/a white granny got the random pickout on the third last flight I took. Must have been 2009. But some towelhead behind me just sailed through! It’s political correctness gone mad I tell you!!!”

  29. Of the approx. 45 billion person-flights since 9/11 only 4 people have successfully bombed an airliner. One Chinese one Russian, one Somali, and one unknown presumed middle eastern.

    The security theatre is there more to deter attempts than to detect them. You can safely assume that all people of all races a’re equally suspect, at a level that is, for everyday uses of zero, zero. Even if that towelhead is of the plane-bomby persuasion he’s not likely to be stupid enough to try get through security with one.

    So sorry, but in a security check, white privilege is suspended.

  30. All EU/EEA Countries and some others are part of EHIC. The French Assurance Maladie issues EHIC cards just like the NHS. This is the ‘ID’ which should have been requested and it is unlikely the NHS person would have asked for ‘ID’ rather than an EHIC card, or that the woman would not automatically show it – and odd if a pregnant women travelled to another Country and did not have an EHIC card.

    EHIC entitles the holder to emergency treatment or treatment for a chronic illness either at no charge or part charge at point of delivery depending on the health system, and/or if a charge is made they are given a claim form to submit to their own health authority for reimbursement when they get home.

  31. All EU/EEA Countries and some others are part of EHIC. The French Assurance Maladie issues EHIC cards just like the NHS.

    Yeah, I have one of them from the NHS, although thanks to my insurance I never use it in France (or anywhere else).

  32. The middle-class establishment in this country have opportunity after opportunity to address public concerns and repeatedly, they try and ignore them. You ever talk to these sorts of people, they just don’t really care about health tourism. “Why should people in foreign countries suffer”. And yes, maybe it’s not much money, but the public, the people who fund the NHS do care, and as they’re in charge, you’d better fix it.

    This will never get done properly though, because the bureaucrats just won’t care and there won’t be any penalties to stop them. Privatise the hospitals and you’ll fix the problem.

  33. “If you are of Asian/middle-eastern appearance, this happens. Every. Single. Fucking. Time.”

    Sorry, I call bullshit.

    I used to fly a lot. I lost more frequent flier miles to expiration than most people ever fly in their lives. I knew lots of the TSA people in my home airport by their first names.

    For about three months after 9/11, it would have sucked to be a Middle Eastern male flying in the USA. They were the ones being searched and grilled.

    After that, PC kicked in. I don’t know how many times I watched them sail through as I and everyone else got groped and questioned and swabbed and x-rayed.

    I spoke with many TSA people and learned that they were under orders not to appear to profile ME appearance.

    Offended by my racialist statements? Poor you! Oh you must have been heartbroken, your life ruined! Run to the Mail and get a photo taken with your arms crossed!

  34. Er, I didn’t see you make any racist statement. But looks like you’ve admitted such now.

    Oh, and none of my comments were even in reply to you. Hi – nice to meet you, Mr self-described racist!

    And yet the web is full of stories and reports, some credible some less, that ME-types actually get more scrutiny at US airports. And then there is my anecdata (current, not past, frequent flier), doubtless as recall-biased as yours. And the fact that we don’t all live in your corner of the USA. Who to believe? Actual research into this is, as you might imagine, practically nonexistent.

    Tell you what, let’s try an experiment. No, let’s try two. Next time I fly through Ben Gurion, I’ll whine and kick off about profiling and see how far it gets me. And then I’ll try and enter the United States from Mexico without proof that I’m admissible to the USA. After all, none of your border people would dare ask me, because they’ll run into trouble.

  35. @Bardon,

    Er, that’s a British state security goon in a Canadian airport? First time for everything I suppose.

    The purpose of security is deterrence, not detection. Including deterring nice Ahmed from giving senile grannies “presents” to take with them.

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