Rachel Maddow talks to the AARP's John Rother about the fear mongering astroturf ad campaigns targeted specifically to scare the hell out of seniors o
August 13, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to the AARP's John Rother about the fear mongering astroturf ad campaigns targeted specifically to scare the hell out of seniors on health care reform.

BARACK OBAMA: The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for death panels that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we've decided that we don't-it's too expensive to let her live anymore. I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera.

The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican then-House member, now-senator named Johnny Isakson from Georgia who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people's options. And somehow, it's gotten spun into this idea of death panels. I am not in favor of that. So just-I want to-I want to-I want to clear the air here.


MADDOW: Also, the president would like to make clear that he is not in favor of rubbing chewing gum into everyone's hair, nor is he in favor of forced sex changes, nor is he in favor of making everyone wear nude-colored panty hose on their hands like mittens all year around just for the pure inconvenience of it all. He'd like to make that clear.

What's being called a debate about health care policy right now is so far from an actual debate about health care policy that the charge from his critics that the president of the United States has to rebut in public is whether or not he wants health care reform because he secretly wants to kill all of the old people. And apparently he doesn't.

As we've discussed before, the health care reform is a secret plot to kill old people rumor was started by a woman named Betsy McCaughey. She is the person who in "The New York Post" and on right-wing talk radio first promulgated this idea that Medicare covering consultations about living wills is secretly the murder of the elderly.


BETSY MCCAUGHEY: Congress would make it mandatory-absolutely require that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.


MADDOW: That is not true at all, not a word of it. Not mandatory, not require, not every five years, not counseling, not tell them, not how to, not end their life. None of the words in that claim are true except maybe the two "that's" and the word "in."

It's not true, but it is convenient, and so it survives. And it is in fact being promoted more than ever. It's convenient for the interest opposed health care reform to scare old people about reform. And so, there's now $1.5 million nationwide TV ad buy for this ad which we highlighted on last night's show, and now, that says the government will decide whether or not old people are worth the cost.

As we discussed on last night's show, the ads by a group called 60 Plus. It's a corporate-funded interest group that pretends like it's an advocacy organization for seniors. And today, 60 Plus has gone even further. Reporter Greg Sargent at "The Plum Line" cited for the second time on tonight's show has obtained a new mailer from 60 Plus-and as is often the case in politics, what they put in the direct mail piece is much worse than what they're willing to put on television.

For example, the big poll quote in the mailer includes this out-of-context quote from President Obama, "Maybe you're better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller." See, the president wants old people with health problems to take the painkiller. Maybe even take a lot of painkillers, if you know what I mean.

This is a group that claims to represent seniors. The way they have chosen to represent seniors in this particular fight is to try to scare seniors into thinking their government wants to kill them. With friends like these, who needs corporate-funded fake grassroots enemies?

Joining us now is John Rother. He is executive vice president of policy at AARP.

Mr. Rother, thank you very much for coming on the show tonight. I appreciate it.

JOHN ROTHER: Good evening.

MADDOW: Now, on the surface, it looks like your organization, AARP, and 60 Plus could be rival groups. Are we looking at a turf war between your two competing organizations here, or is there something that's fundamentally different about these two groups?

ROTHER: Well, we represent 40 million members, 50 and older. We don't know if they have members or what they do when there's not a big controversy. But clearly, they're funded primarily by corporate interests, especially pharmaceuticals.

So, there's a big difference. We take no corporate money. We have no pharmaceutical money. Our income is from member dues and the services and products that members buy.

MADDOW: One of the things that we have talked about on this show is the investigation that is AARP bulletin did a couple of years ago into why 60 Plus was opposing pharmaceutical reform at the state level. Can you tell us what that organization found about this group?

ROTHER: Well, we hired an independent investigator and found that 60 Plus in that year was taking most of its money from the pharmaceutical industry and kind of using it as a screen to pretend that they were really representing the interest of seniors, when in fact, of course, seniors very much want more affordable medications. But 60 Plus never owned up to who was funding it until well after the fact.

MADDOW: You know, everybody is being hit with misinformation about health care reform. But one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, Mr. Rother, is because it seems like seniors are being targeted with some of the scariest allegations. Do you think that is by design, that older people are being singled out for this type of-these types of scare tactics? Have you seen this kind of strategy before?

ROTHER: I don't think you can look at those commercials and not conclude that seniors are the target of a very intentional scare campaign. And many seniors, of course, are worried about change because they depend on Medicare. They are perhaps not in the greatest of health, and they definitely want to know that Medicare will be there, their doctor will be there when they need it. So, change can be a little scary.

On the other hand, when we've looked at this bill and we read every page, we've concluded that the bills proposed in the Congress would be good for seniors, would actually help them afford their medications better, make sure that doctors are there when they need them. So, we feel there's nothing to be scared about in the actual legislation.

MADDOW: I know that you're the executive vice president of policy at AARP and your job is to be analytical and to do these things sort of to the letter and to the service of your members. But I just have to ask you if it-if it makes you mad to see fearmongering of America's seniors over this issue or any policy issue, does it? For me, it makes me feel protective and angry.

ROTHER: It certainly makes me angry because, you know, there are real issues and people should be engaged in this debate. But to scare people, to raise these bogus issues, to intentionally mislead a big part of the population is-you know, it's a subversion of democracy. And it does make me mad. And I think that the news media, such as yourself, are starting to catch on to what's going on.

MADDOW: John Rother, executive vice president of policy for the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP-thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir. Thank you.

ROTHER: Thank you, Rachel.

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