Friday, November 2, 2007

Rudy’s Prostate Problems

I’m not that kind of doctor, but it doesn’t take an M.D. to see that Rudy Giuliani has been playing fast and loose with the facts about prostate cancer. Joe Conason at Salon sums it up.

To a politician pandering to his party’s right wing, a role that Rudolph Giuliani plays every day now, citing his own recovery from prostate cancer as an argument against “socialized medicine” must have seemed like pure genius. The radio ad that went up this week in New Hampshire suggests that Giuliani not only faced down the 9/11 terrorists — or something like that — but triumphed over a terrifying disease as well, without the help of any government bureaucrats.

Or as Giuliani himself says in the controversial ad: “I had prostate cancer five, six years ago. My chance of surviving cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States: 82 percent. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England: only 44 percent under socialized medicine.”

Yes, it’s another inspiring and instructive story — or would be, perhaps, if only it were true.

The former New York mayor did survive prostate cancer, but otherwise his statistical claims were not difficult to debunk, as reporters for the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and other news outlets quickly discovered. Giuliani had picked up his numbers from an article in City Journal, a publication of the right-wing Manhattan Institute, and simply repeated them in public without bothering to check their validity. Unfortunately, they were essentially fraudulent figures, extrapolated inaccurately from old data (by a doctor who also advises the Giuliani campaign on healthcare).


The Giuliani ad’s problems go well beyond a pair of phony numbers. Among the blogging wonks scrutinizing the relevant health data is Ezra Klein, who asked a separate but penetrating question: “Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out if the gold-standard care Giuliani got during his prostate cancer came while he was on government-provided health insurance?”

As Klein surmised, Giuliani was serving as mayor and participating in a city of New York health plan when his doctor informed him that his prostate biopsy had come up positive. The coverage he enjoyed — which resembles the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan — permits all city employees, from trash haulers and subway clerks up to the mayor himself, to select from a variety of insurance providers, and it is not much different from the reform proposals adopted by his nemesis Hillary Clinton.

Both Paul Krugman and Eugene Robinson take issue with Mr. Giuliani’s ad, his numbers, and his getting away with his lies or, if you prefer, his exaggerations. But it makes you wonder why this story isn’t getting a lot of play; if it was a Democrat, especially Hillary Clinton, who was fudging the facts and using demonstrably false information, there would be “BREAKING NEWS” ledes on CNN and Memeorandum. However, it seems that bullshit about health care and fearmongering about “socailized medicine” is just another day on the Republican campaign trail; after all, that’s been the standard line from the Bush administration for lo these many years.

It’s also another symptom of how screwed up the priorities are in the coverage of this campaign. What’s more important; the leading Republican candidate issuing a false and misleading ad about health care, which is an issue that this country will clearly have to deal with in the next administration and beyond, or what’s behind Hillary Clinton’s laugh? Or is that a dumb question?