Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CBS News Continues Misleading Reporting of a Backlash Against AARP

First Fox, Now CBS

Recently, Fox News reported that AARP was experiencing a backlash from members due to the organization's "support" (this is contested) of proposed healthcare reform. The Fox News item extensively quotes Stuart Barton, president of the American Seniors Association. Barton offers deep criticism of AARP, and says that his group has received many torn-up AARP membership cards.

The Fox report, however, fails to mention that ASA is a "conservative group" and that Barton opposes Democrat-sponsored healthcare reform - referring to it as "Obamacare." Nevertheless, Fox presents the organization's views as indicative of the views of senior organizations other than AARP.

But that was not Fox's worst omission. The report also fails to disclose that ASA is sponsoring a drive which gives 2 years of membership for the price of 1 year to individuals who mail in their torn up AARP cards. Both groups offer their members advocacy on important issues for seniors, as well as discounts and promotions with corporate partners.

It does not take much brain power to figure out that many of the individuals are simply taking advantage of a good deal, rather than expressing hatred of or disagreement with AARP. Furthermore, with major news media like Fox (and now CBS) giving ASA attention, the organization's membership drive is probably enjoying a tremendous amount of success. Finally, because it is probably impossible for ASA to confirm that new members have actually canceled their AARP memberships, people could send their torn-up cards to ASA, get a discounted membership with ASA, order a replacement card from AARP, and retain memberships in both organizations.

CBS News has joined Fox's abysmal reporting on this issue. A report by Sharyl Attkisson (see embedded video following this article) discloses the conservative nature of ASA, but Attkisson never mentions the organization's marketing strategy that offers a 50% discount to new members who mail in torn up AARP cards. That a competing organization is offering AARP members a financial incentive to mail in their torn membership cards is indisputably relevant to this story.

To make matters worse, Attkisson's report contains ample footage of ASA staff sorting through envelopes and removing torn AARP cards, which suggests a massive backlash. Instead, many of the individuals are likely taking advantage of ASA's competitive membership drive. Thanks to Fox and CBS, this group is receiving effective -- but deceptive -- marketing.

At the very end of the report, Attkisson finally decides to mention that AARP has over 40 million members, registers hundreds of thousands of new members per month, and that the organization considers a loss of "up to" 60,000 members as a "drop in the bucket." It is unclear whether AARP has even suffered a net loss of members. [Note: It has not -- see below: UPDATE II]

UPDATE: James Joyner raises a good point on the blog Outside the Beltway. Joyner describes the irony (edit: "complete hypocrisy") of conservative seniors and ASA leading the charge against AARP for supporting a plan that seeks to reduce the costs associated with Medicare. Conservatives often point to Medicare as representing the perils of public-sponsored healthcare. Also, it is the largest public plan in the country, but conservatives bash public plans as a step towards "socialized medicine." This "protest" does not reflect conservative values.

UPDATE II: According to an Associated Press article (that also fails to mention ASA's card-cutting membership drive), the loss of 60, 000 members is indeed a drop in the bucket for AARP. A spokesperson for AARP says that 60,000 members specifically cited AARP's stance on healthcare reform as they canceled their memberships (which means these particular individuals do not retain memberships in AARP and ASA). The spokesperson also said that AARP typically loses 300,000 members a month, and that during the same period that it lost 60,000 members (July 1 - mid-August) over healthcare reform, it gained 400,000 new members, and 1.5 million individuals renewed their memberships.

UPDATE III:Media Matters has done some digging on the personalities featured in the CBS report. Apparently, one of the ex-AARP'ers, Elaine Guardiani, is very conservative and anti-Obama even outside of the healthcare debates. Accordingly, she is a prime candidate to take part in an AARP smear campaign -- or ASA membership drive. Assuming this is the same Guardiani, here are her comments regarding healthcare reform:

Couple this with this headlong rush into control over every aspect of our lives by the current administration and the attack on our right to have "privacy" of our medical records and be able to choose our medical coverage without the government attacking our benefits and our right to care under penalty of law even if we can afford procedures they don't intend to provide or want to eliminate from our care if a government plana goes through. Since when is it illegal for me to be able to pay for something I can afford like medical procedures? This country is heading into Socialism at breakneck speed and it is being masked under the glib language of our president.

At age 64, Guardian will probably soon enroll in Medicare. It does not appear, however, that she has renounced Medicare -- the nation's largest public plan. Neither have the many conservative bloggers who view this story as an honest portrayal of reality. Conservatives, however, usually despise Medicare, and since it is a public plan, they should consider it one step closer to "socialized medicine." Instead, they are praising the alleged AARP protestors, even though a principal part of their protest surrounds Obama's pledge to lower costs associated with Medicare.

UPDATE IV: Poor CBS. Check out these links, which explain that CBS was either duped or the network voluntarily acted as ASA's marketing machine:

CBS News: Breathless Stenography

Are Senior Citizens Really Quitting AARP And Rushing To The Conservative American Seniors Association?

CBS Video


Anonymous said...

The story last evening on the AARP ignored the fact that there are thousands of people like me who joined the AARP specifically because of the AARP support for healthcare reform. I would bet that those of us who have joined in the last year outnumber or at least cancel out the people who have quit.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anonymous: You are probably correct! At the very end of the news report, CBS passively mentions that AARP registers hundreds of thousands of new members per month. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

AARP can count me in!

I've never joined (sobbing silently that I am now a couple of years over their minimum age!) but will sure do it now!

To spite ASA for $16.00 a year? PRICELESS!

report from the heartland said...

I hope someone got in touch with CBS. This is really disgraceful. Are all the senior editors on vacation or is there anyone at all supervising the cutting and pasting that goes for journalism there? By the way-- doesn't AARP "enroll" you when you hit 50 or 55 automatically? I tear up the card they send me because I can't face the fact I'm that old.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Report from the heartland: FUNNY about not facing the fact and tearing up the card. SAD about this reporting.

Matt Osborne said...

American Seniors Association is a flimsy Republican front group. Details here.

Puma for Life said...

I cancelled my membership in AARP after 11 years of membership. They must be getting paid off by the pharmaceutical companies because all they care about is drugs. I checked outhe ASA and determined I was not interested in them either; you don't even have to be a senior citizen to join. Give me a break; like getting a free year's membership is why someone would send a cut-up AARP membership card. All seniors are not stupid. Anyone who thinks they can cut medicaid without cutting services is a fool; no way possible. They are cutting out seniors so they can provide services to illegal immigrants. Ridiculous.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Puma for Life:

People who quit one group in order to join another normally do not mail the new group their torn up membership cards from the former group. This does not even make sense. It just so happens that this scenario is spelled out in the promotional campaign by ASA. I think it's clear that this is what is going on. Barton himself describes the individuals as "new" members. You think they just thought he would like to collect their AARP cards? No way.

Second, if cutting Medicare costs is part of a comprehensive package of healthcare reform, then the cost-cutting is arguably possible. As a "Puma" I am sure you realize that Hillary's healthcare plan called for billions of dollars of cost reductions in the Medicare system by eliminating "overpayment" to HMOs and negotiating cheaper drug costs (which Obama has already done).

FINALLY -- AND MOST IMPORTANTLY -- I encourage you to seek out factual information about the proposals. The "illegal alien" scarecrow argument has gained a lot of currency, but like the "death panels" issue, it is completely false. From CNN:

The facts: The bill, HR 3200, specifically bars coverage for illegal immigrants. Section 246, which is included in the part of the bill that sets up a health insurance exchange, forbids payments "on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." But critics say there is no way to enforce that provision, and the Democratic majority in the House has turned back at least one Republican effort to stiffen citizenship checks.

Matt: I will check out the link. Thanks for posting.

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