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 Video