Consider more carefully who we quote on questions of law and policy

Aug 27, 2013

I just learned something important I thought I should share with you. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” is unconstitutional after all.

Yes, I know that the United States Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, said it was constitutional, and that they have the ultimate legal authority to decide that.   But Joan Fabiano says they are wrong, and some media outlets think her views are worth repeating.

Fabiano, who is often described as a “prominent Tea Party activist,” isn‘t exactly a lawyer.

In fact, so far as I know, her higher education stopped at Lansing Community College. According to her Linked In profile, she was an administrative assistant at a General Motors plant, though she doesn‘t quite spell  Motors right. Currently, she runs a business called Romancing Your Home, which provides “one-day decorating, color consulting real estate staging and placement of furniture.”   My guess is that she is very good at all that.

But what I can’t figure out is why news outlets feel compelled to treat her pronouncements on Constitutional issues with gravity and respect.

We saw this yesterday. State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton is about as radical as there is in the Michigan Senate. He  hates the federal government, is bitterly opposed to Medicaid expansion, and instead is offering his own bill.  

To the extent I understand it, his bill would provide less, not more coverage than there is now, and according to State Budget Director John Nixon, could cost Michigan billions.

Joan Fabiano has been one of the few people supporting the Colbeck plan. But yesterday, she withdrew that support. Not because it would be a bad deal for Michigan‘s uninsured.   

No, she is against it, she says, because it is being taken “under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act.”  Never mind that it is pretty much inspired by opposition to Obamacare.  Even the mere fact of discussing what she considers an unconstitutional act taints it, she says, even though she said she thinks “the ideas presented in it are truly worthy."

Well, Ms. Fabiano has the right to her beliefs. I suppose I have the right to my own theories about brain surgery. But I have no medical training, and if I spouted off on this, I’d expect to be asked for my credentials -- and then ignored.

I have talked about Fabiano’s background in some detail because many news outlets do not; they just quote what she says, as opposed to, say, what the Chief Justice says.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that all views are equally worthy of attention. Those whose responsibility it is to present “news”  do have a responsibility to present all sides.

There would be nothing wrong with interviewing a conservative law professor or Justice Antonin Scalia about the constitutionality of Obamacare. They have legitimate credentials to criticize it.

But nobody would, or should, interview me on brain surgery. I think we should consider more carefully who we quote on questions of law and policy -- and mention their credentials when doing so.