U.S. Health Care Debate Feeds Anti-Americanism in Europe (Part I)

Europeans have dedicated saturation media coverage to the debate over reforming the American health care system. Some of the coverage has provided useful insights into the diverging attitudes between Europeans and Americans on the issue of health care.

But the health care debate has also provided rich fodder for European opinion-shapers, ever on the lookout for new reasons to bash America. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, European newspaper headlines suggest that anti-Americanism is as alive and well as ever in Europe, even if some surveys say things are improving.

European press coverage of the American health care debate has tended heavily toward the sensational, and the United States has often been portrayed as a third-world medical wasteland in comparison to the European socialist utopia of health, happiness, and longevity for all. Not surprisingly, European political and media elites have seized on the debate in an effort to reassure weary European taxpayers of the superiority of the European social and economic model.

Media from across Europe have dispatched reporters to the far corners of the United States to scout out the worst deficiencies of the U.S. health care system; these have often been presented as being the norm across the country. European journalists have also played fast and loose with statistics in order to magnify the problems out of proportion.

For example, a common mantra has been that 45 million Americans do not have access to health care. From a European perspective, that is an astonishing number because it is more than the population of most European countries. But in the American context, 45 million constitutes around 15 percent of the population.

British media have produced some of the most exaggerated European reporting about that state of the American health care system. And the left-wing Guardian, one of the most influential newspapers in British society, is virtually without peers when it comes to anti-American bias.

The Guardian, like many of its European counterparts, has perfected the art of presenting statistics in a way that portray the United States as a developing country. A typical Guardian news article reads: “According to government figures, life expectancy for [American] women is lower than in Albania and infant mortality is higher than Cuba. This national disgrace conceals a regional outrage. Black infant mortality in Louisiana is on a par with Sri Lanka; in the very city where the reforms will be decided, Washington, D.C., life expectancy is lower than the Gaza Strip.”

The Guardian dispatched one of its reporters to the United States to “recreate” John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in order “to reveal life in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” In an article titled “From Dust to Bust, America’s Poor Take on a New Type of Monster,” the Guardian reports: “To travel the old road [Route 66] today -- stumbling across crumbling ghost towns and half-abandoned communities, across the sprawling Native American desert reservations, through cities where people work all the hours they aren’t sleeping and still cannot afford to go to the doctor -- is to encounter new despair. … For those who fall off the juggernaut of American capitalism, or who fail to find space on it in the first place, there are considerable challenges in a land with an inherent suspicion of people in need.”

In another “exposé,” the Guardian sent one of its reporters to Quindaro, Kansas, “to see how the poorest survive.” The article titled “Dying for affordable healthcare -- the uninsured speak” reads: “Obama’s attempts to extend health care to all Americans has stalled in the face of a sustained right-wing guerrilla attack. … She [Sharon Lee, a doctor in Kansas City] rattles off a litany of horror stories. There was the man who walked into the clinic with a brain tumour. It took Lee three months to get him an MRI scan and another two to get an appointment with a neurosurgeon. Or the patient whose nerves in his neck were pushed against his spinal cord so that he lost use of both arms; by the time Lee found a way of getting him an MRI he was so sick he had to be operated on immediately. Or the woman who had such heavy periods she would wind up in ER every three months requiring a blood transfusion. What she really needed was a hysterectomy. … These are the stories, the broken lives, that have been obscured by the fury generated by the Republican rump.”