I understand news organizations' terror of being charged with "liberal bias" or with being the president's lapdog. I also realize that, in the frothing madness previously known as the health care debate, all sides are increasingly desperate to present the most compelling case possible. But this fact-check compilation offered by NBC's "First Read' comes across as a sad example of one-the-one-hand one-the-other-hand faux journalistic balance:

First Read: 8/12

*** Rampant Misinformation: As it turns out, one of the most striking things watching the town halls yesterday--Obama's, Specter's, and McCaskill's--was how misinformed the public was about the health-care debate. It's no wonder that Obama spent much of his time yesterday explaining what his plans WOULDN'T do versus what they WOULD do. Here’s one question that Specter received: “President Obama has stated more than once that his goal is to have a single-payer system. Are you for a single-payer system? (While Obama expressed support for a single-payer system before becoming a U.S. senator, he campaigned against it during the presidential contest, and every bill that has cleared a congressional committee doesn't establish a single-payer system.) Here’s another: “I reviewed [H.R.] 3200 the best I could. To me it was obviously written with the assumption that government has the right to control our lives from pre-birth to death.” (As PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and the AP have written, there is nothing in any piece of legislation that has a say in end-of-life decisions. The provision that has caused the uproar authorizes Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes.)

 *** More Fact-Checking: Another question: “I do not want to pay on my health care plan that includes the right for a woman to kill her unborn baby. Is it true that this plan is in the health care bill?” (In the House legislation, no federal funds would be used to pay for abortions; if a woman wants an abortion under her plan, the money would come from her insurance premiums. Also, Americans would have the choice of choosing an insurance plan that covers abortion and one that does not.) And here was this question Specter received: “I have a question on page 58 and 59 of this bill, which gives the government access to private individual bank accounts at their free will.” (What?) As McCaskill noted on TODAY, “There are just so many people who are hearing things that aren’t just true.” Still, McCaskill said she was proud of the people who showed up at her town hall. “They don’t trust government right now… I get that distrust.”

 *** And Fact-Checking Obama: But the president also made some misleading statements of his own at his town hall yesterday. “I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter because, frankly, we historically have had an employer-based system in this country with private insurers, and for us to transition to a system like that I believe would be too disruptive.” But Obama did advocate a single-payer system back in 2003, although since then he has a said a single-payer wouldn’t work. Obama also repeated this line: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” However, there is nothing in any bill moving through Congress that would enforce that. (In fact, it's surprising the White House continues to push this line -- there is NO way the government can guarantee that a business won't change health care providers. They just can't.) And then Obama said, “We have the AARP on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors.” But AARP put out a statement yesterday saying that it hasn’t officially endorsed any of the bills moving through Congress, although it has said some encouraging words about them.

In this corner, we have conservative objectors who have either been grossly misled or have simply begun spontaneously spreading the most outrageous, totally false, highly inflammatory bullshit you can imagine. (On this note, Sarah Palin deserves a giant kick in the ass for maliciously (or ignorantly) hawking this "death panel" nonsense--and once again ickily referencing her children to make a political point.)

In the other, we have a president whose fact-checking sins qualify at worst as middling spin: 1. Obama did indeed years ago abandon the possibility of a single-payer system. 2. As someone whose employer has had to change insurance providers multiple times in recent years in search of manageable premiums, let me point out that "there is NO way the government can guarantee that a business won't change health care providers" even if reform fails--and that this is not really the point. The central apprehension the White House needs to fight is that reform will enable  "government-run health care" to force people into this or that plan (and then euthanize their elderly parents!)--long a favorite scare tactic of reform opponents. 3. And the AARP? The president is hardly the only person to assume that the group is on board with reform even if it has yet to endorse a specific bill. (Certainly, the right-wing American Family Association believes this to be the case.)

To its credit, The Note doesn't suggest an exact equivalence between the two sides. But any lumping together seems a bit of a stretch.

--Michelle Cottle