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Suzanne Somers, expert on nothing

October 30, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Suzanne Somers, healthcare sage.
Suzanne Somers, healthcare sage. (Nathan Denette/AP )

Noted healthcare economist Suzanne Somers received a full screen's worth of valuable Wall Street Journal online space the other day to deliver her judgment on the Affordable Care Act. Before we get to the substance of her argument, let's acknowledge that her piece has added to her worldwide fame. It may not do great things for the Journal's reputation, though.

Somers, last seen hawking exercise equipment and cure-all elixirs in infomercials and her website, declared the act to be a "Socialist Ponzi Scheme." She wrote: "Let's call affordable health care what it really is: It's socialized medicine." This viewpoint probably conforms to that of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, in which case they deserve each other. 

But in terms of facts: Sorry, no. The Affordable Care Act actually leaves U.S. healthcare in the hands of the private insurance industry. That's not socialism. As for calling the act "a greater Ponzi scheme than that pulled off by Bernie Madoff," it's embarrassing even to have to debunk this. Suffice to say it shows Somers to know nothing about (a) Ponzi schemes, (b) Bernie Madoff, or (c) the Affordable Care Act. But we knew that.

Somers uses this assertion to veer into an extended rant about the Canadian healthcare system, which of course isn't what we have in the United States. In any event, she gets the facts and figures about the Canadian system wildly wrong, as this post by Aaron Carroll, a true-to-life healthcare expert, explains.

The real question raised by Somers' post, which has already generated a three-part correction, is whether the Wall Street Journal has any standards at all for what it publishes in this online feature labeled, we assume not facetiously, "The Experts."

Presumably the Journal is above featuring blond actresses on its website purely as clickbait, but then what's the answer? The blog's editor, Larry Rout, told the Poynter Institute's MediaWire that its goal is to showcase "a variety of viewpoints” from a “growing group of elite panelists.” Yes, but where does Somers fit in again?

Certainly there's nothing new about entertainment figures being sought after for their views on the weighty issues of the day. Celebrity can be a powerful instrument when it serves laudable causes -- antipoverty, peace, universal healthcare. It can also be dangerous. The starlet Jenny McCarthy, lately awarded a spot on the popular talk show "The View," is a noted anti-vaccine campaigner, a movement that causes illness and death.

The exploitation of star power on behalf of any public issue, pro or con, should be treated with great caution, lest you end up with cases like Dr. Oz giving the unqualified green light to the potentially hazardous activity of tackle football in school, a disgraceful act we reported on a few days ago. 

When someone like Somers is labeled an "expert," red flags should wave. Unless, that is, you subscribe to the theory put forth by the late Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska, who defended President Nixon's nomination of the resoundingly mediocre judge G. Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court by arguing, "There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?" By that standard, sure: Suzanne Somers is an expert.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, on Facebook or by email.


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