The Media’s Obsession with the NHS

Rare is the reporter, it seems, who lets go by an opportunity to praise Britain’s system of socialized medicine. And a perfect opportunity presented itself this month when the “WannaCry” computer virus seized networks worldwide.

The first wave of infections hit systems in Europe. For example, arrival and departure boards at train stations in Germany were taken over by a message demanding ransom payment in bitcoin. Also affected were Spain’s Telefónica and France’s Renault.

When it came to labeling these various European institutions, the Washington Post was plainly descriptive: Deutsche Bahn is “Germany’s national railway service,” Telefónica is “the Spanish telecom giant,” and Renault is “the French carmaker.”

But when it came to putting a label on the U.K.’s health care bureaucracy, the Post had a different sort of description altogether, writing that the computer virus “hit Britain’s beloved but creaky National Health Service particularly hard.” Beloved but creaky—it’s not necessarily an inaccurate description, but it is clearly a normative one.

The Post didn’t feel the need to include any information on customer attitudes toward German trains, Spanish phones, or French autos, but the paper just had to put in the assertion that the NHS is “beloved.” (This, though in the British press, whenever there’s a reference to the health system being “beloved” or “cherished” or “treasured,” it is usually followed by a painful story about patients stacked like so much cordwood as they wait for care—thus the creaky qualifier.)

Over at National Public Radio the praise for the NHS had no qualifier. This is how reporter Frank Langfitt began his story on All Things Considered: “The ransomware attack struck more than 30 facilities in England’s vaunted National Health Service.” Vaunted: What, one might ask, is that editorial stamp of approval doing at the top of a news item? The Scrapbook suspects the editors at NPR would have ixnayed any similar bit of reportorial opinionating if the opinion about the NHS had been a negative one. (Though we guess Langfitt might just have gotten away with “creaky” as long as he was sure to preface that critique with “beloved.”)

Why the gratuitous endorsement? Could it be that reporters find ways to sneak in praise for the NHS because it’s the sort of single-payer health care system they’ve long believed the United States should adopt?

Or maybe NPR’s Langfitt was being subversive. “Vaunted,” after all, doesn’t just mean “celebrated,” let alone anything like “excellent.” It is the adjectival form of the verb “to vaunt,” meaning to boast or brag. One could argue that to say something is “vaunted,” strictly speaking, means that it is overpraised. So, National Public Radio was right after all, if inadvertently.

Oh, sorry, we should have said “the vaunted National Public Radio.”

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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