Bloggers are quick to click - and judge

October 12, 2007|By JEAN MARBELLA

Wow, if you dare speak out in favor of a government program, your kitchen cabinets better not have glass fronts. Heaven forbid you cry poor but your wedding merited an announcement in The New York Times. And for God's sake, don't live on the same block as someone whose house sold for $485,000.

I've often wondered when all the pent-up sanctimony that has collected in the blogosphere over the years would reach the point of explosion. Well, beware of flying shards of indignation and toxic clouds of righteousness -- the Graeme Frost hysteria may finally make the whole gasbagosphere go kablooie.

Graeme is the now-famous 12-year-old boy from Baltimore whom Democrats used to highlight the benefits of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which would have been expanded under legislation that passed Congress with bipartisan support but was vetoed by President Bush. Graeme credited SCHIP -- which is designed for families that make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance -- with providing the medical care he and his sister needed after being seriously injured in a car accident.

Since becoming the face of SCHIP, Graeme and his family have been dragged through the modern-day mud of the Internet -- bloggers and other Internet posters have gone sleuthing online, uncovering property records and wedding announcements that led them to proclaim the Frosts neither hard-working enough nor poor enough to take advantage of a program meant for the working poor.

Amazing what you can find on the Internet these days -- and amazing what definitive conclusions you can make on the basis of a Google search.

Forget the Reagan-era welfare queens, welcome the SCHIP SCHEATERS.

If you read any of the blogs obsessing on this case -- or the more than 600 comments posted on baltimoresun.com in response to a story about the Frosts -- you'll learn all sorts of stuff: That the Frost kids go to the private Park School where tuition runs $20,000 a year; that Graeme's parents, Halsey and Bonnie, come from families that have money or at least live in communities where people have money; that a Sun photo shows that their kitchen has those damning glass-fronted cabinets and granite counters.

True? Maybe, but also maybe not the whole truth. As the back-and-forth continues, other info continues to sputter out -- the kids are in private school on scholarship or maybe courtesy of a grandparent's largess, the counters are concrete rather than granite and, well, who knows what else has been uncovered since the last time I checked?

You gotta love the faith these bloggers and posters have in how easily they've clicked their way to "the truth." There are a couple who say they've done Internet searches showing the Frosts could buy private health insurance for about $600 a month. (Maybe, but you also can find "free" iPods on the Internet -- and jobs that will pay you $100 an hour to work at home and hot naked women who are just dying to meet you.)

In other words, might there be some fine print that says, well, it's $600 unless you have two kids who suffered brain injuries from a car crash -- as the Frost siblings did?

I don't know every last detail of the Frost family's finances. For all I know, they shop at Whole Paycheck rather than Stop Shop & Save, or buy their clothes from Macy's rather than Goodwill, or fail to clip coupons or otherwise rise (or rather, sink) to whatever standard of neediness that would satisfy their critics. Surely some blogger is rifling through their garbage or following them to the store even as you read this and will soon alert us to the latest scoop: Bonnie Frost buys fresh rather than day-old bread, yet she expects taxpayers to pay for her kids' health care!

I don't know why Halsey is self-employed or why Bonnie works part time. I don't know if they're lazy or spendthrifts or have secret caches of family money stored in those glass-fronted cabinets.

All I know is the family applied for and was accepted into SCHIP based on whatever financial data they provided. Are the standards too lax? Should the grandparents' bank accounts figure into the decision? Does sending your kid to private school, scholarship or not, disqualify you? What about living in a 3,000-square-foot house, is that an automatic DQ, and if so, just how cramped must your quarters be to prove you're worthy?

Fair questions, I suppose, but instead of a serious debate on the proper standards for SCHIP qualification, there now is mostly sneering, gotcha tidbits, conflated with the usual subtlety that the Internet is known for -- such as the fact that a house across the street from the Frosts sold this year for $485,000, so now of course they live in "a neighborhood of half-million-dollar-plus homes."

Never mind that no one knows if the Frosts' own home would sell for that price. And also nevermind that if they were to sell the house to pay for their kids' medical bills, they still would need somewhere to live. No, it's much easier and far more amusing to just virtually slap this family around -- they asked for it, after all, by speaking out. So now it's all fair game, apparently, down to having their address printed online.

Drive by some time -- that'll make you as much of an expert on whether they should qualify for SCHIP as someone clicking around online.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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