While the Web site says the AMA’s work on cost containment is “ongoing,” it lays out some broad strategies, such as reducing preventable disease, making health care delivery more efficient, and promoting value-based decision making at all levels—whatever that means. There’s not much here that would keep a well-heeled radiologist from sleeping at night. The AMA’s “pillars of reform,” however, probably sound reasonable to ordinary patients whom the AMA is enlisting to bolster its underlying agenda—stopping any proposal that would threaten doctors’ incomes.

Through its Patient Action Network, the AMA is looking for willing patients to receive “important updates on issues” that will affect their access to quality health care. The AMA says it will notify them when they can make a critical difference in legislative outcomes. Sounds to me like they’re ginning up a letter-writing machine and building a stable of “fly-ins”—people who can come to Washington and make their concerns known, an tactic used effectively by the insurance industry.

How is a poor soul in Congress to know which of these “grassroots ambassadors” have been coached by advocacy groups, and which are honest-to-goodness representatives of the public? How are reporters to know before they interview them for their stories? A member of Congress may throw up his or her hands and listen to the group that gave the most money. Reporters can’t do that. Their work requires some hard digging before they pass along quotes from fake agents of the grassroots.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.