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December 03, 2013

Politico Magazine Offers Several Reasons Media Dropped The Ball on Vetting Obamacare, But Curiously Never Considers Pro-Obama Bias as a Factor

The press is occasionally willing to cop to some flaws, at least when they fail spectacularly.

But one flaw they are determined to never confess: a strong rooting interest in favor of the Democratic Party and progressive politics in general, and palpable distaste for Republicans and conservatives.

Thus Politico's attempt to discover why the press failed so badly in informing the public about Obamacare deliberately misses the obvious.

Let's sum up the claimed reasons for their failure:

1. The Press Neutrally Repeated Competing Claims Between Republicans and Democrats In Favor of Scrutinizing Those Claims.

What the press delivered instead was mostly a conversation among policy wonks and Beltway political elites without letting in the people who would be most affected by the nostrums they were prescribing. The public was the victim of a messaging war, with much of the conversation shaped by spin and talking points. And as in all wars, truth is the first casualty. Americans needed clear, direct explanations, honesty, dot connection and a probe of the carefully crafted words that came to define the debate. Yes, there were plenty of fact-checkers keeping watch, but as press critic and political scientist Brendan Nyhan has pointed out, these services can fall short. Their one-the-one hand, on-the-other hand format often confuses more than illuminates. Against this backdrop, the backlash of the last few weeks was probably inevitable.

Ah yes, the fact checkers -- such as Politifact, who claimed it was "True" that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan." To be precise, they claimed this was "Half True," but it was only not fully true because Obama couldn't force insurance companies to continue offering you the same plan.

As far as Obamacare itself, they claimed it was "True" that the law did nothing to cancel your insurance, and exempted current policy-holders from having to go to the marketplace.

They have still not retracted this claim, instead preferring to imply it's still too complicated to offer a ready assessment about (both Republicans and Democrats are spinning this!), thus sparing them the pain of confessing error.

The media did a little more than neutrally report the back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats on this issue: They actively claimed that Obama's narrative was true and that Republicans' criticisms were false. If you have any doubt about this-- about PolitiFact's tendency to cast Democratic lies as too complicated to evaluate, while claiming tendentious (but arguably true) Republican criticisms are flat-out lies, remember their Lie of the Year from 2010.

Politico is spinning. The media did not merely fail to scrutinize the parties' competing claims, and leave it all up to the readers to figure out the truth. They affirmatively reported that Obama's false claims were true and that conservatives' true claims were false.

And they're still doing it, even now. Even in this very piece, the author claims that the characterization of IPAB as denying procedures to certain patients is a flat-out false claim:

Suddenly, many journalists were realizing that the real story was not the stuff of far-right paranoia—like the false “death panels” claims or the canards about “socialized medicine” that dominated the early coverage; it was the law’s messy tradeoffs, its power to create new classes of winners and losers as it tried to bring insurance to more Americans.

Pro-tip: The whole point of IPAB is to restrict certain expensive procedures' availability, to bring costs under control, if the rate of growth of medical spending exceeds a certain amount. That's not false-- that's the explicit point of the law.

And as for "socialized medicine," well, the author gives the game away when she writes blithely of "tradeoffs" and "winners and losers" in the system. The system takes from some to give to others.

That is socialism, or, at the very least, it is a response informed by the values of socialism.

And that is the point of the thing.

2. It's All Just Too Complicated To Explain to the American Public.

American health care is what Yale professor emeritus Theodore Marmor calls a “patchwork system.” Because of the many “patches,” the best Obama could do without scrapping it entirely—a politically unviable option—was “weave them into a quilt.” As the president said on Nov. 14, in order to make things less disruptive “we tried to choose a way that built off the existing system.” And so the ACA was not wholesale reform or even a “sweeping” health care plan, as the New York Times misleadingly called the bill when it passed the House in November 2009. It was a modest, albeit complicated step to give insurance to as many as 30 million more people and reduce the number of uninsured Americans without resorting to a national health insurance system. As such, it is a crazy quilt indeed.

This was a "modest" step?

In any event, she claims here that the story was just too complicated to explain to the American public, suggesting that the fault lies with Americans' ability to comprehend the complicated system, and not so much with reporters.

But I'm pretty sure that 95% of reporters didn't understand Obamacare either. The problem wasn't just with the public, and their lack of expertise and inability to grasp difficult, complex systems. Reporters are, frankly, just as dumb, if not more dumb, than the average American citizen. (It's the stupid people who believe they're clever who do all the damage, after all.)

In any event, it wasn't all that complicated. Senator Mike Enzi explained, presciently, that most of the people in the individual market would be losing their coverage and forced into the exchanges. He explained this in 2010, in arguing in favor of his law to actually guarantee that people could keep their coverage.

There was actually a non-complicated answer here: Mike Enzi was right.

But the press didn't like that narrative, and so they didn't bother to check to see if he was right. They assumed he was lying, because, of course, that's what Republicans do.

3. The Same Thing I Said In Point One, Pretty Much. Except the Problem Is Mostly With the Political Reporters, Not the Subject Matter Expert Reporters, Like Me, Who Got It Pretty Much All Right.

I don't remember the media's health care reporters advertising the fact that most people in the individual market would lose their insurance and be forced into the exchanges. Do you?

This woman does. And she's found three or four reporters who suggested that a few people might lose their insurance, so apparently the media's "experts" all got it right.

One reason is that while many health-care wonks and policy reporters may have understood that insurers would have to cancel some plans to comply with the new law (see, for instance, this June 2010 story in the New York Times), most political reporters did not, and paid little attention until the failed Obamacare rollout became a political story.

...

Nor did the media probe deeply into what affordability really meant for all people, including those who would not get subsidies and saw insurance becoming increasingly unaffordable. That failure now haunts the Affordable Care Act, even though a few thoughtful journalists presented warning signals....

“It doesn’t fit their idea of news,” [Senator Ron] Wyden observed. “Their idea is liberals for and conservatives against.” In other words, the horse race dominated, with each horse getting equal coverage until the votes were counted.

Again, these arguments were all resolvable by simply reading the law and regulations -- something the media refused to do. And if the "experts" in the media did so themselves, they sure didn't make much noise about it.

Also note who she suggests that the media should have spent more time talking to: Not Senator Mike Enzi, of course, who warned the country about Obamacare's deliberate cancellation of policies (though no one in the media reported on it).

No, she thinks we could all do with a strong dose of Ron Wyden, whose criticism of Obamacare -- back when it contained a Trojan horse to destroy private insurance, aka the Public Option -- was that the Trojan Horse didn't go far enough.

She allows the media could have been more critical of Obamacare, then: so long as those criticism emanated from the left, and so long as the law were being criticized as not socialist-leaning enough.

But maybe this sentence explains, more than any of the prior silliness, the media's failure to adequately cover Obamacare:


Now that the website seems to be more or less working, will the media move on to the next political food fight, or will journalists do a better job explaining to consumers how they can actually use it?

Note the two absurd assumptions in that sentence:

1. that Healthcare.gov is now "more or less working," and

2. it is a media responsibility to instruct the public how they can use Healthcare.gov and assist the Obama Administration in helping its policy to succeed.

Incidentally, when she says the media should help the public "use it," I assume she means "offer advice for working around the glitches and bugs." Because usually, with a functioning website, you don't need media articles explaining how to "use it."

Even in an article desperately attempting to pin the blame for the media's failure to properly on Obamacare on anything besides a kneejerk embrace of progressive politics and an uncritical credulousness about claims by progressive politicians, she just can't help but agitate for Team Progressive some more.


The Only Permissible Criticism Is Criticism From the Left. Politico's reporter/Cheerleader for Single Payer writes this:

News outlets weren’t seeking sources like Wyden. Their go-to guys were Ron Pollack, the head of the advocacy group Families USA and a cheerleader for Obamacare, when they wanted a quote representing the consumer view, and MIT economist Jonathan Gruber when they wanted the opinion of an academic. But Gruber was no ordinary academic. He was a paid consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services that was helping to design Obamacare and a staunch advocate for the law. In December 2009, with Congress on the verge of passing legislation, Families USA collected 58 mentions in the media, ranging from elite outlets like the New York Times to local dailies like the Contra Costa Times. From Jan. 1, 2009, through the end of January 2010, Gruber got 386 media mentions, compared with Jonathan Oberlander, a political scientist from the University of North Carolina who, like Gruber, was a health reform expert. Oberlander, though, was skeptical of the bill’s cost-containment measures and favored different solutions.

Different solutions? Why, that's rather vague. Did he propose permitting insurance companies to sell across state lines? Malpractice reform? Health Savings Accounts?

No. The "different solutions" she alludes to, so very vaguely, was... ta da! Canadian-style Single Payer.

In an article presuming to diagnose why the press got Obamacare wrong, the author continues to deliberately mislead her audience (not admitting her proposed solution is a single payer plan, choosing instead to replace two clear words ("Single Payer") with two vague words ("different solutions")) and misrepresenting the range of options America might have chosen.

She pretends the only voices worth hearing in this debate are on the left: Obama vs. Wyden, and Hacker vs. Oberlander. Health care policy is to be determined, she suggests, by an open debate between the political left and the academic left. Conservative plans are not even mentioned as possibilities, and conservatives apparently have no business in the debate at all.

And that is why the press dropped the ball so badly on Obamacare.

Perhaps if she read her own article, she'd understand this a little better.


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posted by Ace at 05:07 PM

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