President Obama went to Largo, Maryland, on Thursday and gave a speech about the Affordable Care Act, about how important it is that, “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” about how significant it is that,
on October 1st, millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance because they’ve been priced out of the market or because they’ve been denied access because of a preexisting condition, they will finally be able to buy quality, affordable health insurance.
He talked about many of the virtues of the law, like the free preventive care, like the young folks under 26 who “gained coverage by staying on their parents’ plan,” like the “hundreds of dollars” that older Americans have saved on their medicine, like the money insurance companies were forced to return to families because those medical insurance companies didn’t spend enough on, uh, medical care.
The President mentioned that there are no longer any lifetime limits on coverage, that there is no longer any discrimination allowed for preexisting conditions, nor are companies allowed “to charge women more for their insurance just because they’re women.”
The man who was instrumental in making access to health insurance a “right” for the first time in American history, also talked a lot about how the whole thing will work, beginning next Tuesday, and what folks who need insurance should do to sign up. He talked about the various choices, the costs, and how it is that the “marketplaces” and the “competition, choice, and transparency” that comes with those marketplaces, “are keeping costs down.”
The President, though, also had to talk about the “misinformation” and “confusion” surrounding the law. He noted both the silly and the dangerous efforts by Republicans to repeal it, about all the dumb and hysterical things that they have said about the law, and a quick acknowledgement of the role Fox “News” has played in the campaign against it. (By the way, IQ-slaughtering “Fox and Friends” Friday morning had a segment attacking the President for invoking “slavery” and daring to “divide” the nation!)
Unfortunately, it was mostly the President’s remarks about Republicans that made it onto television and radio news, mainly because many broadcast journalists these days have pretty much given up on educating the public when it comes to politics. Not much of the substance, of the practical advice the President offered to potential beneficiaries of the ACA, was disseminated by broadcast news outlets.
I did, though, see or hear a hundred times the President’s funny allusion to the stupidity of Michele Bachmann, and his oblique reference to the Koch brothers, who are funding a “cynical ad campaign” designed to get young people to not participate in the insurance marketplaces and therefore not have “any health care.”
But of all the journalism I witnessed regarding Thursdays coverage of the President’s speech and the ongoing shutdown and default talk in Washington, the worst was what I saw on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.
The fight over shutting down the government and the dangerous debt ceiling nonsense was the second story on Thursday night’s broadcast. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl had two minutes and he proceeded to make a joke of the entire thing. From beginning to end, it was a piece designed to be more cute than informative, more clever than enlightening.
First, Sawyer introduced the piece by saying,
And now we head to Washington and the growing frustration in the country over another round of name-calling and threats to bring the government to a standstill.
Uh-oh. You can sense that this is going to be another one of those “both sides are guilty” pieces, which enables Republicans to do all the dirty work and only get half the blame. She continued:
We begin with…Jonathan Karl, who tells us what the opposing sides are saying about each other tonight.
Ah, there it is in full-bloom. “The opposing sides” are saying things about each other, and that, of course, is the story. And it got worse. Karl began his piece with a comedic speed-up of video footage of the President making his way to the podium in Maryland, sort of like an old Charlie Chaplin movie. Then Karl said this:
Here we go again: We’ve got a serious president calling his opponents “crazy.”
Huh? Is that any way to start a report on the dangerous game being played by Republicans? Geeze.
Obviously, the President didn’t call anyone crazy, but he did say this:
All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy. And a lot of it is just hot air. A lot of it is just politics. I understand that. But now the tea party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government, or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history — unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.
If Jonathan Karl had included that soundbite in his report, the public would have learned something important. But he didn’t, so they didn’t. What they learned was that the President called his opponents crazy, which he clearly didn’t do.
In any case, Karl pivoted to the Republican Party, who, he said, were “willing to go to the brink,” by making a lot of policy demands in exchange for a deal. He also used Jon Stewart to take a jab at Ted Cruz.
Then Karl accurately reported that the White House, sensibly, said it will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but the reporter put his own ridiculous Beltway spin on it:
Over at the White House, they’ve decided the best way to strike a deal is not to try…Instead of negotiating, they are name-calling. Today one of the President’s top aides said of Republicans, quote, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” while Senator Ted Cruz compared those willing to fund ObamaCare with those who appeased the Nazis in the 1940s. That’s where we are, Dianne.
And there you have it. Both sides are equally unreasonable. Both sides are crass name-callers. Karl thinks, and wants his viewers to think, that both sides are engaging in “absurdities”—his word—and therefore both sides are guilty, should the government shut down or should we suffer an economic calamity related to not raising the debt ceiling.
That, my friends, is why Republicans in the House and Senate feel free to play dangerous games with the economy and the stability of the American financial system. That is why they are not afraid to fanatically embrace both their ignorance and ideology and use them to cause chaos in the capital. They understand that, when things turn sour, the Jonathan Karls of journalism will do their best to spread the blame around.
In the meantime, President Obama said on Thursday that as long as he is president,
The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
All we are really waiting on now, as Senator Patty Murray said today, is which hostage the Republicans are going to take in order to get their way: the government or the economy, or both. And if one or both of the hostages get shot, count on Beltway journalists to tell the public that the hostage-takers and the hostage-rescuers are both guilty of the crime.