Return to Form

November 4th, 2011 · No Comments · health care reform

By Arthur Alpert

Well, it certainly didn’t take long for the Albuquerque Journal to return to form.

Last week I applauded the newspaper’s October 27 issue, which lacked twisted headlines and contained the kind of information its editors usually ignore.

It was like reading a Journal from another dimension.

But only a day later, the Journal returned to this reality. Alas.

Specifically, the Journal continued management’s eternal crusade against Obamacare by employing a suspect “news” story – I will justify the adjective “suspect” momentarily – from its regular partner in pseudo-journalism, the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press.

Oh, and it put this suspect “story” on Page One.

It looked, at first blush, like a report on the Medicare premium for 2012, which news I chanced to get from the Wall Street Journal, too, in a piece of similar length.

So let’s compare our daily’s offering with what Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper published.

The WSJ story headlined “Medicare Increase Less than Feared”, on A6, was jam-packed with information about the 3.6 percent ($3.50) raise.

WSJ reporter Louise Radnofsky explored its relation to the Social Security COLA, variations for categories of Medicare recipients, changes in some deductibles, HHS Secretary Sibelius’ estimate retirees will typically take home $40 a month more, AARP’s reaction and the probability privately insured workers will pay more.

Toward the end, the reporter noted the Obama Administration and “some” Republicans disagreed on why the hike was smaller than anticipated.

Back in the Duke City, the Albuquerque Journal (accurately) headlined Ricardo Alonso- Zaldivar’s story:

“Medicare Cost Increase Lower Than Expected”

And Alonso-Zaldivar got right to the point:

“Good news for seniors. The government says Medicare’s basic monthly premium will rise less than expected next year, by $3.50 for most.”

But catch his next graph:

“It could be good, too, for President Barack Obama and Democrats struggling for older Americans’ votes in a close election.”

So this isn’t a straight news story about the cost of Medicare next year. But what is it? Read on.

In the next graph, the writer ties the Medicare hike to the Social Security COLA and explains:

“The main reason for lower than expected premiums seems to be the connection between Social Security COLAs and Medicare.’

Huh? I don’t understand that. Nor do I get “seems.”

Dear reporter: If you know, tell us. If not, perhaps you can obtain some expert views.

Alonso-Zaldivar continues, “Some also cite a moderation in health care costs.”

Who are they? The “some,” I mean. And have health care costs moderated?

Alonso-Zaldivar doesn’t say. He’s already moved on to:

“But the Obama administration is hoping seniors will get a simpler takeaway message: Medicare is under sound management.”

OK, we get it. This isn’t a straight news story. It’s an interpretative piece of some sort that puts the Medicare news in a political context.
This is SOP at the Journal; editors routinely omit basic “what happened” stories in favor of analyses or rebuttals. But they might have warned us. That’s why there exist “News analysis” stamps and the like.

Returning to his essay, we read Alonso-Zaldivar’s reminder that older voters went Republican in 2010.This, he writes, came “after Obama’s health care overhaul law cut Medicare spending to help finance coverage for the uninsured.”

Hold it right there.

Alonso-Zaldivar’s statement that the health care reform “cut Medicare spending” isn’t just simplistic. It evades a complex reality. And it echoes the arguments of health care reform opponents.

Here, briefly, is what he left out:

Medicare Part D, the 2003 legislation written in part by the pharmaceutical industry and whose enactment process was unusually brutal and corrupt (or, maybe just visibly brutal and corrupt) included bonuses for insurance companies in the managed care business.

Obama’s reform rescinded the bonuses.

“News analysis” is one thing, editorializing another.

I conclude that Alonso-Zaldivar’s piece (like many emanating from AP’s Washington Bureau in recent years) sides with the rightist opposition to the Administration’s health reform. (There’s leftist opposition, too.)

And the remainder of his essay contains nothing to disabuse me of that impression.

HHS Secretary Sebelius, he writes, called the lower-than-expect premium “pretty remarkable” and “reassured seniors that they have nothing to fear from the health care law.”

Next sentence: “Republicans weren’t buying it.”

This introduced one graph of adverse criticism from a Senate opponent and one graph of adverse criticism from a House opponent.

To sum up, then, Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ carried a professional, informative and apolitical report on the Medicare news while the Albuquerque Journal carried – well, you characterize it.

Me, I’m busy investigating quantum physics, including string theory. Maybe I can move the Albuquerque Journal back into that alternate universe.

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