The Long War

June 11th, 2012 · No Comments · health care reform, role of government, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

OK, it’s not on the top of the news agenda these days, but if you can put aside the presidential sparring, economy and Wisconsin recall for a moment, I’d like to remind you there’s still a war going on.

I refer to the Albuquerque Journal’s long war on Obamacare, waged not just in editorials and opinion pieces, but also in the so-called “news” pages.

This duplicitous tailoring of the editors’ “news decisions” to the editorial agenda began when the President raised the issue.

(Winthrop Quigley’s health business reports and interpretative pieces are excellent but he eschews the blatantly political.)

The Washington Bureau of the Associated Press has long enabled the Journal’s campaign; these days AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar regularly promotes corporate healthcare against reform efforts in the guise of reporting.

So his latest piece Friday, June 1, on A6, headlined “Health Care Bill Deals Revealed”, was no surprise.

First, note the inaccurate headline; as the reporter himself admits in paragraph three, the deals were nothing new.

Secondly, here’s Alonso-Zaldivar’s lead, including spin:

“The White House played political hardball with drug industry honchos to get a 2009 deal that helped keep health care overhaul legislation from bogging down in Congress, according to internal emails released Thursday by House Republicans.”

Hmm. “Hardball?”

If so, surely a fair reporter might note it was a late-inning change of tactics.

Heck, even before they played “The Star-Spangled Banner” the White House conceded that American’s health would remain a market commodity in corporate hands.

And shortly after “Play ball”, it surrendered the “public option.”

So in the beginning, the White House played Nerfball. And if this was a whole new ballgame, who was firing the high, hard ones?

Was it – per Alonso-Zaldivar – the bullies in the White House beating up on little Big Pharma?

If that were true, how come Obamacare prohibits Medicare from bargaining for lower prescriptions the way the VA does?

And how come American citizens still pay double or triple what Canadians pay for the exact same pills?

Answer – the White House gave up on both to buy Big Pharma’s help in closing the doughnut hole (some $89 billion) and its backing for the final compromise.

So who’s playing hardball?

In the June 9 N.Y. Times, Peter Baker sees it differently, as revealed by the headline:

“Obama Was Pushed by Drug Industry, E-Mails Suggest”

And they read the same emails.

Now I don’t know how Baker and Alonso-Zaldivar came to dueling conclusions, but it’s clear the latter never asked questions like:

Where is the power in the American system?

What is the purpose of the modern American corporation? (See Milton Friedman.)

And what’s government for?

Who’s supposed to govern – elected officials or corporate CEOs?

How does the electoral process, so reliant on corporate dollars, affect governance? Or, to get concrete, who held what cards in the final negotiations?

Hey, they may not teach it in Journalism 101 but it’s fundamental stuff, no?

If he’d asked and answered them, surely Alonso-Zaldivar wouldn’t have written what he did. Of course, he might not have agreed with Baker, either.

Looking at the emails both reporters cite, I’d offer this as a plausible summary:

“In negotiations that resulted in the final form of the health reform called Obamacare, the White House and corporate health businesses made deals to protect themselves at significant cost to Americans seeking healthcare.”

But back to Alonso-Zaldivar, who – in his eighth paragraph – offers some complexity. Too bad Journal readers missed it; the editors ran exactly seven graphs of the 20-graph story.

Returning to the Journal war, as generals know, you cannot rely on action alone. Strategic inaction matters, too. This may explain why Journal editors continue to pass on stories suggesting the modest health care reform enacted has useful elements.

The Washington Post published two such reports Friday, June 8.

The first, headlined, “States join to create tools for implementing Affordable Care Act”, even mentioned New Mexico.

The rubric on the second read, “CareFirst says experimental program improves primary care, reduces costs”.

Turns out CareFirst BlueCross Blue­Shield, the largest private insurer in the Washington, D.C. region, reported very positive results of a program inspired by “the health-care overhaul.”

The Journal published neither, but you understand, sometimes, darn it, there’s just no space.

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