Fair Warning: Obamacare ‘PR Wars’ Commence

August 8th, 2013 · 2 Comments · health care reform

By Denise Tessier

At least Albuquerque Journal readers were warned.

Obamacare duel erupts into intense public-relations war,” was the headline on a small story at the page bottom in the Sunday Dimension section; its sub-head: “Pro and con groups prepare to launch major campaigns.”

The very next day (Aug. 5) readers were hit with part of those campaigns via the Journal’s Op-Ed page, where Journal editorial board members packaged dueling columns in a box marked “Health Care.”

In the “PRO” corner (supporting the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare), was a column headlined “Improved health at lower costs,” written by an assistant professor of the Indiana University School of Public Health, Beth Meyerson. She also was listed as co-director of a rural AIDS/STD prevention center and director of national policy for a cervical cancer awareness group.

In the “CON” corner, headlined “Plenty of reasons to simply opt out,” was a piece written by two people with The Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation had been listed in Sunday’s story as the main group campaigning against the ACA, not only with its usual opinion pieces, but with town halls. From Sunday’s Washington Post story:

Heritage Action, the political-action arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, announced plans for a series of town hall meetings across the country. The meetings will feature former senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another tea party favorite, and will center on efforts to defund the law.

We at ABQJournalWatch had wondered how long it would take the Journal to run another piece from the Heritage Foundation – or even whether the Journal would continue using its papers – since the think tank suffered a credibility blow when its cost figures related to immigration reform were not only proven wrong, but it was revealed that the report had been co-written by a man whose 2009 doctoral dissertation asserted that immigrant children had lower IQs.

That same Sunday story said groups supporting the health care act include Americans United for Change and a “health-care advocacy group” called Protect Your Care. Looking at the credentials of Beth Meyerson, author of the “Pro” Obamacare column, it doesn’t appear that she’s affiliated with either of those groups, but is simply a health care professional. (Her column was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)

Which is part of what makes this “dueling” package interesting. In creating the package, the Journal “balanced” a health care professional view (Meyerson) with that of a conservative policy think tank (Heritage). The Journal has gone on record editorially – both early and often – in opposition to Obamacare.

A sensitive reader might also read a bit of bias into Journal headlines, such as “Democratic Governors Nervous About Health Plan,” which ran Aug. 3 atop an Associated Press story. That story was reporting that Democratic governors were concerned about changes in the timing of the plan’s implementation, not the plan itself.

Perhaps in journalistic recognition of the imbalance of using The Heritage Foundation to counter a health care professional, the editorial board put Meyerson’s column on top, and then inserted into the “con” Heritage column an Obamacare cartoon that certainly wasn’t a “con”. (The cartoon by Milt Priggee shows families huddled in a boat labeled “Obamacare”, while two suited-up white men jump into waters infested by shark fins labeled “For Profit” and “Health Insurance Companies”. As they dive in, the suited men explain, “I hate big government” and “Sorry, but sitting in that boat is just too confusing.”

In other words, the package was all over the place, but then again, it just might be that those were the only columns and the only related cartoon available that day.

Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see the Journal acknowledge the existence of The Heritage Foundation and its purpose and plans — as it did in the albeit buried Sunday Washington Post “PR wars” warning — rather than just running their stuff.

Beyond refreshing — to downright shocking to this regular Journal reader — was the inclusion of an allusion to the Koch brothers in  Journal news story today (Aug. 7).  As my colleague Arthur Alpert has pointed out, the Journal has been devoid of mentioning the brothers and their influence, even when competitive papers like the Santa Fe New Mexican point out their out-of-state influence in New Mexico politics and policy via bills written by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

Giving KOB-TV credit for the info, Journal reporter James Monteleone today wrote that while Gov. Susana Martinez met in secret with two of the GOP’s biggest bigwigs – former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor at a “locked down Tamaya Resort on Santa Ana Pueblo”:

The registration of a private airplane parked at the Cutter Aviation airfield in Albuquerque on Monday was traced to a company affiliated with politically active Kansas billionaires David and Charles Koch, according to KOB-TV.

However, the New Mexico director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity political group, Joe Montes, said Tuesday he was unaware of a meeting in New Mexico sponsored by the group.

This story of political intrigue deserved the front page, but probably was relegated to the Metro/New Mexico cover (C1) because A1 already had an UpFront column by investigative reporter Thom Cole, which documents at length Martinez’s “skill at public relations.”

 Update: In this morning’s Journal (Aug. 8), James Monteleone confirmed that the Koch brothers not only provided a plane, but sponsored the entire secret event at Tamaya.  From his story:

Rob Tappan, a spokesman for Koch Industries, told media outlets Wednesday that the event was backed by the Kochs, who have directed hundreds of millions of dollars to help elect Republicans to state and federal offices.

With former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in attendance, the event was one of two conferences sponsored annually by the Kochs.

Their purpose, according to the Koch Industries website, is to gather “some of America’s greatest philanthropists and most successful business leaders” to “discuss solutions to our most pressing issues and strategies to promote policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs.”


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Susan Clair

    Thank you, Denise, for again sorting through the media mire, assembling the disconnected pieces of the PR puzzle, and providing readers with a clearer picture.

  • Gerard Bradley

    What really makes my head hurt in all this is that the Hertage Foundation designed Romneycare for Mass., which became the blueprint for Omamacare. That was only about ten years ago – what short memories the august Heritage Foundation has. They must have pulped all copies of their studies and erased the files…

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