Varying the Usual Recipe in Obamacare Coverage

February 14th, 2014 · No Comments · Fact Check, health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

If you visit this site often, you know the Albuquerque Journal is less a newspaper than a restaurant where cooks follow several recipes in a daily effort to feed readers a diet of rightist advocacy.

One favorite recipe begins with a ”news story,” often from the Associated Press Washington Bureau, that leans far rightward (or upward toward the One Percent). Then Journal chefs massage that basic ingredient via editorial headlines and/or editing out distasteful material before placing the dish prominently on Page One.

Starting next day, the kitchen crew lards the editorial page with syndicated opinion pieces from the newspaper’s list of One Percent apologists to perfume the original “news story.”

Shortly thereafter, an editorial appears garnishing the same p-o-v.

Oh, and if the newspaper’s resident rightwing comic weighs in on the Right side, well, that’s lagniappe.

Finally, the cooks, having advocated for the One Percent’s truth in editorials, syndicated columns and the so-called “news pages,” publish a local Op Ed or a letter that argues “the other side.”

This is fairness, Journal-style.

The most recent use of the above recipe involves the CBO’s recent report on Obamacare and the economy. Political fireworks over its meaning engaged the CBO, the White House and its political opposition.

This time the editors varied the recipe a bit, which I’ll get to below.

First let’s trace how the cooks followed the recipe post- story.

As opener, they published syndicated columnist Dana Milbank’s hammering of the Administration Friday, Feb. 7.

They added a like editorial Saturday, Feb. 8.

Jonah Goldberg’s essay came along Feb. 9.

And George Will took his shot Feb. 11.

Mustn’t forget to mention comic Argus Hamilton, who wrote Feb. 10, “The Congressional Budget Office reported that Obamacare will cost two million people their jobs.”

No, that’s false, but who edits for accuracy at the Albuquerque Journal?

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Journal published nothing elucidating the CBO’s views or reflecting what White House supporters argued. Not in the news. Not on the opinion pages.

And it could have.

We know that because the Associated Press offered what it calls a Fact Check. Here’s the headline:

“FACT CHECK: Anti-Obamacare chorus is off key”.

Calvin Woodard, who wrote this Thursday, Feb. 6, piece, first notes the CBO report touched off criticism from those “who’ve claimed all along that the law will kill jobs.”

“But,” writes Woodard, “some aren’t telling it straight.”

“Workers aren’t being laid off,” he continues. “They are taking themselves out of the workforce, in many cases opening job opportunities for others.”

Woodard went on to contrast what the CBO said with what critics said it said, to the detriment of those critics. And he concluded:

“But the predicted withdrawal from the labor market is no more a killer of jobs than today’s surge of retirements by baby boomers entering old age. If anything, it could open job opportunities for people who can’t get in the workforce now.”

Need I tell you the Journal didn’t publish that Fact Check?

The Journal did put it on its website. It sits near the pieces by Milbank, Goldberg, Will, the editorial and Angus Hamilton’s inaccuracy.

Journal-style fairness strikes again.

Now encumbered as I am by a more conventional idea of fairness, let’s turn to the recipe variation I mentioned earlier.

The CBO news story the Journal ran Wednesday, Feb. 5 came from the Associated Press Washington Bureau and carried the bylines of two of my least favorite AP reporters, so I feared the worst.

And when the Albuquerque Journal put it on Page One, I just knew the newspaper was promoting its editorial agenda in the news again.

Well, I was wrong. The story was a pleasant surprise.

How could that be? Andrew Taylor was co-author and (as I reminded you only recently) he enjoys passing off One Percent political/economic doctrine as fact.

Also, his co-author, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, uses his Obamacare beat primarily to beat up on Obamacare, which has made his “reporting” integral to the Journal’s war on the health reform.

Yet their story on the CBO report was respectable.

And Journal editors wrote a headline for it – “Obamacare may lead to smaller workforce” – that isn’t excellent but approximates what the lead and CBO said.

It’ true the editors missed chances to convey what the remainder of the story included (positive information about Obamacare) but hey, this was good for Albuquerque Journal work.

Finding this hard to believe? I did, too, until I read the story closely.

Taylor and Alonso-Zaldivar picked a reasonable lead from the CBO report, entertained predictable negative comments from Obamacare’s (rightist) opponents but included a White House rebuttal in the next graph.

That was professional. And the story got better.

The reporters mined the CBO analysis for nuggets of value that, yes, were all relegated to the page A2 jump, but did appear. Here are a few:

• “The CBO’s wide-ranging report predicted that the federal budget deficit will fall to $514 billion this year, down from last year’s $680 billion and the lowest by far since Obama took office five years ago.”

It was good to see the numbers in the Journal because most of its syndicated opinion columnists and all the editors’ favorite local commentators on economics ignore them. Or deny them.

Of course – though you won’t read this in the Journal – this improvement in the budget deficit is bad news for the economy.

Lower government spending (aka, austerity) has stifled both the general economy and jobs and will continue to hamper it. For, as any competent journalist must know, government (directly and indirectly) is the nation’s major “job creator,” in tandem with consumer demand.

(See Kevin Robinson-Avila’s excellent Journal business stories for evidence of that.)

• “The new estimates also say that the health care law will, in the short run, benefit the economy by boosting demand for goods and services because the lower-income people it helps will have more purchasing power.”

Somehow that ho-hum statement of demand-side economics got past Journal editors, who have a quota for dangerous leftwing sentiments.

Kidding. No quota. Probably the editors just exclude as much economic reality as possible. This time, however, they let it pass.

• “The report noted that the 2012 premiums that people pay for exchange coverage are coming in about 15 percent lower than projected, and the health care law, on balance, still is expected to reduce the federal deficit.”

What? Never, not in any of theAlonso-Zaldivar stories the Journal has front-paged have I read Obamacare’s insurance marketplace is working.

But if that’s respect-able, that the rest of the sentence appeared in the Journal is miraculous.

CBO says Obamacare will cut the deficit.

This cannot be. How dare the CBO defy the Albuquerque Journal’s narrative?

Where do those so-called experts get the nerve to contradict the collective wisdom of George Will, Cal Thomas, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Ruben Navarrette Jr., Victor Davis Hanson and Robert Samuelson? And the sundry hired hands of billionaire-financed ‘think tanks” whose prose regularly seasons the Op Ed page?

Taylor and Alonso-Zaldivar excerpted lots more from the CBO report. They described the health care analysis as “layered in complexity.”

Their story, too, was complex and worth reading. And I remain impressed that both guys omitted their opinions, wrote neutral connecting phrases and did a professional job. Kudos.

As for the Albuquerque Journal, credit the editors with publishing that account and resisting the opportunity to write an editorial headline. And if a lot of readers never found the jewels in the jump on A2, well, it’s partly their fault for not reading that far.

Now let’s not go overboard. There’s no evidence Journal management is anywhere near the road to Damascus, no less close to an epiphany.

The rest of the recipe, we mustn’t forget, was the usual goulash of right-wing opinion.

If, however, the editors can publish a professional account of a complex economic analysis one time, well, perhaps they can do it again.

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