CBO Report Coverage: A Banquet of Advocacy

February 18th, 2014 · No Comments · health care reform, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Last time out I acquainted you with one Albuquerque Journal recipe for dishing rightist advocacy. Editor/cooks using it print multiple opinions that coincide with management’s editorial agenda while excluding opinions (or stories) that conflict.

My example was the CBO report on Obamacare. Non-partisan experts said lots of Americans will choose to leave their jobs if they can get health insurance elsewhere.

The editors promptly published three syndicated columns (Milbank, Goldberg, Will) arguing that’s a bad thing.

They added an editorial that agreed.

And they failed to edit comic Argus Hamilton’s unfunny misstatement of the CBO conclusion.

Ah, but Journal editors aren’t short-order cooks, they produce entire banquets of advocacy. Ergo, it’s no surprise they’ve published one more rightist take on the CBO report which doubles as a jeremiad against Obamacare.

Nor is it disconcerting to catch the editors in the act of warring on Obamacare in the news pages. Again. Sad, yes, but not disconcerting.

I’ll deal with that last below, as dessert, but the main course is Charles Krauthammer’s essay in the Sunday, Feb. 16 edition. It’s worth reading and parsing, mostly for what it reveals about him.

Let’s stipulate, please, that he’s intelligent and a professional columnist, it being understood that neither intelligence nor professionalism is synonymous with rationality or getting things right.

In fact, as this essay clearly reveals, Krauthammer’s thinking is shaped by his deep pessimism about human nature.

Unlike former conservative George Will, a convert to laissez-faire idealism, Krauthammer remains an intellectual heir of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) whose “Leviathan” posits a brutish human nature that must be restrained by a social contract under which an absolute dictator rules.

The brutish part is the key. Understand Krauthammer’s despair about humanity and you may question his anguish over the “opportunity for idleness.” You may, in fact, smile at it.

Boo-hoo, nobody wants to work.

But to return to the Journal and Obamacare, we can now (having added Krauthammer’s essay) recap what the editors have perpetrated re the CBO report:

Four syndicated columns, one editorial (and a jokey falsehood) arguing that it’s a bad thing when Americans don’t have to stay at a job to keep health insurance.

Zero syndicated columns, zero editorials (and zero jokes) taking another tack.

Meanwhile, last week the Administration issued another report on Obamacare enrollment. Let’s compare three newspapers’ coverage.

Thursday, Feb. 13, the N.Y. Times ran this headline on Page One: “Over 1 Million Added to Rolls of Health Plan”.

The story opened:

“More than 1.1 million people signed up for health insurance through federal and state marketplaces in January, according to the government, and the number of young people enrolling increased faster than that of any other group.”

The same day it was the Washington Post’s top story under this rubric:

Health Insurance Enrollment on Target in January

This was the lead:

“For the first time since the federal and state health-insurance marketplaces opened early last fall, the number of people who signed up for coverage exceeded the government’s expectations for the month in January, bringing the overall total to about 3.3 million.”

Now, how did our statewide daily deal with the story? Well, the Journal didn’t spike it, that’s something.

No, the editors ran something on A10, the back page of the section.

This was the headline:

“Most starts lag in health law sign-ups”.


Well, the headline was based on the lead:

“Most states are still lagging when it comes to sign-ups under President Barack Obama’s health care law, but an Associated Press analysis of numbers reported Wednesday finds a number of high achievers getting ahead of the game.”

Did I mention that the Journal used an Associated Press piece from our old buddy, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, and a collaborator, one Kevin Vineys?

Yes, and they relegated to the fifth paragraph what the Times and Post figured was the news.

The conclusion is inevitable.

Journal management uses the entire newspaper, not just the editorials (where the publisher’s druthers belong) but also the opinion columns and the “news” columns to editorialize.

Don’t fret, though. They’ll run a dissenting letter any day now.

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