Unsourced and Misleading: Who wrote mystery paragraph inserted into wire service Obamacare story?

June 11th, 2015 · 2 Comments · Fact Check, health care reform, journalism, Koch brothers, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

Recently, I amused you (I hope) with a post on how the Albuquerque Journal has trained me, as Pavlov did his dogs, to rush to the computer whenever it publishes an Op Ed essay from a group named “Freedom” – something.

Salivating, I turn from breakfast to Google for my reward – the knowledge that the “Freedom” organization is a Koch brothers’ front. Never fails.

That the editors’ decision to hide the source of political opinion from readers amounts to journalistic malfeasance is almost too obvious to state, but the hypocrisy – given the Journal’s editorial passion for “transparency” – demands emphasis.

For when the mission is promoting the Kochs’ political agenda (or that of other plutocratic interests), the Journal makes authorship secret, rendering its own Op Ed page opaque.

(Re those “other plutocratic interests,” the Vets4Energy Op Ed column published Monday, May 25 was, in fact, an American Petroleum Institute political commercial – as the Journal dutifully failed to note.)

Today, however, I want to acquaint you with another Journal habit that sets my antennae a-tingle.

Something like what professional gamblers call a “tell,” it reveals what the editors are up to. A case in point presented itself just the other day and after researching it, I shook my head at how far Journal editors will go to spin the news. But allow me to tell the story and you judge.

The Journal published a wire report Wednesday, June 10, on A3. Its primary headline was “Obama again defends health law”. The second deck read, “High court could gut Affordable Care Act”.

There was no byline below, just “The Associated Press” and that’s what perked my interest. Over the years I’ve learned it signals that the editors have significantly cut the piece and often, not always, fiddled with it.

So as I began reading, I was wary.

And then came the fourth paragraph:

“However, millions of other Americans have lost their insurance coverage and had to purchase more expensive and less comprehensive plans after being misled by Obama and other Democrats, who falsely promised that under the Affordable Care Act, if they liked their insurance plans, they could keep them.”

This brought me up short. Not the content, not immediately, but the tone. This background graph seemed, though I couldn’t put my finger on it, un-journalistic. Even a tad political? And for an author-less article, the language was strong.

So I decided to search for the original.

AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn wrote it, it turns out, with contributions from Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Alan Fram.

The Journal cut the piece by several paragraphs. What was dropped included a reference to a Washington Post-ABC poll that found, one, that a majority of Americans continue to oppose the law and two, that “55 percent of those surveyed don’t want the Supreme Court to block any subsidies.”

Still, the Journal’s news hole is not infinite and, frankly, I was not up for a close examination of what the editors cut. That fourth graph continued to gnaw at me.

But I couldn’t find it in Kuhnhenn’s original account. Why? Because it wasn’t there. He didn’t write it.

But how could that be? How could a paragraph find its way into a wire service story? And where did it come from? If Kuhnhenn didn’t write it, who did? I had no idea and no clue as to how to find out.

Puzzled, I decided, meanwhile, to check the accuracy of the graph. Did “millions” lose their insurance thanks to Obamacare?

My query brought up 974,000 results. The first was FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which analyzed the claim April 11, 2014 (when the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity was using it in TV ads) and found:

“Critics of the law now say millions lost their health insurance. But that’s misleading. Those individual market plans were discontinued, but policyholders weren’t denied coverage. And the question is, how many millions of insured Americans had plans canceled, and how does that compare with the millions of uninsured Americans who gained coverage under the law.

“There is evidence that far more have gained coverage than had their policies canceled.”

The second citation was from Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, who parsed House Speaker John Boehner’s claim that Obamacare resulted in a “net loss” of people with health insurance on March 17, 2014, and awarded the Speaker four “Pinocchios” – a big lie.

There were also citations that backed “the millions lost” assertion in the Journal’s mystery paragraph; the first was from the N.Y. Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Both FactCheck.org and the WaPo fact checker agreed that President Obama’s promise they could keep their own plans if they so wished was not accurate.

Enough. The remaining 973,997 citations will go unread, not just because I haven’t the time but also because the accuracy of the mystery graph is largely beside the point.

The point is that Albuquerque Journal editors grafted onto the Associated Press news account a paragraph – source unknown – that incorporated a political argument. (It is interesting if slightly tangential that the Journal has made that political argument exactly against Obamacare in its “news” and opinion columns for years.)

To be fair, the active political intervention I’ve just recounted is rare; the Journal habitually biases the news via passive techniques like omitting or burying what doesn’t fit its agenda and not covering stories that might cast unfavorable light on its political favorites. Rare, yes, but still egregious because – wait, I promised to let you do the judging.

And I will, after this reminder. Sixty-one years ago last Tuesday, on June 9, 1954, Army counsel Joseph N. Welch confronted Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during the Senate-Army Hearings over McCarthy’s attack on a member of Welch’s law firm, Frederick G. Fisher and said:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Roland Penttila

    I’m concerned that the majority of Journal readers don’t check sources or look up citations or check factcheck.org after reading the Journal. They just slowly are brainwashed by what they read. And, what they read in the Journal is much like what they see on Fox News (Faux News). The two skewed points of view seem to amplify that point of view and make it seem more true. I fear for our democracy. THERE IS NO LIBERAL MEDIA. It’s mostly corporate (meaning conservative) or down right oligarchic (i.e. driven by the Koch Bros and their minions). Sad.

  • Steve Wilson

    Thank You. I’ve followed up in the same manner on stories about other subjects and have discovered the same sorts of editorial manipulations.

    The same column will have a different heading in the home publication.

    Subheads that mislead.

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