Why Obamacare Must Always Be Failing in the Right-Wing Media

Why Obamacare Must Always Be Failing in the Right-Wing Media

Why Obamacare Must Always Be Failing in the Right-Wing Media

Eric with the latest reviews and Reed on Obamacare and the right-wing media.


My new Nation column is called “How Bill de Blasio Is Being Framed” and the subhed is “The NYC mayor as fumbling amateur: this story writes itself, no facts required.”

Oh and speaking of which, congratulations to me, once again, for being nominated for Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications 2014 Mirror Awards competition honoring excellence in media industry reporting. I was nominated for these three Nation columns:

The Passion and Eloquence of Anthony Lewis

The MSM and the Snowden Affair: Where True Loyalty Lies

The Washington Post’s Dubious Salvation

I mention this now because while I have been nominated something like ten times, including three times in one year once, I’ve only won once. And that was the year before they started making it a cash award. I’m taking the odds that the past has taught me, which is why I figure I better mention it now rather than say, in June, when the actual winners are announced. Anyway, read the columns if you like. They appear, to me at least, to hold up pretty well.

I am in Jerusalem for a conference. John Judis explains a bit about it in this interesting piece.


I don’t have much to say today. I did see a lovely show last week at a nice new venue called Subculture downstairs at the venerable Culture Project in the East Village by the even more venerable John Gorka. It was a solo guitar-and-piano performance, though Gorka is sort of a singer-songwriter with an unmistakable baritone and a fine sense of humor, rather than a musical virtuoso. His Land of the Bottom Line has been one of my favorite albums for a really long time and he’s always putting out clover new songs ever since, though it’s hard to keep track, since he lives in Minnesota and moves around record companies. He’s found a happy home apparently, on Red House records and his new album Bright Side of Down is a keeper, as well. It features Red House label mates Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, Claudia Schmidt and Michael Johnson. It features eleven original songs and one cover (by his late friend Bill Morrissey, "She's That Kind of Mystery") and it sounds just fine live with the spare accompaniment and Gorka’s friendly, witty patter. Still it’s voice and the intelligence of the songs that shines through. Gorka is way high on my list of people who, if justice ruled the universe, would be a damn site richer and more famous than he is. Alas, that won’t happen, but you can look into his music, either with the new record, or LOTHBL, which, he mentioned, is only available now as a download, sadly for we old fogies. Read all about him here.

Now here’s Reed:

Why Obamacare Must Always Be Failing in the Right-Wing Media
by Reed Richardson

For the past four years, one animating belief has bound Republicans and the right-wing media together more so than any other—that the Affordable Care Act is, was, and always will be an irredeemable failure. Though the law’s presumed catastrophic impact—on everything from the economy to the deficit to Obama’s chances for re-election—hasn’t come to fruition, it thrums like an ever-present bass line of outrage on the right. To fall out of step with its march for repeal, even if you’re in the Congressional leadership, is to invite inevitable self-recrimination. At this point, almost any action by Obama is suspected of being a clever ploy to distract from the supposed nightmare that is his signature healthcare reform law. If conservatives act as though their movement can never fail but only be failed, they’ve attached similarly divorced-from-reality expectations to Obamacare—it can never succeed and can only be failing.

Thus, to Republicans, the admittedly awful rollout of the law’s federal exchange last fall was more of a fulfillment of a long-predicted prophecy rather than the result of a poorly executed policy. To be sure, criticism of the Healthcare.gov’s initial problems was deservedly harsh. And intrepid, honest journalism aimed at holding the government publicly accountable for what went wrong—and that didn’t overlook the other, popular aspects of the ACA—undoubtedly helped push the administration to get faster, better results. Yet, plenty of reporting lacked perspective and amounted to little more than hyperbole. Indeed, the right-wing media—and much of the establishment media with it—could muster up precious little of the patience shown for, say, our previous president’s deadly, years-long quagmire in Iraq when came to assessing the long-term prospects of a government website.

Recall that not even one month after its launch, some conservative pundits were already pronouncing the private exchange market as having entered a “death spiral.” Two months in, the popular trope among conservative-minded critics was to liken the website’s problems to Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq War or, sometimes, both. After nearly three months, the failure to hit the initial enrollment projection was billed as no less than "an intellectual crisis for modern liberalism." In what passes as unremarkable irony for the Beltway, the latter charge came in a Washington Post column written by the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, who helped make the case for invading Iraq by concocting the infamous “first sign of a smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud” line. Speaking of intellectual crises…

Nevertheless, right-wingers clung to the federal exchange’s lower-than-anticipated enrollment numbers as proof of the law’s ultimate insolvency. The market had spoken, went the thinking, and it didn’t want what the president is selling. And it’s true that the private exchange’s inauspicious start triggered a cascading series of lowered expectations and deadline extensions on the part of the White House. But as more and more Americans have since signed up, those same enrollment numbers have become a less convenient cudgel, leaving the right-wing looking for alternate angles of attack.

Like a doomsday cult awkwardly faced with an apocalypse that never materialized, conservatives have resorted to trotting out a variety of other reasons why the law is bound to fail. One favorite tactic: so-called Obamacare horror stories, but time and again these anecdotes have unraveled into incoherence, if not distortion. Then there’s the right-wing media’s “Yes, but…” concern trolling, which has cycled through outright falsehoods like "More people have lost their insurance than gained it," arbitrary disingenuousness á la "Medicaid enrollments shouldn’t count," clerical nit-picking with "Not all of them have paid yet!", and actuarial fear-mongering such as "Not enough young people have signed up!" and "Not enough uninsured have signed up!"

As time has passed, these material objections have slowly wilted under scrutiny. The recent sign-up data has demonstrated that initial payment trends aren’t unexpectedly slowmore than enough young people are signing up, and the uninsured rate is dropping significantly.

Then just this week came a series of stunning, though not entirely unexpected, blows to the right-wing narrative. After six months of lagging behind, a surge of literal, last-minute interest pushed the ACA exchange sign-up figure past the CBO’s original target of 7 million enrollees. Hitting such a milestone is huge symbolically, and represents the closest thing to a public accountability moment like an election the law will ever experience. Couple that success with the fact that 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans have now gained access to healthcare. Moreover, the law’s popularity just hit all-time highs in polls from Fox News and ABC News this past week. (In the latter, the ACA’s favorability broke into net positive territory for the first time ever.) And add in for good measure a recent Kaiser poll that found 60 percent now want to keep or fix Obamacare and only one in ten Americans supports the phony Republican policy of “repeal and replace.”

Just a few months ago, this kind of positive news about the healthcare law would have been unthinkable. And despite the reality, it still is among many on the right. The cognitive dissonance the law’s recent success has foisted upon Fox News, for example, can be downright pitiful. In the past few days, Republicans have likewise retreated into denial about their unraveling Obamacare narrative, much like they did in the run-up to the 2012 election. After months of bashing the White House over the law’s low enrollment numbers, the same GOP critics now dismiss the figures as unreliable and accuse the administration of "lying" and "cooking the books." Desperate for any new way to paint the law in a bad light, right-wing news outlets have been than happy to enable this latest addition to the pantheon of right-wing conspiracy thinking. And so now our democracy must endure the shame of “enrollment truthers” too.

Sadly, this isn’t as surprising as it should be. For essentially all of his first term, President Obama’s imminent defeat in 2012 served as a given for the right-wing media. It was the filter through which all facts had to pass. Bad news for Obama’s re-election bid sped through to the base unheeded. Good news for the president, however, got separated out and either ignored or dismissed as unimportant. An astounding defeat at the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act could thus be spun under the assumption that a GOP Congress and President Romney would soon be repealing the law anyway.

But when that arrogance could no longer explain away mounting evidence to the contrary, Republicans undertook a more active, intellectually dishonest approach. Recall the ridiculous Unskewed Polls movement, which nonetheless gained mainstream Republican legitimacy by randomly reinterpreting presidential poll results to better suit the carefully cloistered worldview of the anti-Obama crowd. (After erroneously predicting a Romney victory, the site’s crackpot founder went on to claim, sans any evidence, that Obama’s five-million vote re-election victory margin was the result of voter fraud.) Nor should we forget the “BLS truthers,” a group of Wall Street conservatives—among them former General Electric CEO Jack Welch—who were convinced that the White House had deviously orchestrated a flattering jobs report in the final days of the 2012 campaign to boost Obama’s re-election chances.

This is the sorry state conservatism has sunk to, feebly deploying boogeymen and tinfoil-hat theories to prop up its soggy arguments and root for others’ misery. Make no mistake, adopting this irrational approach has been a conscious choice. By opting out of good-faith legislative efforts and honest discourse for the past six years, the right has intentionally ceded responsible governance to the president and his party. Will the Affordable Care Act ultimately deliver on all its promises? It’s finally making progress, though it will be years before we truly find out. But it’s important to remember where Republicans and the right-wing media have placed their bets. For them, conservatism's success is defined by the failure of Obamacare, but it’s millions of Americans who would now end up paying the price.

Contact me directly at [email protected]. I’m on Twitter here—@reedfrich.

The Mail:

Tim Brown
Arlington, VA

CNN and the Phenomenology—Exactly!


NORAD, and the people who are in charge of discriminating radar blips of a flock of geese from an inbound Russian ICBM attack, use the same term—phenomenology. 

They compare data from two separate sources: ground-based radars, and satellites looking for thermal signatures of Russian ICBM's being launched to ensure there are no false-positives. 

Journalism is supposed to rely on at least two sources before running a story. What CNN is doing—has been doing for time is not journalism, with no quality-control, the information should be regarded as "for entertainment-use only."

As a psychologist was quoted in a recent NYT article, human beings just can't stand uncertainty, especially if it involves fear or danger, which is why a third of the world was glued to this story.

Cable news divisions are small loss-leading parts of vertically-integrated entertainment conglomerates. Each conglomerate has one; CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc., but they all lose money, compared to “Ice Road Truckers,” duck hunters with beards that look like ZZ Top, and “Dancing with the Stars.” They are under tremendous pressure to entertain eyeballs, to keep advertisers. Which is why I don't have a TV.

I appeared as a satellite imagery analyst on CNN and Fox regarding this oxgyen-sucking time warp. They gave me the lines they wanted me to say, and edited out my main point: that the imagery didn't prove anything, therefore stop speculating.

I should have known better, anyone hearing my words would have thought I confirmed their ridiculous speculation.

Anyway, great article!

Reed replies: Tim, thanks for providing a glimpse of how the cable TV narrative sausage gets made. It only confirms my suspicions. And, for blog readers curious to see for themselves, here are links to Tim’s two, recent Fox News hits (here and here) as well as a transcript that includes his appearance on CNN.

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