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The rocky rollout of Obamacare has prompted commentators to attack the president and his team for having three years to plan for the launch and still not getting it right. That's a legitimate critique as problems persist. But the same can be said for an awful lot of reporters doing a very poor job covering Obamacare. They also had three years to prepare themselves to accurately report the story.
So what's their excuse?
The truth is, the Beltway press rarely bothers to explain, let alone cover, public policy any more. With a media model that almost uniformly revolves around the political process of Washington (who's winning, who's losing?), journalists have distanced themselves from the grungy facts of governance, especially in terms of how government programs work and how they effect the citizenry.
But explaining is the job of journalism. It's one of the crucial roles that newsrooms play in a democracy. And in the recent case of Obamacare, the press has failed badly in its role. Worse, it has actively misinformed about the new health law and routinely highlighted consumers unhappy with Obamacare, while ignoring those who praise it.
As Joshua Holland noted at Bill Moyers' website, "lazy stories of "sticker shock" and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that's providing a big assist to opponents of the law."
It's part of a troubling trend. Fresh off of blaming both sides for the GOP's wholly-owned, and thoroughly engineered, government shutdown, the press is now botching its Obamacare reporting by omitting key facts and context -- to the delight of Republicans. It's almost like there's a larger newsroom pattern in play.
And this week the pattern revolved around trying to scare the hell out of people with deceiving claims about how Obamacare had forced insurance companies to "drop" clients and how millions of Americans had "lost" their coverage.
CNN has repeatedly portrayed stimulus funding for high-speed rail as a "boondoggle" because much of the money has gone to upgrading existing rail lines rather than new bullet trains. But the untold story is that Republican obstructionism has halted progress on new high-speed rail lines, which require a long-term investment of time and money.
The Situation Room aired a report by Drew Griffin on Tuesday claiming that high-speed rail is "turning into a pipe dream," pointing to a rail improvement project in Washington state that has received $800 million in stimulus funding. The project is on track to achieve its goal of improving schedule reliability, increasing trips and reducing travel times between Seattle and Portland to serve an increasing ridership. But as CNN noted, Washington never intended to use that funding to build a new rail line for high-speed bullet trains. Griffin's report, which follows a series on Anderson Cooper 360 that criticized projects in Vermont and California, led guest anchor Joe Johns to conclude that taxpayers are "not getting much out of their investment" in high-speed rail:
In fact, the stimulus has supported 150 planning and construction projects across the country, "jumpstart[ing]" a "renaissance" for passenger rail, according to a Brookings Institution report. This progress comes despite Republican efforts to prevent high-speed rail projects from moving forward. Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida rejected stimulus grants for new high-speed rail projects in their states, citing the cost to taxpayers. But when some of that money was diverted to Amtrak upgrades (including the Washington state project highlighted by CNN), some of those same governors sought funding for rail improvement projects. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress blocked President Obama's six-year, $53 billion budget request for high-speed rail, dismissing it as just a "fun thing." CNN overlooked these roadblocks, which have slowed the progress of high-speed rail.
UPDATED BELOW WITH STATEMENT FROM CNN
On July 7, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr discussed with anchor Drew Griffin the Pentagon's survey of 200,000 active duty troops and 200,000 reserve troops concerning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Here is the segment as captured by a YouTuber:
As Pam Spaulding points out on her blog, in the video clip above Starr lays out the rationale for a survey that asks such questions as if active duty and reserve troops would feel comfortable in the showers with openly gay or lesbian service members.
Oddly enough, a portion of the segment that aired was removed before it went up on CNN's website. The section in question has Griffin pushing back rather hard asking Starr:
Why do they care -- these joint chiefs -- these guys are paid to make decisions. Why are they sending out this public relations survey asking whoever wants to respond to this and supposedly going to use this to make a decision on this?
The CNN.com version of the segment:
As Spaulding notes:
Why? There's no real reason to do so, as it's a web clip, so time constraints aren't relevant. What editorial judgment was made that Griffin's interest in a logical reason for the survey is not newsworthy to readers of CNN's web site?
It's a good question worthy of an answer from a cable network that spent much of June promoting its Gay in America special coverage focusing on the LGBT community.
CNN provided Media Matters with the following statement this evening:
CNN didn't edit out the question from Drew Griffin for editorial reasons. Sometimes we edit clips to a certain length because shorter clips tend to do better online. Drew was questioning a CNN correspondent and not a guest. If it were a guest or person who did the study, we would have certainly posted the segment in its entirety. The full segment is now streaming.
Summary: In recent days, CNN has repeatedly aired a report by Drew Griffin on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Italy, with Griffin questioning "[w]hy, in a time of economic crisis, would the speaker, who happens to be of Italian heritage, travel to Italy." But at no point during the report does Griffin note that Pelosi and her delegation reportedly met with U.S. soldiers and military commanders in Italy, or that she reportedly gave a major speech there. Moreover, the Afghanistan leg of the trip garnered only brief CNN mentions.
CNN's Drew Griffin misrepresented President-elect Barack Obama's response to the criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, falsely suggesting that Obama disputes allegations made in the complaint. In fact, there are no allegations regarding Obama in the complaint for him to deny, as U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear when he stated that the complaint "makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever."
In a report on ACORN's voter registration drives, CNN's Drew Griffin asked an ACORN official: "[W]hy is the deputy city commissioner of Philadelphia telling me that ACORN is hiring recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless people, who are so desperate to get money that they know that, if they don't make their quota, they just fill in any old name?" After the official responded, "That is not the point," Griffin asked: "But has it presented itself as a problem to ACORN? Wouldn't ACORN like to run a nice, clean, smooth voter registration drive?"
The AP and CNN reported that Sen. Barack Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit against the state of Illinois but did not mention that the Justice Department was also a plaintiff in the case, along with the League of Women Voters of Illinois and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The lawsuit sought to require that Illinois implement federal law on voter registration.
CNN anchor Don Lemon teased Drew Griffin's report about Sen. Barack Obama's 1996 run for the Illinois state Senate by asserting, "[I]f his very first political campaign is any indication, the Illinois senator isn't opposed to getting a little dirty." But Griffin, whose report detailed the 1996 Obama campaign's successful tactic of challenging the petitions for other candidates to appear on the ballot, failed to note that a Chicago Tribune article he cited had reported that the former Obama opponent he interviewed "now suspects" some of the signatures on his petition were forged.