House Republicans are poised today to ram through the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a train wreck of a bill that would strip health insurance from tens of million of Americans, kick millions of low-income Americans off Medicaid, repeal protections for people with pre-existing and catastrophic conditions, and slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans by hundreds of billions of dollars. They are counting on a compliant conservative media to keep their constituents from finding out just how bad the bill could be for them. And so far, the GOP’s strategy is working.
For decades, conservative politicians, activists, and journalists have stressed that only right-wing sources can be trusted to provide the facts because the mainstream press is unacceptably liberal. Their efforts to politicize the news were extremely successful, convincing Republicans to seal themselves off from other sources of information in favor of following avowedly conservative outlets.
This strategy was on display this morning, as President Donald Trump, who has frequently lifted up conservative outlets while castigating mainstream ones, tweeted that the “Fake News media is officially out of control,” then congratulated Fox News morning show Fox & Friends for “its unbelievable ratings hike.”
Fox & Friends is a key part of the pro-Trump echo chamber. The show's typically fawning coverage goes out to an audience of millions -- including the president himself, who regularly spends his mornings watching Fox & Friends and tweeting about it in real time. And Trump has rewarded co-hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Ainsley Earhardt with public praise and access.
In keeping with the show's typical fare, today’s coverage of the biggest story of the day -- a forthcoming vote on the Republican health care bill -- was propagandistic.
The program’s hosts did not discuss The Wall Street Journal’s report that the bill jeopardizes the out-of-pocket caps for catastrophic illnesses in employer health insurance plans, or The New York Times’ story that the bill targets payments to school districts that provide special education services to students. The show hosted no health care economists or experts or even reporters who could discuss the contents of the bill, instead bringing out former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and “The Property Man” Bob Massi to praise the bill.
Earhardt kicked off the program by declaring that it is “a great day if you are a Republican, a great day if you are the president, and they would argue it's a great day for all Americans because the House is going to vote today to repeal Obamacare.” Throughout the show, the hosts stressed Trump’s personal “backstage appeal” to get the bill passed and the necessity for Republicans to get it done or risk looking “feckless or dishonest.”
Details were scarce -- in fact, at one point Kilmeade said: “We have given you details of so many different plans. We are going to stay away from the details right now.” But on substance, the hosts repeatedly stressed the additional $8 billion being made available over five years to bolster “high-risk pools” to help those with pre-existing conditions, without mentioning that experts say that sum wouldn’t come close to covering their costs.
At times in the program, the hosts mentioned that there was no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score indicating how many people would lose insurance under the updated version of the bill or how much it would cost taxpayers -- the first AHCA draft was predicted to result in massive insurance losses and deficit increases. But later in the show, Gingrich assured the Fox audience that this lack of a CBO score wasn’t really a problem -- “There are a lot of people who know what is in the bill,” the former speaker said, because “this thing has now been drawn out so long, so many experts have read it and taken it apart, so many people have written about it that I think, actually, members today will probably know more about the bill than they could possibly have known a month ago.”
Doocy kept coming back to the bill’s tax implications -- claiming that the tax cuts contained in the AHCA would lead to economic growth rather than pointing out that it was a massive giveaway to millionaires like Doocy himself. “This is immediately going to help small businesses if you get rid of those taxes,” Doocy said. “These changes could ignite booming growth just like President Reagan’s tax reforms did back in the ‘80s,” he later added.
The program devoted surprisingly little coverage to a major piece of legislation that would restructure a huge portion of the U.S. economy, discussing the bill in portions of five segments totaling fewer than 20 minutes. Instead, the network made time to discuss how mean Stephen Colbert has been to President Trump.
It’s a similar story this morning at other pro-Trump outlets -- as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, the looming AHCA vote was not garnering substantial coverage on the major conservative websites like Breitbart.com and The Daily Caller, while The Drudge Report was highlighting that a vote was imminent but not providing links to any stories about the bill’s contents.
Conservative voters are not hearing about the dire effects of the health care bill Republicans are about to pass from the right-wing press. And given that they are likely not getting their news from any other sources, that has huge implications for next year’s elections. Will those voters, having never learned of the bill’s true impact, go to the polls with a false impression of the legislation their member of Congress voted on today?