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  • On CNN, the NYT’s Jonathan Martin claims there’s “an argument” that Republicans want to protect pre-existing conditions coverage

    Some Republicans have reversed course to claim they support pre-existing conditions coverage, but have voted to repeal the whole ACA without calling for the exception

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    During the October 26 edition of CNN’s New Day, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin suggested that Republicans “have an argument” when they say “we want to scrap the parts” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but save other provisions like protections for those with pre-existing conditions. In reality, there is ample evidence that Republicans are happily targeting pre-existing conditions coverage.

    The vast majority of congressional Republicans have spent years attempting to repeal the ACA and offering replacements that would have substantially weakened or eliminated protections barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has publicly stated his intention to revisit a full repeal should Republicans do well in the midterm elections. Moreover, many Republicans remain publicly supportive of a lawsuit brought by “Republican attorneys general representing 20 states” that could end pre-existing conditions coverage. The president, McConnell, and other Republican officials and candidates all support the lawsuit. Faced with overwhelming public support for the ACA’s pre-existing conditions coverage, Republicans have started lying about their party’s very recent history of favoring restricted access for those with pre-existing conditions.

    On New Day, Martin suggested Republicans could argue that the narrative that they're against protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is not “fair” because Republicans in Congress had to vote against the Affordable Care Act as a whole entity, even if they supported some components of the law. However, these Republicans never expressed support for protections for people with pre-existing conditions until the midterm elections began to approach and haven't explained how they plan to repeal the ACA while protecting that provision. In reality, mandatory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions only became possible because of the ACA’s individual mandate, which conservatives rallied against for years. The individual mandate forced healthy people to purchase insurance, helping to offset costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives’ efforts to repeal the ACA as a whole cannot be separated from attacks on pre-existing conditions. Republicans did pitch one new bill as a way to protect coverage, but it was quickly revealed to be “a fraud.”

    During his appearance on CNN, Martin gave undue benefit of the doubt to GOP claims by ignoring obvious evidence of Republicans’ antipathy toward pre-existing conditions coverage and suggesting that they might want to protect it after all:

    JONATHAN MARTIN (THE NEW YORK TIMES): The challenge they have is that they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a key part of which includes those protections. Now, the Republicans will say, “Look, we want to scrap the parts of the ACA that we don't like, we will save those.” And so they have an argument there. But obviously, politics is not always fair in terms of when you sort of vote to repeal a large bill and there’s popular items therein, that isn't always specified.
  • Pundits can’t quit their lazy, evidence-free talking points about Democrats and elections

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lazy conventional wisdom is running abound in horse race coverage of the upcoming midterm elections.

    The October 22 broadcast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe devoted a lengthy segment to claims that the Democratic Party has no messaging or, if it does, the message is packaged incorrectly. This evaluation of Democratic Party election efforts is evidence-free -- Democrats have largely coalesced around the issue of health care -- and it is also a gift to the Republican Party, as it plays into the argument that Democrats have no principles or plan for governance.

    Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski opened the discussion by saying, “Donald Trump is talking about trade, crime, immigration, and judges. What are the Democratic issues that pack the same kind of inspiring emotional punch? Democrats can still win these midterms, but with time running out, the message and the momentum appears to be on Donald Trump’s side.”

    Brzezinski's claim that Democrats have no response to Trump’s midterm rhetoric probably says more about the beltway press -- which tends to cover Trump's every move, at the expense of other topics -- than about reality.

    What is happening on the ground tells a different story. Although it is important to note that the idea that a party needs a singular national message to be successful in elections is itself largely empty conventional wisdom, Democrats have unified to a great extent around the issue of health care in their messaging. Wesleyan Media Project -- an initiative that tracks and analyzes all broadcast election ads -- found in a September analysis that “Pro-Democratic messaging in federal races is concentrated primarily on healthcare, with 44 percent of airings in U.S. House races and 50 percent of airings in U.S. Senate races featuring the topic.” An October 18 report from the project stated, “It’s official: the 2018 midterms are about health care.” The “typical” message, according to an analysis by Vox, is that “the Republicans voted to take away people’s health care and end Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions.”

    The media, however, have largely not been interested in covering health care policy, which could explain the perception that Democrats have no message on the issue. An October 19 Media Matters analysis found that broadcast nightly news shows did not air a single substantive segment about health care policy between January 1 and October 18

    Despite Brzezinski's suggestion that Democrat messaging is inept, polling suggests that what the Democrats are doing is working. According to Morning Consult, a survey research company, the “strategy” to focus on health care “is paying off” because it is a high priority issue for voters and “voters who say health care is their top priority favor Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 28 points.”

    Republicans have also been clearly put on the defensive by this messaging strategy. As The New York Times reported on October 16, “For months, Democratic candidates have been running hard on health care, while Republicans have said little about it. In a sign of the issue’s potency, Republicans are now playing defense, releasing a wave of ads promising they will preserve protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.” (It should be noted that these ads include false claims -- many of the Republicans running them have clear voting records of supporting legislation that would threaten mandatory coverage of pre-existing conditions.)

    After Brzezinski’s opening, co-host Joe Scarborough and frequent show panelist Mike Barnicle offered a factually incorrect analysis of Democrats’ communication strategy around health care. They both essentially attacked Democrats for not effectively messaging on the issue, even though Democrats are actually messaging in the ways that Scarborough and Barincle said they should be.

    Scarborough said, “So, if the Republican issue that they’re going to lean on is immigration, the Democratic issue is health care. I haven’t heard a compelling argument about health care.” He then claimed, “All they would have to say is the same exact thing that [then-President] Bill Clinton said [in 1996] for the next two weeks and they’d win a landslide and it’s this: Republicans are coming for your Medicare to pay for their tax cuts for the rich. … All they have to say is Republicans are coming after your Social Security and your Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Boom. They can’t put a sentence together like that. They are incapable.”

    But that is largely what Democrats are saying. According to the Wesleyan analysis, ads supporting Democrats running for House seats are mentioning health care 44 percent of the time, Medicare 18 percent of the time, Social Security 17 percent of the time, and taxes 14 percent of the time. So what Scarborough says Democrats are incapable of talking about are actually the four top issues that they are messaging on:

    And in the Senate, Democrats are mentioning health care in 50 percent of ads and prescription drugs in 16 percent of ads.


    Barnicle went a step further, saying of Democrats running for House seats: “All they talk about is impeaching the president, when all they would have to do, as Joe just referenced, is go to the country and say, ‘If you have a child who is sick, you better pray that the Republicans don’t take control again because your child will be in severe danger of losing health care.’” But as the Weslayan analysis showed, in the House, Democrats are running on health care, not impeachment.

    Another example of lazy horse race coverage occurred during the October 22 broadcast of CNN’s New Day when David Gregory said: “It’s also disturbing -- I mean, if you look at both parties, what they are really selling their supporters is anger and fear. That’s the vision for the country, which is pretty ugly during an ugly time following an ugly political episode with the confirmation of Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh.”

    There is really no comparison between Republicans and Democrats engaging in fearmongering as an election tactic. For weeks, Trump, the GOP, and its conservative media allies have argued without evidence that the Republican supporters are in danger of being killed by angry mobs of Democrats. And now Trump and his allies are coalescing on racist messaging that a caravan of migrants from Central America is poised to invade the U.S. While examples of divisive Democratic messaging can certainly be found, two of the party’s most high-profile candidates -- Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum -- have made aspirational messaging about healing political divides in the U.S. a primary argument of their candidacies.

    Horse race punditry is often shallow on election coverage, but analysis should not be so poor that it is clearly at odds with reality.

  • CNN panel on Kavanaugh sexual misconduct report features two journalists and a pro-Kavanaugh conservative activist

    Imbalanced panel allows Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino to attack accounts of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez without counterweight

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    A CNN panel on New Day featured, along with two journalists, the chief counsel and policy director for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network to comment on a second report of sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. On September 23, The New Yorker published the account of Deborah Ramirez, a college classmate of Kavanaugh, who says he "exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away." Last week, The Washington Post published the story of Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino appeared on CNN along with a reporter and a CNN legal analyst. In the segment, Severino claimed that Kavanaugh "has been subject to a sustained campaign -- public smear campaign against him for the last two weeks." She asserted without evidence that "the initial Ford allegations are unraveling before our eyes," adding that "the Democrats are going crazy trying to find something else they can do" to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation and that Ramirez’s "allegation is even less credible." CNN offered no explanation in the segment for why it invited a conservative, pro-Kavanaugh activist without any counterbalance on the panel.

    Judicial Crisis Network has pledged $1.5 million in advertising to push for Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    From the September 24 edition of CNN's New Day:

  • Brett Kavanaugh's emails show his opposition to Roe. Anti-choice commentators like Rick Santorum wouldn't support him otherwise.

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    On CNN’s New Day, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum claimed that an email in which Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested that Roe v. Wade may not be “settled law” does not show the judge’s actual opinion on the case. Santorum’s assertion that the email reveals nothing about Kavanaugh’s stance is undermined by his own extremely anti-choice past -- a history that suggests he would not support a Supreme Court nominee unless he was confident that the judge would work to overturn Roe.   

    In a 2003 email that was leaked to The New York Times, Kavanaugh recommended editing a document to remove language that referred to Roe as “the settled law of the land,” writing, “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent.” This stance contradicts his recent assertions that he views Roe as settled law, and further suggests that the keystone reproductive rights case would be overturned should he join the court.

    During Santorum’s appearance on New Day, the former Pennsylvania senator argued that Kavanaugh was merely explaining “the facts” that “there are people who have a different point of view” on Roe. When co-host John Berman pushed back and noted that the email showed “what [Kavanaugh] thinks about the facts,” Santorum disagreed, claiming, “That’s not what’s in that email.” From the September 7 edition of CNN’s New Day:

    Santorum’s assertion that we can’t be sure of Kavanaugh’s thoughts about the case is suspicious at best, given his own deeply held anti-choice views. The former senator’s opinions on abortion are extreme, callous, and immensely cruel. He is opposed to abortion at any point, for any reason -- even in cases of rape or incest. When he was asked about sexual assault survivors who desire abortions during a 2012 interview, Santorum argued that survivors should view pregnancies that result from rape as “a gift in a very broken way” and ought to “make the best out of a bad situation.” He’s also stated that doctors who provide abortions in these cases should face criminal charges.

    Santorum has bragged about the depth of his anti-choice stance, and unsurprisingly has argued that Roe ought to be overturned. Given his extreme antipathy toward abortion rights, it’s obvious that Santorum would not support a nominee for Supreme Court unless he was sure that the candidate would rule to overturn Roe.

    And, contrary to Santorum's claims, it's pretty clear that opponents of reproductive rights know full well what Kavanaugh's email meant.