President and Media Flirt with Truth in Advertising Seven Years Too Late

05 Dec 2013

ProbamaSoon to begin the 6th year of his presidency, President Obama has just entered the 5th year of selling the Affordable Care Act, having been forced to apologize for its disastrous rollout.  Launching into yet another promotion tour, Mr. Obama claimed to have learned “the hard way” that wildly overpromising while under-delivering was a bad idea.

I can’t decide if it is more shocking that President Obama acts as though it is acceptable for this country’s chief executive to stumble upon the value of truth in advertising, or that he and his administration were so careless in the creation and implementation of this patchwork law that we now have to deal with the consequences, sticker shock and stress, while that same executive vows that if it takes the rest of his eight years he will “fix it.”  That’s like saying I had five years to do my homework and forgot – but now…now you will see some grade A work.

Not that the President needs me to pile on after the drubbing he has received from all corners these past two months, but the time to learn the concept that one does not over-promise and under-deliver was before he threw his hat into the ring in 2007, not five years after he was elected.

Respected health journalist Trudy Lieberman’s excellent Politico article, Dropped Coverage, also aims a heavy dollop of blame squarely where it belongs – on the fourth estate.  If reporters would have spent less time cheerleading, devoting themselves instead to a healthy skepticism and analysis, timely sharing crucial information with the America people – like, say, 4 years ago – both the law and its implementation might have been less of a fumble.

Lieberman notes that while she has written some 700 articles on health related matters, piecing together nuanced analysis of the Affordable Care Act was no mean feat for anyone.  Yet that doesn’t excuse professionals who get paid to do their jobs from the responsibility of delivering any more that the President, HHS Secretary Sebelius or CGI (the developers of the botched Healthcare.Gov site) should be excused.

WSJ‘s Peggy Noonan just penned a piece, Low Information Leadership, where her schoolgirl crush on the Mr. Obama, so evident in 2008, has mutated into disgust as she refers to his administration being “full of young people who’ve seen the movie but not read the book.”  Spot on.  But how could such an experienced political operative have been fooled for so long?  Her complaints fall flat.  She, too, behaves as if this administration’s hollow promises, lack of practical experience and insincerity are an astonishing discovery, while this behavior and the unavoidable consequences of it were obvious to many average voters (on both sides of the aisle) from the beginning.

Trudy Lieberman also details MSNBC‘s Chuck Todd’s anger at being blamed for a lack of proper coverage on the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act, among other issues.  She notes that journalists are far too concerned with us vs. them, win vs. lose, left vs. right, WWE smack downs and score-keeping: selling copy versus sharing facts.  When called on the carpet for his lack of intellectual curiosity and that of his brethren, Mr. Todd’s response was just as shocking as that of President Obama:

“What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks fault in the media,’” Todd said. “No, it’s the president of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

Really?  The President has to pitch this law 24/7 with poll-tested language designed to entice, not scare – as per the brilliant words concocted by respected pollster Celinda Lake – while the media functions as a bunch of flame-throwers?  There are still honorable apples in the profession who would cringe at such a notion.  Mr. Todd doesn’t get it.  This isn’t about a sales pitch.  The President has been doing that for five years.  It’s about reality catching up with the fancy prose.

Clearly, the President is seeing the damage to his credibility. The debacle of the Affordable Care Act rollout has the ability to gobble up and undermine his second term agenda, which has forced his hand here.  The bad news is that millions still do not understand how this law is supposed to work, how it will work or what it will cost them.  The only ray of light is that their expression of outrage has led to some action.  Civil, if heated, expressions must continue if we are to have accountability, or fixes, going forward.

Certain events of the past few months have shown that a loud enough explosion will have an effect.  Witness Larry Summers withdrawing his name from consideration as Fed Chair due to protests from many on the ground and in government, including the balking of Senate Democrats.  Or Martin Bashir, today resigning from MSNBC for his disgusting comments about defecating and urinating into Sarah Palin’s mouth.  This after there had been no punishment whatsoever from his network.  Pressure from the ground caused Bashir’s resignation.

Reporting like that of Ms. Lieberman is also what’s needed.  And the more average Joes and Janes call this Administration, Congress and media operatives like Chuck Todd on the carpet, the better shot we have at being an informed and empowered citizenry.

Only when the heat is turned up to a ridiculous degree does the inside-the-beltway crowd start sweating.

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