Feb 1 2014

SoundBites February 2014

Odd Lessons of Obamacare

The New York Times (12/1/13) wrote that the fiasco of the Affordable Care Act rollout called into question “the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve big, complex social problems.” The PBS NewsHour (11/28/13) said it “might be seen as a challenge to the viability of the liberal philosophy at its core.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (Meet the Press, 12/1/13) declared that the White House was “at risk of losing the credibility of government as an agent of change for a generation.”

NBC's Andrea Mitchell is very concerned about preserving the government's ability to be an "agent of change."

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell is very concerned about preserving the government’s ability to be an “agent of change.”

These are peculiar lessons to draw from the difficulties of a policy, originally devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation and first implemented by Gov. Mitt Romney (R.-Mass.), that attempts to broaden healthcare coverage by requiring citizens to buy private health insurance—and whose for-profit elements were a major reason why its website was such a disaster (Next New Deal, 10/23/13).


Right, Righter, Wall Street

The budget agreement worked out between Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray had plenty of critics on the left (The Nation, 12/10/13; Campaign for America’s Future, 12/12/13)—but not many of them were heard in media discussions. The “left” of the debate on the PBS NewsHour (12/11/13) was Wall Street Democrat Steven Rattner, who’s worked for major banks and currently runs his own investment firm. He was mostly supportive, though he did note that “we need to address the issue of spending on Medicare and Social Security.”

From the right, viewers got Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former McCain economics adviser who is currently, among other things, helping corporations lobby against tax hikes (Think Progress, 6/4/13). But someone at PBS thought viewers needed one more voice from the right, so they added Romina Boccia of the Heritage Foundation. So the spectrum of debate was right, righter and Wall Street.

Romina Boccia of the Heritage Foundation, former McCain economics adviser Douglas Holtz-Ekin, Wall Street Democrat Steven Rattner

Romina Boccia of the Heritage Foundation, former McCain economics adviser Douglas Holtz-Ekin, Wall Street Democrat Steven Rattner

A New York Times editorial (12/12/13) notes that “the details of the agreement show that Republican loathing of taxes and domestic spending continue to dominate the budget debate.” Indeed—even on public television, which, after all, was created to expand the parameters of public discussion.


What You Think About What You Don’t Know

Under the print headline “Few Trust Iran on Nuclear Accord,” USA Today’s Susan Page (12/10/13) reported that “the White House and Iran face an uphill selling job to convince Americans to embrace the interim nuclear pact negotiated with Tehran last month.” She cited a USA Today/Pew poll: “32 percent approve of the deal, 43 percent disapprove. One in four don’t know or declined to answer.”

This is surprising, since other polls found the public supportive of the deal. A CNN poll (11/18–20/13) found 56 percent in favor, for example; an ABC News/Washington Post poll (11/14–17/13) put approval at 64 percent.

What accounts for the difference? Well, fully 86 percent of respondents told USA Today they’d heard either “little” or “nothing” about the agreement. And USA Today—unlike the other polls—didn’t attempt to explain to those it polled what the agreement said. So what the poll really shows is that people don’t like deals with Iran when they don’t know much about them. The more important finding is that corporate media have done a poor job of informing the public about a major foreign policy development.


Six Degrees of Assassination

After an apparent US drone strike hit a wedding convoy in Yemen on December 12, killing over a dozen people, the New York Times’ Robert Worth (12/13/13) came up with a curious description of the casualties: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al-Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.”

“Most…appeared to be…suspected of being…linked to”? Maybe the Times should change its slogan:

“Much of what seems like the news that might be considered fit to do something akin to printing.”


The Faux Pas of Bombing a Two-Year-Old

The Washington Post (11/29/13) called the killing of a two-year-old Afghan boy in a US airstrike that also wounded two women “the latest crisis to confront American officials.” The Post’s Tim Craig went on to say that “the civilian casualties could not have come at a worse time for US diplomats” trying to finalize a security deal with the Afghan government, and that “the death of the child further complicates the already strained relationship.”

Yes, poorly timed child-killing certainly does make a relationship more complex.


Bernie Sanders: ‘Agitator’ or ‘Spoiler’?

SB3“Although his chances would be slim at best, he could serve as an agitator who pulled other candidates to the left—or as a potential spoiler if his campaign got off the ground.”

Washington Post, 11/30/13)


Dreams for Sale

“The alternative is not to hire, not to dream, not to innovate.”

—Philadelphia public radio affiliate WHYY (Facebook, 12/14/13), explaining why the station had to let pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Independence Blue Cross, the largest health insurer in the Philadelphia area, sponsor its new health show


Extra! February 2014