It will be some time before we know for certain whether the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s embarrassingly candid revelations about the deceptions at the heart of ObamaCare will have a substantive impact on its future. Given the relevance of much of what he’s said to the Supreme Court’s deliberations about a challenge to the legality of its crucial subsidies, don’t bet against what some are calling Grubergate being considered a turning point in the history of this misbegotten legislation. But no matter what happens in the Court or in Congress, the story has already provided us with a fascinating insight into another kind of pretense: the supposed objectivity of the mainstream media which has, for the most part, ignored this story.
The virtual blackout of coverage of Gruber’s remarks in the broadcast networks and major newspapers such as the New York Times is, on its face, astonishing. That so many of these outlets that generally fall under the rubric of liberal mainstream media to have all come to the same conclusion that the Gruber story wasn’t news speaks to the way that members of this herd all tend to walk in lockstep on major political issues. But the defense of these decisions doesn’t wash.
As Howard Kurtz, former media columnist at the Washington Post and CNN said from his current perch at Fox:
On what planet is this kind of embarrassing admission not news? Maybe on that comet where the spaceship just landed.
Even Brian Stelter, his successor at CNN, conceded that the decision to ignore the story was wrong even as he, a liberal as opposed to the more centrist Kurtz, sought to rationalize the decision:
Whenever you think there is a conspiracy it is really just something much more mundane, in this case I think it is the fact that this is a video that is a year plus old, and it is something that, we’re talking about a story that has been debated and debated and debated and so covered endlessly, I think oftentimes in newsrooms, there’s a sense that well, what’s actually new here? But, that said, the quote, the word stupid, that is news. And the way it is being used by conservatives, that is news, so that is why it should be covered by the nightly newscasts and CNN.
As for the idea that there is nothing new, let’s unwrap that contention. Gruber was well known to be a major player on ObamaCare and his statements about deceiving the Congressional Budget Office and counting on the “stupidity” of the American people would, in any context, be considered newsworthy. Anything that casts further doubt on the legality of the legislation—especially since some of Gruber’s comments contradict the liberal position on the King v. Burwell lawsuit—or provide fodder for congressional opponents who will seek to chip away at the Affordable Care Act is in and of itself also newsworthy.
The only reason why editors would chose not to treat it as worthy of coverage would be their desire to help the administration end the debate about its signature legislative achievement. To those who would say that critics of the mainstream media’s blackout on Gruber are indulging in conspiracy theories, I would answer by simply asking them to imagine a similar case in which a Republican administration with popularity ratings as low as those of President Obama in which a key figure in the formation of one of that government’s policies were found to have spoken in such a manner in public on video.
It is simply impossible to imagine that the New York Times would have treated such statements as a non-story. But that’s what they did this week. Search the New York Times website and, as of Friday afternoon, there isn’t a single mention of the Gruber controversy save for one opinion article in its Upshot section in which the significance of the story is downplayed. But there is nothing in the news sections or in the print edition of any part of the paper. Even if, as Neil Irwin wrote in the Upshot, this sort of thing were business as usual in Congress and the government, the Times would not have hesitated to treat evidence of such misconduct—let alone lies told to facilitate an attempt to remake one sixth of the American economy—by conservatives as front-page news.
The broadcast networks similarly shut down the story over the course of the week with no references until the last day and then only in passing. As for the cable networks, Fox has predictably run with it but with the exception of Jake Tapper’s show, CNN also largely kept away from it for days while MSNBC granted Gruber a softball interview with its least journalistic host—Ronan Farrow—whose only intent was to dismiss the whole thing.
That conservative outlets would treat Grubergate as earthshaking and liberal ones would say there’s nothing to talk about is understandable since there are partisan implications to the story. But while Fox and MSNBC are understood to be sources whose political slant is well known and the same is true for print and online publications that make no secret of their editorial missions, newspapers like the Times and networks like ABC, NBC, and CBS still hold themselves out as representatives of objective journalism. That this is an easily exposed pretense has not been much of a secret for a long time. The networks and the Times are as ideologically biased as the Rush Limbaugh Show on radio. The only difference is that Rush and other political talkers and writers don’t pretend to be sitting on Mount Olympus impartially giving the people the news.
Even in the world of opinion writing it is necessary to acknowledge the other side’s arguments if only to disprove them. But for liberals in the mainstream media, news that works against their side is something that must be contained if not simply thrown down an Orwellian memory hole. While President Obama and the Democrats should be ashamed of their role in lying to the American people about ObamaCare, their cheerleaders in the mainstream press should be just as embarrassed. That apologies won’t be forthcoming from either tells us all we need to know about the contempt for democracy and truth that is now routine in these precincts.