The press corps' low skill levels: Would the Republican Senate's health care bill produce large Medicaid cuts? Or would it simply slow the rate at which the program would grow?
Last Wednesday, we spotted the New York Times' Robert Pear reverting to "slow the growth." He did this above the fold on the Times' front page. To review our post, click here.
As always, your Daily Howler keeps banging out results! Two days later, Pear flipped. Front-page headline included:
PEAR AND KAPLAN (6/23/17): Senate Unveils Health Bill With Deep Medicaid Cuts, Similar to House VersionWe're not even saying which formulation was preferable! But Pear couldn't seem to pick one.
Senate Republicans, who for seven years have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, took a major step on Thursday toward that goal, unveiling a bill to make deep cuts in Medicaid and end the law's mandate that most Americans have health insurance.
At any rate, how about it? Is the Senate GOP cutting the Medicaid program? Or are they simply slowing the rate at which the program will grow? The nation's leading journalists have been flummoxed by this rhetorical structure since at least 1995, when they spent a year being bollixed by this same question with respect to Newt Gingrich's Medicare plan.
Our press corps has few analytical skills. Yesterday, no one was more buffaloed than George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's This Week.
We haven't partied with Stephanopoulos since July 4, 2000. Still, when you've partied with someone on such an occasion, you always feel like a friend.
We'd like to say that George came through. This time, he actually didn't.
Stephanopoulos was speaking with Kellyanne Conway. She banged Obamacare around, but George then asked her this:
STEPHANOPOULOS (6/25/17): So you've laid out the problems with Obamacare. A lot of senators have questions about the Senate bill, particularly those cuts in Medicaid. More than $800 billion.He thought he had Kellyanne over a barrel. But sad!
I want to show the president's first speech, when he announced for president.
TRUMP (videotape): Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president, right there, said no cuts in Medicaid. He has several Tweets on that same subject.
This bill has even more Medicaid cuts than the House bill. Why is the president going back on his promise?
She said there were no Medicaid cuts—that they were just slowing the rate of the program's growth. In reply, this was the best George could do:
CONWAY (continuing directly): These are not cuts to Medicaid, George. This slows the rate for the future and it allows governors more flexibility, with Medicaid dollars, because they're closest to the people in need.Even after all these years, he couldn't explain his own claim. Instead, he pointed to Heller and Collins, saying they called it a cut.
Medicaid's imperative, its founding was meant to help the poor, the sick, the needy, the disabled, children, some elderly, women, particularly pregnant women. We are trying to get Medicaid back to its original moorings and—
STEPHANOPOULOS: Kellyanne, I don't see how you can say that the cut, more than $800 billion in savings is not cuts. And don't do— You don't have to take my word for it. It's the Republican senators you're facing right now who have that problem, led by Senator Dean Heller in Nevada. He said he's voting no. Also, Senator Susan Collins.
Here was, here's what they said:
HELLER (videotape): First, it doesn't protect Nevadans on Medicaid. Second, the cuts to Medicaid threatens critical services in Nevada, services that a lot of Nevadans depend on.
COLLINS (videotape): I cannot support a bill that's going to make such deep cuts in Medicaid that it's going to shift billions of dollars to our state government.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So these senators are the ones saying these are Medicaid cuts. Is the president prepared to put more money back into Medicaid?
There's a term for that—missing in action.
Back in the 1990s, it was easy to explain the claim that the GOP was proposing "Medicare cuts." For future years, their bill proposed levels of Medicare spending which fell far short of the spending required to maintain the existing level of Medicare services.
Inevitably, that would require cuts in Medicare services. In that way, the Gingrich Congress was proposing "Medicare cuts."
Is the McConnell Senate proposing Medicaid cuts? Stephanopoulos said it was, then failed to explain his statement. Kellyanne tossed some gorilla dust around, and George was soon moving on (text below).
Our upper-end press corps has almost no skills. They display this fact again and again, but just keep rolling along.
Tie goes to the spinner: Did Stephanopoulos ever explain his claim about those "Medicaid cuts?"
We'd have to say he didn't. He and Conway wrestled around for a while. Eventually, he quit on this:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, it's the Republican senators calling this "cuts." It's the experts calling this "cuts." There's no way you can say—For the record, the analysts screamed when Stephanopoulos turned to the always useless "savings v. cuts" formulation.
CONWAY: And you know why that is?
STEPHANOPOULOS: —$800 billion in savings are not cuts.
But I don't want to dwell on that, because there are other important issues we have to focus on here as well.
The president has made a big effort on opioid addiction. He says he really wants to do something about it, including in his address to Congress earlier this year. Let's take a look at that...
George didn't want to dwell on his claim about the Medicaid cuts. In the end, all he had is what two Republican senators (out of 52) had said.
Kellyanne volunteered to explain why they said what they said. That's when George said, "No mas."
In our modern journalism, there's a term for a wrestling match like that: "Tie goes to the state of constant confusion." A major journalist should be able to explain his seminal claims. Yesterday, George couldn't do it.
You saw us explain those old "Medicare cuts." Why wasn't ABC's biggest star—he's entirely bright—prepared to be more like us?