Silence from the Times: According to Eric Stern, he watched the Hannity program on Fox on Friday evening, October 11.
Stern has a large advantage on most cable viewers; he understands the basic workings of the Affordable Care Act. In a subsequent piece at Salon, Stern says he worked as a senior adviser to Montana governor Brian Schweitzer. He says he helped Schweitzer deal with the new federal rules in the ACA.
We watched Hannity’s program that evening too. We saw and heard the same things Stern did.
Being less knowledgeable than Stern, we didn’t know what to think about various things which were said that night. And we didn’t proceed as Stern did.
Good for Stern! He didn’t believe what he heard that night. But he didn’t just sit there and take it.
Here’s the start of Stern’s account of what he did next:
STERN (10/18/13): I happened to turn on the Hannity show on Fox News last Friday evening [October 11]. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity announced, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.” Three married couples were neatly arranged in his studio, the wives seated and the men standing behind them, like game show contestants.Being a Democrat, Stern can’t help snarking about those regular people, who were “neatly arranged...like game show contestants.” But good for Stern!
As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their “Obamacare” horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on.
“These are the stories that the media refuses to cover,” Hannity interjected.
But none of it smelled right to me. Nothing these folks were saying jibed with the basic facts of the Affordable Care Act as I understand them. I understand them fairly well; I have worked as a senior adviser to a governor and helped him deal with the new federal rules.
I decided to hit the pavement. I tracked down Hannity’s guests, one by one, and did my own telephone interviews with them.
Thanks to his knowledge and experience, Stern felt their horror stories about the ACA didn’t make sense. And so, he did what the New York Times has refused to do for the past several decades. He telephoned those regular people, then reported the bullshit Hannity sold to millions of viewers that night.
Stern’s report appeared at Salon last Friday. This is his account of his first phone call to Hannity’s guests:
STERN: First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C. He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.According to Stern, Cox had made a bogus claim about Obamacare’s effect on his business.
Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been forced to do so, it’s just that I’ve chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs.” What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did.
There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the “healthcare.gov” website, the insurance exchange. That’s all.
The situations of the other two families were a bit more complex. But in each case, they hadn’t attempted to find out what they would have to pay for insurance under Obamacare. In each case, Stern said he found a plan for which they qualified which undercut the “horror stories” they had told Hannity’s viewers.
Assuming Stern’s information is accurate, why did these three couples offer these bogus accounts? We think Stern showed excellent judgment in this rumination as he finished his piece:
STERN: I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.Showing good judgment, Stern didn’t try to plumb the motives of Hannity’s guests. Instead, he rebuked Hannity, the multimillionaire professional broadcaster, who exploited his viewers' ignorance when he broadcast these bogus tales.
Strangely, the recent shutdown was based almost entirely on a small percentage of Congress’s belief that Obamacare, as Ted Cruz puts it, “is destroying America.” Cruz has rarely given us an example of what he’s talking about. That’s because the best he can do is what Hannity did—exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen.
Hannity isn’t entitled to broadcast such stories without checking them out, Stern said. Quite correctly, he assailed Hannity for misinforming the 1.45 million people who watched his first airing that night.
(We have no numbers for the program’s re-airings.)
Assuming Stern’s accounts are accurate, he has provided a valuable service. Now we have a question:
Why did this piece appear at Salon? Why hadn’t the New York Times already reported this matter as news, right out on its front page?
For the past fifteen years, we have screamed, yelled, hollered and screeched about a bone-simple point: when broadcasters disinform millions of people, that act qualifies as news. Such incidents should be reported as news on the front page of major newspapers.
For ourselves, we can’t vouch for the accuracy of Stern’s report. But total bullroar is constantly broadcast on Hannity’s program. It ought to qualify as news when voters get disinformed in such ways.
In recent decades, newspapers like the New York Times have agreed to look away from this ongoing train wreck. Liberal journalists have agreed to accept this timorous conduct from the cowardly Times.
All week, we’ll consider manifestations of this ongoing problem. Under present circumstances, Hannity can disinform viewers as much as he likes.
Timorous, trembling, knock-kneed, afraid, the New York Times doesn’t care.