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The disastrous October 1 launch of Healthcare.gov surprised even those of us who expected Obamacare to fail. The economics of the law are impossible, but who’d have thought just building a functional computer system would prove an insurmountable challenge?
As it turns out, Henry Chao, the project’s “chief digital architect,” had grave doubts months earlier. The New York Times reported on October 13 that in March, Chao “told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. ‘Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,’ he told them.”
The Times story, written by Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere, and Ian Austen, was titled “From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal.” It turns out the reporters, like Chao, were aware of the impending problems long before October 1:
Front-page editorials, disguised as news stories, have become such familiar features of the New York Times that it should have been no surprise to discover in the December 28th issue a front-page story about a professor of finance at the University of Houston who has been a paid consultant to financial enterprises.
Since professors of all sorts have been paid consultants to organizations of all sorts, it is questionable why this was a story at all, much less one that covered an entire inside page, in addition to a central front-page opening, under the headline "Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward."
Do academics who attack Wall Street, as consultants to government agencies or other organizations, not get paid?
Like the corrupt French official in the movie classic "Casablanca," the New York Times is "shocked, shocked" to discover that consultants get paid defending the kinds of people that the New York Times attacks.
YOUR HUMBLE MEDIA critic came in for some media criticism over the summer. Its source: Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns the Tampa Bay Times. McBride wrote on the institute’s website: “The Wall Street Journal…ran an opinion piece by editorial board member James Taranto, who argued that efforts to stop sexual assault in the military show ‘signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality’ and is [sic] a ‘war on men.’ Taranto’s view was torn asunder by critics here and here.”
The first “here” linked to a post on the feminist website Jezebel.com. The item’s author, Katie Baker, wrote: “I’m not interested in engaging with Taranto, because he’s a cockroach.” The second went to a response to my piece by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, whom I had faulted for placing a “permanent hold” on the promotion of General Susan Helms. The general had reversed the court-martial sexual assault conviction of an officer under her command, and McCaskill aimed to retaliate.
Out of the mouth of a babe: a shrewd insight into the media. Monica Lewinsky said she wanted to be an assistant producer in TV, or an assistant account executive in PR, or else do "anything at George magazine." The "wish list" she gave Vernon Jordan made no distinctions. Monica had decided that what qualified her for the one job qualified her for either of the others, and she wanted to enjoy a "comfortable living" in New York. As it happened, Jordan never quite came through for her, although there was nothing wrong with her appraisal. If she could make it in PR, she could make it in TV, and if that didn't work, she could always try a glossy magazine. Obviously she had learned a thing or two in the White House. She knew the difference between the press and the media.
IT WAS an appeal to his political base from a Democratic president mired in scandal. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” Barack Obama said in a May 23 speech at the National Defense University. “And that’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach.”
The president added that “I’ve raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concerns.” That was rich. The next day it was revealed that Eric Holder had personally signed off on the decision to seek a search warrant for the personal emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen. In 2012, Holder’s department also subpoenaed phone logs for 20 phone numbers, including personal ones, of Associated Press reporters as part of a national security leak investigation. (Holder told Congress he had recused himself from that decision.)
But it would be a mistake for Congress to respond to the Obama overreaches by expanding the power of the press. To understand why, consider how the mainstream media are themselves implicated in those scandals.
When the Democratic Senate killed every one of President Obama’s gun-control proposals on April 17, the next day’s New York Times featured two revealing stories. The first was a front-page “news analysis” by reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, which carried the headline “Gun Control Effort Had No Real Chance, Despite Pleas.”
I could have told them that months earlier. Even if the Senate had passed a bill, it would have had to get through the Republican-controlled House. But the effort’s futility was apparently news to Steinhauer, who for days had been filing suspenseful reports with headlines like “Centerpiece of Gun Bill Remains in Doubt,” “Threat to Block Debate on Guns Appears to Fade in Senate,” and even, on the day of the vote, “Senate Sets Flurry of Crucial Votes on Gun Measures.” How could they have been crucial if the outcome was predetermined?
Most striking, though, was this passage:
At a moment when the national conversation about how best to stem the menace of guns in the wrong hands seemed to have shifted, it turned out that the political dynamic had not.