A bit over a month ago, I took the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey to task for giving Steve Daines news coverage for a staged political event that was limited to those who supported Daines’ position on regulations. It was a terrible piece of stenography that offered little in the way of news and even less in the way of truth.
Yesterday, a large portion of the Montana media fell for the same Daines strategy, writing about a Daines health care meeting in Helena, even though the meeting was only attended by those screened by the Montana Chamber of Commerce and brought to criticize the Affordable Care Act.
A meeting that must have had more Congressional staffers and members of the media than actual constituents led to breathless coverage across the state; in pieces like “Daines gets an earful from Obamacare critics,” “Daines hears about Obamacare uncertainty, ” “More, unseen wrinkles in health care law bugging businesses,” “Business leaders gather to complain about health-care law to Rep. Daines,” “Business leaders gather to vent about Affordable Care Act” the public was exposed to the same litany of complaints conservatives and business leaders have leveled against the ACA since before it was even written. Of all the stories, only the piece by MPR’s Dan Boyce asked why “the roundtable discussion did not include people happy with the Affordable Care Act.”
In a series of quotes whose choreography would do the Bolshoi Ballet proud, one “concerned businessman” after another was quoted, expressing his troubling reservations about the impact of “Obamacare” on his particular business or organization.
Set aside the fact that the Montana Chamber of Commerce is a hyper-partisan advocacy group for the Montana Republican Party. Even set aside the fact that none of the claims of increased costs were investigated nor supported, despite the right’s willingness to distort the law’s mandates and costs. Even concede that some of the concerns raised at the meeting were legitimate, though I have my doubts about many of them.
This wasn’t a news story; it was a propaganda piece, a Potemkin listening session designed to get favorable news coverage.
What’s newsworthy is not that Steve Daines gathered a bunch of ideological cronies for a little spin in his nonsensical war against the Affordable Care Act, but that the one person representing Montana in the House of Representatives will only listen to one side of the debate, and not even engage with constituents who have different views and experiences under the ACA.
The truth is that thousands of Montanans have benefited from the changes in the law brought about by the Obama Administration: young people who can remain on their parents’ insurance plan until they reach 26, people who’ve never been able to afford medical care getting insurance for the first time, and people with pre-existing conditions who were denied access to health insurance with no chance to appeal have all benefited greatly. We probably all know friends, neighbors, and co-workers whose lives have dramatically improved because of the law.
Instead of those stories, we’re treated to an endless echo chamber of Obamacare horror stories from those who have a vested interest in returning to a time when 47 million Americans had no insurance and many who did had coverage that was so bad they might have been better off without any.
It’s one thing for the media to under-inform us. Sadly, we’ve all become accustomed to that in an era of decreasing news coverage and concern about corporate profitability. But when news organizations get led by the nose to easy stories orchestrated by political partisans because it’s easier than doing real reporting, we’re not being under-informed; we’re being actively misinformed.
Daines and his political handlers aren’t going to change what they’re doing, but the media certainly can, if its members simply find the courage to do their jobs. Sadly, that seems less likely every day.