It seems that there is only so much the mainstream political press can ignore. In the wake of Tuesday’s congressional hearing in which health care policy expert Jonathan Gruber attempted to explain his inflammatory comments about the law and the easily misled American voter, those media outlets that were still maintaining an embargo on that story finally gave up the ghost.
Tuesday’s hearings were informative primarily for what Gruber was not willing to say. The health policy consultant succumbed to amnesia when he was pressed to recall if he ever had a conversation with a member of the administration who shared his belief that the ACA’s construction was “tortured” so as to get the bill passed by Congress. He refused to surrender documents relating to his work with the government, and played coy to the point where he attempted to debate the definition of the word “document” with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). This was newsworthy stuff, but the primary focus of the mainstream press was on Gruber’s dubious and abundant apologies for insensitive comments that much of the public heard for the first time only last night.
CBS Evening News devoted a package report to the Obamacare architect’s testimony, including broadcasting many of the inflammatory comments which resulted in his grilling before a congressional panel on Monday:
This report, compiled by CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews, is both fair and informative. Credit where credit is due: CBS did a good job of reviewing this topic for an audience that may not be entirely familiar with the controversy.
Shockingly, NBC News also broadcast a package report on the scandal involving Gruber. “It is unlikely that most Americans have heard the name Jonathan Gruber until a few weeks ago when a video emerged of him insulting their intelligence,” NBC’s Brian Williams said, ironically indicting his own newscast which had conspicuously embargoed reporting on this controversy for the last 32 days.
NBC aired an edited package featuring reporter Kelly O’Donnell doggedly clinging to Gruber’s side and peppering him with questions as they walked briskly down the halls of Congress. Gruber stubbornly ignored his interrogator. O’Donnell called the four-hour grilling Gruber endured at the hands of Congress a “public shaming” in a report that was honestly the most thorough of all the network newscasts.
Perhaps the focus NBC devoted to the controversy was an attempt to seek penance after having ignored the story for a month. No amount of pageantry in which reporter and unwilling interview subject dance in the familiar way in which O’Donnell and Gruber did will make up for the network’s decisions to air reports on ugly sweaters and dating websites for farmers over the Obamacare architect’s self-destruction.
At least two of the three major networks devoted significant time to the story. After playing one inflammatory comment of Gruber mocking the “stupidity of the American voter,” ABC News anchor David Muir observed that Gruber is now calling them “glib, thoughtless, and downright insulting.” After generously giving 26 seconds to the story, he moved on to the royal couple’s visit to America.
The print outlets that have covered Gruber’s testimony have covered themselves in no more glory than have the networks. The vast majority of the accounts of Gruber’s testimony have focused on his myriad, shoddy, disingenuous apologies.
The Washington Post’s front page treatment of the story ended within hours of the conclusion of the hearing, and consisted of two boilerplate reports and a “translation” of Gruber’s apologies into something even more sympathetic than were his original remarks. Today, the only mention of Gruber on The Post’s front page is from Dana Milbank who devoted his focus to that “zany” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
The New York Times was a bit more straightforward in its brief and perfunctory dispatch on the hearings. “He appeared to squirm on Tuesday under questioning by Republicans who confronted him with his own past statements,” The Times reported. “He did not deny those past statements, but said he regretted some of his impolitic formulations.”
That might be the best summary of Gruber’s so-called apologies yet. It’s too bad that this report, too, is absent from The Times’ website’s front page on Wednesday.
Maybe the most egregious and insulting attempt to wrap up the hearings yesterday was published by Politico. The reader does not need to summon great powers of interpretation while reading this dispatch in order to determine that Gruber serves as the author’s protagonist.
“He squirmed. He dodged. He apologized,” Politico’s David Nather wrote of our adept hero. “But Republicans barely laid a glove on him.”
Nather deemed the hearings a failure, but only because Issa and his fellow Republicans could not get Gruber to repeat comments which he had already made on video about the illegality of subsidies provided to state-level exchanges and America’s general imbecility.
“Tuesday’s hearing was Issa’s series finale — his last high-profile hearing as chairman of the most powerful investigative committee in the House,” Nather continued. “He did what he does best: He attracted lots of media attention, got a celebrity witness to squirm and dodge questions, and made life miserable, once again, for the Obama administration.”
Here, the mask falls. Gruber isn’t an Affordable Care Act and Romneycare architect. He isn’t a health policy expert, as so many Democratic officeholders have described him. No, he’s merely a “celebrity” – a construction that advances the Democratic narrative that Gruber was insignificant to the process of passing the health care reform law and hearings into his comments are mere frivolity.
And with this little glut of coverage behind us, the story of Gruber’s damaging and candid comments about the ACA will probably die. Perhaps conservatives were better off when the mainstream press was largely ignoring Gruber-gate. When it was isolated primarily to conservative media outlets and the handful of honest mainstream cable and print institutions that reported on the subject in late November, at least they got the story right.
An earlier version of this post inaccurately identified Rep. Darrell Issa as “(D-CA).”