The mainstream press – a term which is rapidly losing all meaning as Fox News has begun to not only dominate cable news but the networks as well, but what was once understood to include big city newspapers and the three broadcast networks – has largely ignored the scandal surrounding Jonathan Gruber’s many impolitic comments.
The Washington Post and The New York Times have run a handful of stories on the imbroglio that has dominated right-leaning media for nearly two weeks. CBS was the only major network to cover the story the week that it broke, but the focus of those segments was primarily on the Republican reaction to Gruber’s inflammatory comments.
“ABC News’ sparse Gruber coverage included this headline: ‘How Little-Known MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber Shook Up Washington This Week,’ which ignored Gruber’s prominent role in crafting the law,” The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams reported. “NBC News, for its part, has all but ignored the story, with only a discussion on Sunday’s Meet the Press penetrating the blockade.”
It took nine days before network NBC News broke the embargo on Gruber videos, and it was Meet the Press that broke it. It is interesting then that MTP moderator Chuck Todd, the only host of one of his network’s numerous platforms to address the explosive revelations involving one of the designers of the sweeping health care reform law, would defend his colleagues’ silence.
In an appearance with NewsmaxTV host Steve Malzberg, Todd questioned the value of the Gruber story. “I’m not saying it’s not a story,” he told Malzberg, “but what is the news today of that?”
“It’s a political story” he added. “Network news, in general, hasn’t been covering the political back and forth of Washington a lot lately.”
“I don’t think this has to do with Gruber, specifically,” Todd concluded. “I would just caution people on that.”
That’s one way to justify selection bias, but it’s not especially convincing. The network news media covers “political back and forth” all the time. Even a casual review of how the major networks covered not just the impact of 2013’s government shutdown but the arcane processes and inter-factional relationships in Congress which sparked it puts the lie to Todd’s assertion. The collective silence from the press on the Gruber story is conspicuous.
It is not just the major networks either. Fox has devoted a significant portion of the last two weeks to covering Gruber’s comments – a level of saturation justified by the fact that those comments, made by a key figure with regular access to the President of the United States, were only uncovered when one curious fellow decided to surf YouTube for a while. Perhaps in an attempt to shame Fox for its extensive coverage, Politifact observed that the network mentioned the name Gruber in its newscasts 779 times since November 10. That study may have backfired a bit as their study also showed that MSNBC has only referred to Gruber 79 times in that period while CNN mentioned the guy a grand total of 27 times (though it is worth noting the coverage CNN’s Jake Tapper has devoted to this story has been stellar).
When conservatives are simply too interested in a story, the mainstream press appears disinclined to give them what they want. Even if it means ceding their audiences to Fox, which it does, the ideological devotion to ignoring those stories which the right finds compelling is absolute.
“We’re all caught up in the process of the Acela Corridor,” Todd told The Daily Beast as he was beginning his run as MTP moderator. “Being in Washington, we’re not experiencing what the folks ‘between the Fives’ are experiencing. We got caught up in that Washington-New York mind-set.”
Well, out in the hinterland, those millions of Americans whose lives have been affected by the Affordable Care Act, for good or for bad, have been told by one of that law’s architects that they are idiots and that the law was founded on a mountain of lies. In the wake of that revelation, prominent Democrats ranging from the House minority leader to the President of the United States have dubiously tried to distance themselves from this figure to whose authority they once appealed. To casually dismiss the news value of those developments is nearly as insulting as Gruber’s original comments.
If nothing else, this story has served to clarify exactly what America’s policy and media elites truly think of them. The public deserves a better class of both.