Media Buzz

ObamaCare, the Press and Chuck Todd: Is deciphering the law our job?

April 30, 2013: President Obama is asked a question by NBC's White House Chief Correspondent Chuck Todd in the Brady Press briefing room at the White House.

April 30, 2013: President Obama is asked a question by NBC's White House Chief Correspondent Chuck Todd in the Brady Press briefing room at the White House.  (Reuters)

On this point, at least, there can be no debate: Many people are confused about ObamaCare.

Whose fault is that?

The Obama administration bears a good portion of the blame, but I would say the media have not helped much.

The law, major portions of which kick in next week, is complicated, even overly complicated its detractors say.

And you can certainly find articles over the past year in, say, the New York Times or Washington Post that delve into its provisions.

But many potential beneficiaries of the new insurance exchanges, for instance, have little idea how they work. Meanwhile the media are transfixed by such spectacles as Ted Cruz’s Senate talkathon yesterday, and President Obama defending the law in a chat with Bill Clinton.

This is apparently a sensitive subject, because Chuck Todd has been getting hammered over a couple of comments he made on the subject.

It’s hard for me to find anything objectionable in what NBC’s political director said.

When ex-Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, now an MSNBCer, said Republicans have successfully “messaged” against the Affordable Care Act, Todd said that people, “don't repeat the other stuff because they haven't even heard the Democratic message.”

“What I always love is people say, 'Well, it's you folks' fault in the media,’” he continued. “No, it's the president of the United States' fault for not selling it.”

To my ear, Todd was making a pretty basic point. We’re not here to carry the administration’s water.

But he got hammered by the left after the website TPM ran this headline: “Chuck Todd: It's Not Media's Job To Correct GOP's ObamaCare Falsehoods.”

Todd dismissed that notion on Twitter, writing, “Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn't expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACA.”

As people peppered him with critical emails, Todd tweeted, “For those who actually asked what I meant & waited for context rather than assume headline as fact, thanks. For those blind to it, sorry for u.”

Todd declined to comment when I reached him, feeling that he had said enough in his defense.

So let’s go a step further. What exactly is the media’s responsibility in explaining the law?

It’s a massive change, yet I’d wager that at least 90 percent of the recent coverage has focused on the politics behind the law. Recent examples include the royal battle, led by Cruz and his followers, over the defunding ObamaCare bill that could lead to a government shutdown, and Obama’s refusal to negotiate over the debt ceiling.

And look, it’s been a heckuva sideshow, as was demonstrated by the weirdness of Cruz’s faux filibuster.

Politico had a good explainer yesterday on, among other things, problems with a planned boost to Medicaid that was undermined by a Supreme Court ruling.

“Now there will be a coverage gap for people who are too poor to qualify for federal subsidies to purchase insurance on the exchanges but not poor enough to access Medicaid in states where governors refused to broaden the program,” the story says.

But the piece also noted some of the law’s benefits that are rarely highlighted.

“More than 3.1 million young adults gained coverage because they could stay on their parents’ insurance; 17 million children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage; and insurers have been forced to issue more than $500 million in rebate checks to consumers because they failed to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care,” it notes.

The NYT’s health policy veteran Robert Pear filed this enlightening story.

“Federal officials often say that health insurance will cost consumers less than expected under President Obama’s health care law,” he writes. “But they rarely mention one big reason: many insurers are significantly limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers.”

My bottom line is the press isn’t here to help either side. But with such sweeping changes taking effect Oct. 1, we do have a responsibility to help educate folks.

Feds Try to Stop Jill Kelley’s Lawsuit

The Obama administration is trying to stop a lawsuit by Jill Kelley that could reveal what happened during the crucial months before the presidential election when investigators kept the David Petraeus scandal under wraps.

The Justice Department said in a legal filing yesterday that the suit should be tossed out because Kelley had failed to present evidence that the FBI and the Pentagon had violated her privacy rights. Her lawsuit presented only a “bare allegation,” the brief said.

But here’s the intriguing part. The FBI and Defense Department have exempted several of their records systems from the Privacy Act, but then fault Kelley and her husband for not proving that the leaks about her stemmed from those records.

The administration is not denying the leaks took place after Kelley told the FBI she had receiving anonymous harassing emails that turned out to be from Petraeus’ mistress, Paula Broadwell. He resigned as CIA director when the probe became public shortly after the election.

“Instead of providing an apology with an acknowledgment of these indefensible behaviors,” Kelley’s attorney, Alan Raul, said in a statement, “the government is willing to defend the indefensible…  

“Sadly, they appear to be little concerned with the privacy of innocent citizens who get caught up in out of control, overreaching government electronic investigations and the subsequent improper disclosure of confidential investigative material by senior officials and agents.”

Kelley is the Tampa woman whose friendship with two top generals, Petraeus and John Allen, thrust her into the spotlight after the probe became public. The Justice Department declined to prosecute Broadwell.

If Kelley’s lawsuit goes forward, it could shed light on whether some federal officials attempted to keep the investigation from becoming public during President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Cutting Remarks About Cutter

A liberal advocacy group has launched a campaign against Stephanie Cutter, the former Obama deputy campaign manager who is now a co-host of “Crossfire.”

Everyone expects her to be pro-Obama, just like David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs on MSNBC. But as I argued at the time, it was a mistake for a CNN host to attend a White House strategy session on possible military action against Syria.

Now the group FAIR has told its members in an alert that “such conflicts are supposed to matter to CNN. If Stephanie Cutter is consulting with the White House, and then going on TV to discuss the very same issues, she's not representing the left -- or her viewers. She's representing the White House.”

Cutter, who has created a consulting firm, didn’t help her case when she referred to herself on air as part of the administration.

"Well, I think that whenever something big like this is happening, we're always meeting with progressive bloggers and left-leaning talk show hosts,” she said.

Cutter told Politico that she says “exactly what I think” on the air. And that’s probably true. But the appearance of emerging from a White House communications meeting isn’t great.

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.