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Political Boomerang: Liberals switch to ObamaCare defense (sort of)

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Oct. 2, 2013: A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York.Reuters

The liberal wing of the mainstream media has, for the most part, been painfully honest about the fiasco that is ObamaCare.

Despite some flak for deserting the “team,” left-wing commentators haven’t sugar-coated the website disaster, the millions of policy cancellations or the broken presidential promise.

But suddenly there seems to be a reassessment. I’m not saying a memo went out or anything, but just when all seems gloom and doom, several of the most prominent left-wing writers on health care are offering reassessments and perspective. 

Let’s take the looong view, they say. (And this wave comes as we learn that a consulting firm warned senior White House and administration officials last spring that the website could melt down.)

Now these are smart guys who have been willing to call it like it is. But perhaps they can only stray so far. Or perhaps they are having second thoughts. Perhaps they think the worst is over. Or perhaps they think the media coverage is too pessimistic.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait starts with such a critique:

“The most common fallacy of journalism, and one of the most common fallacies of the human brain in general, is the assumption that whatever is happening at the moment will continue to happen forever. That has been the implicit assumption of the hyperventilating coverage of the miserable Obamacare rollout. That fallacy is the explicit premise of one such story today, which asserts, ‘The lesson of the last six weeks is that when it comes to the Obamacare rollout, if it can go wrong, it probably will.’ 

“Fittingly, that piece appears in Politico, a publication for whom the overmagnification of recent trends is its essential credo.

“It is always possible that the most recent Obamacare trend line will continue ad infinitum. More likely, things will round back into normalcy. A few points to keep in mind:

“Obamacare has existed for more than six weeks. This fact may shock those of you who are either fruit flies or dedicated Politico junkies, but it is true. The law does many things, and some of them occurred prior to October 1.

“One of the most important changes in the law is a huge collection of bureaucratic nudges designed to incentivize the health-care system toward delivering higher value rather than churning out higher cost. That experiment, while still extremely early, is going far better at this stage than even the most optimistic advocates hoped. A wave of innovation is in full bloom, manifesting itself in such things as lower rehospitalization rates, rapid growth of accountable care organizations and retail health providers, and employers shopping around for less expensive plans rather than endlessly footing higher bills.

“And while the consumer rollout of the health exchanges has been an unmitigated disaster, the insurance response went much better than expected…The product on offer turns out to be significantly cheaper than initially expected — which is to say, the private sector has bet on the exchanges working.”

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn also says the MSM are missing the mark:

“There are at least six reasons to think the real story is smaller—and way more complicated—than a credulous media would have everybody believe.

“1. PEOPLE WITH THESE POLICIES FREQUENTLY DON’T LIKE THEM.

“2. PEOPLE WITH THESE POLICIES DON’T TYPICALLY HAVE THEM FOR VERY LONG.

“3. MANY, PROBABLY MOST PEOPLE WITH THESE POLICIES WILL FIND OBAMACARE POLICIES COST THEM LESS….

“To sum up, lots of people losing coverage are losing policies they never liked much, that they would have dropped soon anyway, and that would have left them facing potential financial ruin if they got sick. Even those with truly good policies had no guarantees that in one year, let alone two or three, they'd still be able to pay for them…

“The media should give these stories the proper context—and put them in the proper perspective.”

I’m all for perspective. And turmoil in the pre-ObamaCare market is sometimes ignored. But these latest cancellations are a direct result of the president’s government-knows-better law.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein resents the Katrina comparisons:

“The Affordable Care Act's Web site isn't working very well yet. So of course the media is asking whether ‘this is Obama's Hurricane Katrina.’ I look forward to future coverage in this vein: ‘Is the failure of immigration reform Obama's 1906 San Francisco Earthquake?’ ‘Are the 2014 sequestration cuts Obama's 1918 Influenza?’”

Okay, nobody’s saying ObamaCare had the same impact as a monster storm. They’re saying that Obama’s admitted fumbling of the rollout could cause the same loss of confidence that George W. Bush suffered after the hurricane.

A better comparison, in Klein’s view, is Bush’s prescription-drug program, which had a terrible debut but later thrived:

“Medicare Part D eventually found its footing and today it's a popular and successful program. Which is, perhaps, the reason the media is more interested in the Hurricane Katrina comparison: ‘The glitches get fixed and, after a year or two, the program fades into an efficient obscurity’ is a less interesting story line then ‘failure that defines a presidency.’"

Politico’s Roger Simon is also, well, up in arms over the war comparison:

“The Iraq War comparison was floated by David Gregory, host of ‘Meet the Press,’ on Sunday. ‘And people will say this is like Katrina; I think it’s more like Iraq,’ Gregory said. ‘That was about life and death, this is not. The comparison is everybody looked at Bush through the prism of Iraq. Here, I think people are going to look at Obama through the implementation of Obamacare.’

“Maybe it’s just me, but I still find it difficult to compare a dismally functioning website to a war that resulted in more than 100,000 violent deaths and cost nearly a trillion dollars.

“Yes, I know, Gregory said to ignore the ‘life and death’ part. But to me, that’s like saying: ‘Except for the fact there was no iceberg, no ship, 1,517 people did not die and there was no movie based on it starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, Obamacare has been like the Titanic.’”

Funny. Jon Stewart also had a field day with it. But I don’t think anyone was making the comparison except on the level of mismanagement and public perception.

Dan Rather’s Lament

The former CBS anchor is mighty ticked off at being excluded from the network’s 50th anniversary coverage of the JFK assassination.

In a radio interview, Mediaite reports, “Rather explained that CBS ‘ignored me completely’ in their initial coverage plans, and were only pressured to include some of his reporting from one of the most tragic days in America’s history. He said, ‘The corporate entity that owns CBS decided some time ago that they wanted to, in effect, erase me from the coverage––from history.’ He said everyone should be alarmed that a major news outlet is being pressured to “change history to suit their corporate interests.’”

I can sympathize to a point, since Rather was there in 1963. But let’s not forget that he sued his own network after being ousted from the anchor chair after the George W. Bush Memogate fiasco. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.