“If you have two guys on stage and one guy says ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?” ~ Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes
The “Orchestra Pit” theory of news programming by Roger Ailes perfectly describes the way much of the mainstream media, and particularly Fox News, responds to current events. Whatever angle they can wrench themselves into that results in producing more superfluous melodrama is the one they choose, regardless of how far that diverts from real substance or even reality (see Fox Nation vs. Reality for some flagrant assaults on truth).
Yesterday the administration released data on the number of people who enrolled in new health insurance plans made available by ObamaCare. In the first month there were 106,000 people who got new plans via Heathcare.gov and the state-based exchanges. Almost immediately that number was decried as a catastrophic failure by the media. However, very few reporters actually provided the necessary context within which to view this data. They leaped at the opportunity to bellow ignorantly about what they characterized as an insurmountable defeat. Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer even discussed the possibility that this would herald the end of liberalism.
A more thorough analysis of the data shows that the magnitude of the fiasco was not nearly as pronounced as the media declared. First of all, everyone knew that there were functional problems with the website that would hamper enrollments. So to register surprise when numbers were released that fell below estimates made a year ago is plainly dishonest. The lower figures were expected by everyone involved and the feigned shock illustrates the devotion that media has for hysterical theatricality.
Furthermore, the numbers are not even all that bad despite the botched technology. Comparing this rollout to the rollout of RomneyCare in Massachusetts shows a similar pattern wherein enrollments started out slowly and rapidly increased as it got closer to the deadline. The Washington Post reported last month that…
“Just 123 people signed up during the Bay State’s first month of open enrollment. By contrast, 20 percent of the first year’s 36,000 enrollees purchased coverage in the last month before an individual mandate penalty kicked in.”
It is also notable that the states that provided their own exchanges signed up many more people than those that failed to do so. For instance, Kentucky’s exchange signed up five times more citizens than its exchange-less neighbor, Tennessee. Of the “Four Corners” states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah), only Colorado has its own exchange. But it signed up three times the number of citizens as the other three combined. In fact, California’s exchange enrolled more citizens than all 36 exchange-less states combined. What’s more, many in the media are conveniently forgetting that the expansion of Medicaid is also a part of ObamaCare. And 400,000 Americans now have health insurance through Medicaid as a result. That brings the total to half a million.
By this measure, with four months left in the open enrollment period, ObamaCare is on track to meet or exceed its estimates so long as the website problems are resolved, or people have adequate access to alternatives. But another factor that comes into play is the relentless attacks on ObamaCare by Fox News and other right-wing media. The consequences of this coordinated effort to frighten the American people include both dissuading new enrollments and prodding Congress to push for crippling legislation to delay and/or defund the program. It’s a self-fulling prophecy of doom wherein critics blast ObamaCare as failing to meet expectations, act to disparage and dismantle it, and then complain when it falls short of inflated expectations. Extremist right-wingers have been working furiously to sabotage ObamaCare, and it is no coincidence that almost every state without an exchange has a Republican governor and legislature.
The downside of this unfolding of ObamaCare news is the allegedly poor rate of enrollment. And on that matter, Fox obsessively focuses on negative reports that characterize the program as having tripped and fallen into a bottomless (orchestra) pit. But the other newsmaker on the stage is Obama’s plan that has provided 48 million Americans with access to health care that they had been denied previously. This solves a problem that prior administrations, going back FDR, have tried and failed to solve.
It is a historic achievement, but the media is fixated on the website that fell into the Orchestra Pit, while ignoring the far greater achievement of making health care accessible to millions. So thanks, Roger Ailes, for helping the press to neglect what is truly important in order to promote relative trivialities and misrepresentations, and thereby advancing your personal agenda of Tea Party extremism and callous insensitivity toward those less fortunate than you. Despite your campaign to destroy a program that will bring life-saving relief to millions of Americans, the people are going to discover the benefits of this innovation and reward those who delivered it – and punish those who tried to kill it.