Some conservatives were, perhaps, surprised to see reporters and writers who are perceived to lean left going after President Obama's disastrous roll-out of the Healthcare.gov insurance exchange site.
It turns out that some liberals are also surprised that a terrible muck-up from the administration on a critical piece of its signature legislative achievement had earned widespread criticism. In a Salon piece on Tuesday, Joan Walsh found this trend of reporting and discussing a high-profile story alarming. Why? because "they only encourage the completely unbalanced and unhinged coverage of whatever the problem may be." Walsh adds that Obama is clearly aware of the Healthcare.gov issues "without my telling him," as if the role of liberal reporters is primarily to tell the president (and not the public) what's up with stuff. She goes on:
Does anyone think if the website worked perfectly, dishonest conservatives wouldn’t be pointing to other alleged problems? The sight of people from Sen. John McCain to wingnuts on Twitter, who didn’t want the government to help the uninsured get health insurance, now lamenting the trouble those uninsured are having navigating a new website – well, it would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and corrupt.
Walsh is not the first to point out that the Healthcare.gov problems are politically loaded. Conservatives just shut down the government because they believe Obamacare will destroy the economy, and the web site's problems help to feed that false argument. In recent days, conservative politicians and White House officials have pushed hard on their respective versions of the story. For the Obama administration, the story is this: sure, the site has problems, but officials are working hard to fix it up, so don't worry. Plus, some of those problems are good problems — the capacity issues, for instance, mean that a lot of Americans want Obamacare. The conservative narrative is essentially variations on a theme: if the Obamacare website is so bad, that must mean Obamacare is bad. Therefore, repeal all of Obamacare.
It turns out that neither version is correct. The site's problems run deep, programmers knew of a number of red flags before the launch date, and it's not a sure thing that that administration will fix the site before a series of critical deadlines. But Obamacare itself is not, in fact, ruining the economy, or any number of other apocalyptic divinations from the right. We know this in part because of the reporting and analysis on the actual extent, causes, and implications of the Healthcare.gov disaster. Those are the same stories feeding the liberal criticism of the administration that Walsh would like disappeared, just because they might be used by Walsh's political opponents.
Here is Walsh's fear coming true — Louisiana Rep. John Flemming claimed (falsely) that even the liberal Ezra Klein agreed with him that Obamacare was the biggest threat to the nation. And House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman approvingly cites the work of Walsh's colleague Brian Beutler:
I agree with @brianbeutler -- if the administration had a real handle on the problem, they'd be forthcoming w/ an explanation and the fixes.— Brendan Buck (@Brendan_Buck) October 22, 2013
Even so, Beutler has already pushed back against Walsh's argument, based on some actual reporting he's done on the website roll-out. "If the website doesn’t get fixed, it will mean big problems for Obamacare. It would be a tragedy, and an unforced error of massive proportions," he writes. It's a polite reminder to anyone buying Walsh that the consequences of a non-functional Healthcare.gov would hurt uninsured Americans along with the White House, and that some reporters actually care about the former problem over the latter. Yes, it's important for reporters and commenters to examine misinformation on the health care law pushed by its opponents, for the sake of informing the public. But not at the expense of discussing the administration's failures, and its consequences, honestly.