Sunday, July 19, 2009

TV: Meet The Fockers

During the broadcast of today's Meet The Press on NBC, some stations aired an ad from Healthy Economy Now. "If we don't act," each sentence began, this will happen, that will happen and there just ain't no sunshine since you're gone apparently. Finally, they dropped their scare tactics long enough to insist, "The president and Congress have a plan." They must have felt like a Budweiser beer commercial airing in the middle of a report on MADD because health care was discussed during the program -- on the roundtable, in two one-on-one segments -- and never did the claims made by Healthy Economy Now hold up.


We're not referring to the if . . . then statements put forward in the ad, we're referring to the assertion that "the president and Congress have a plan." No, they don't. But why expect honesty from an organization that can't even list their members, their board or anything of value in a laughable webpage they title "ABOUT US"?

They do tell you that, "Our organization supports making health care better and the economy stronger." Wow. Way to go out on a limb there. We're honestly surprised they didn't toss in "world peace" to go along with their bland, Miss America contestant statements. They continue, "We are urging Washington to stop talking and to start working on reforming our health care system by making sure every American has the ability to get quality, affordable care." But how do politicians work together, how do two houses of Congress work together, without talking? Why does Healthy Economy Now believe it's either talk or action? Maybe because they believe it's either thinking or acting? Their organization certainly appears to exist on as little thought as possible.

Which would usually make ad time during Meet The Press a perfect marriage. NBC's aged show is about as fresh as fish left out on the counter top for three days. David Gregory is the current host and he's been in the position long enough that 'growing pains' should no longer exist. Gregory was known for the bulk of this decade, among his peers in the press corps, as "Bush's Butt Boy." That's because if you wanted a story spun your way and you were the White House you ran to the alleged journalist Gregory. Ron Suskind's book The Price Of Loyalty making the White House nervous? Run to "Bush's Butt Boy" and say, "Paul O'Neill's under investigation. How did he get those discs with records?" Sure enough, David pops up less than 15 hours later on NBC's Today parroting those same remarks. And waiving around Suskind's book. A book he obviously hadn't opened. But journalists read, David searches for props. (Reading the very brief introduction would have answered for Gregory how O'Neill got the discs with the data.)

Reading the health care debate going on in this country (largely a debate among the pundit class), the chat & chews toss out various conflicting data and factoids. Meet The Press didn't break from the pack to offer anything illuminating; however, that's not just Gregory's fault.

Let's start with the basics. The basics on Barack's health care reform can be boiled down to he's promised it will be passed by Congress before the August recess. That's really it. People think other things have been promised. Oh, look, there's Barack in Denver, accepting the nomination and he tosses out "universal health care." Sorry, he never promised that.

What did he promise? Determining that is like trying to capture a floating bubble with your hands, even if you catch it, it's so quickly gone. The ephemeral candidate quickly became the ephemeral president.

And, as such, he appointed Kansas Governor Kathleen Selibus the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She should be a leading voice in the health care discussions due to the office she holds; however, as she proved on Meet The Press this morning, she's just not up to it.

On the health care reform (singular) she insisted was coming, David Gregory stopped her to ask, "So this isn't ready?" "No," was a portion of her response. The only portion that mattered. She'd yammer on and on prior to that insisting it was and then, pinned by Gregory, admitted that it wasn't. And she's supposed to be someone the public trusts?

She seemed determined to present the worst face of the administration possible and did so when David Gregory noted that an estimated 47 million Americans have no form of health insurance. What about those people, Gregory briefly wanted to know? Selibus admitted, "It isn't the priority." Then, calm smile, "It's one of the priorities."

We honestly think that if people are paying attention, Selibus just had her Madeleine Albright moment. [Asked by CBS News' Lesley Stahl in 1996 about the half a million Iraqi children estimated to have died due to Clinton era sanctions on Iraq, Albright responded, "We think the price is worth it."] "It isn't the priority."

Gregory heard it and bore down on it asking, "So if there are millions of Americans who are left uninsured it would not stop the president from signing this bill?" Selibus tried to back peddle with, "It's not one or the other." It only made her, and the president, look weaker.

Some plans might include a public option. Some plans? Yes. Despite Healthy Economy Now's claims that Congress and the White House have "a plan," they don't. There are several plans being tossed around. Of the possibility of a public option, Selibus insisted that "competition will lower costs." Her logic is that if the public option is allowed, that version will force private insurers to lower their own costs in order to compete.

That really never made sense. They're going to lower their own costs to compete? Now we support, single-payer, universal health care and maybe, as a result, we're missing something. But Selibus' argument was that a public option would force private insurers to lower their costs. The only reason why she ever supplied was: competition.

Presumably, she's stating that the public option, run by the government, will be run at lower costs. Presumably. She never made that clear. She never made anything clear really, except for her "It isn't the priority" comment.

She did insist that it would lower costs, "I think it will, I think it will." Her repeating that didn't back up her statements. And, as David Gregory asked, if the public plan was cheaper, "Why wouldn't everyone go to a public plan?"

Now we're having to mind read here. Gregory wasn't clear in his question. We believe he felt that the public plan was cheaper for the consumer and that's why it should prove to be tempting for the citizens. But Selibus was referring to the market place and how the public option would keep costs down. Which is why she insisted that the public option would force private insurers to be competitive.

David then played Barack's latest weekly address which he billed as his weekly "radio address." But we saw Barack looming over a webcam and delivering his speech. These statements by Barack were featured, "Under our proposals, if you like your doctor, you keep your doctor. If you like your current insurance, you keep that insurance. Period, end of story."

Gregory then quoted AP stating that "That's a pledge, however, that's beyond Obama's control. His plan leaves companies free to change their health plans in ways that workers may not like or to drop insurance altogether." In which case, Gregory insisted, that wasn't "period, end of story," that "they can change, whether the employee wants it or not."

Selilbus just isn't able to make a case. She continued barely moving her mouth while she spoke and speaking in the same tone that probably passes for "musical" somewhere but really comes off like a drone.

She offered a meek, "Well, David, that's exactly what's happening." She then wanted to insist that Barack Obama's plan would stop that, that is would lead to "stabilizing employer coverage." Selibus really is a putz.

The response to that is, "David, unless we're changing the system to all private or changing the way employers can conduct business, that will be the case because that has always been the case for employer supplied insurance." And that should be stated strongly and probably include an eye roll after. A geez-can-you-believe-this-guy indication.

She couldn't give that and instead started offering promises she couldn't keep, such as the assertion that it would 'stabilize' "employer coverage." There's no guarantee that it will do that. Barack made a promise that wouldn't work under any of his plans and it's one that doesn't work today without his plans. He was an idiot to make the promise and, as general rule, never trust a politician when they're promising "end of story."

David wanted to know about the sacrifice that Barack keeps saying Americans will have to make. Selibus insisted that "House and Senate bills are contemplating some responsibilities" and right away you're probably wondering about that. Selibus didn't go into those. She noted "liability" as an aside and then insisted, "We're hoping that personal responsibility extends to lifestyle" as she began ticking off "what we eat, how much we exercise" and more, so much more.

The government can't legislate lifestyle. That's why Prohibition didn't work. That's why pot remains popular with citizens if not (publicly) with politicians. The fact that Kathleen Selibus or any government official thinks they should be able to legislate lifestyle is frightening enough but you really need to put it with the fact that she mentions "liability" as an aside and then launches into "personal responsibility." Correctly or not, she appears to indicate that the White House is hoping that lifestyle will be legislated and, those who do not meet the guidelines, will be found legally liable.

It's really not our fault that Kathleen Selibus is a stupid idiot who can't speak effectively. We've never liked her and we were calling her nonsense out long ago.

In her defense, we will note that David Gregory cut her off repeatedly. We don't think that's a crime or even "bad." Politicians and officials pontificate non-stop and we love a moderator who cuts them off and redirects them to the question actually asked. However, we only admire that if it's done fairly. Mitch McConnell, US Senator from Kentucky and the Republican Party, was the other guest and David didn't repeatedly cut him off, didn't repeatedly stop him. He would go as far afar in his answers as Selibus did but he didn't get the cut off, the break in in the midst of a reply, that she did.

Now we talked about the 'sacrifices' that Selibus was prepared to mention. That wasn't good enough for David Gregory and you might be thinking, "Good for him."

Stop that before we slap you.

David's concerns were made very clear as he immediately (and repeatedly) wanted to know to know about the increase in taxes for wealthy Americans that some versions of a plan might include. He was outright whining, a little kid's whine, when he asked, "Does the president support a surtax on the richest Americans?" And as if that moment wasn't bad enough, he added a whining, "Why can't the American people know what he supports?"

It was curious because to get to that line of questioning, he had to explain that "The New York Times" reported Saturday that, "To finance coverage of the uninsured, the House bill would impose a surtax on high-income people and a payroll tax -- as much as 8 percent of wages -- on employers who do not provide health insurance to workers."

For the record, "The New York Times" did not write or report that, Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn did for The New York Times and it is curious that a program called "Meet The Press" doesn't note bylines.

Now, disclosure, a surtax on high-income people would include an increase on both of us. We're aware of that and not really bothered by it. Were we David Gregory reading that statement on TV, our questions would have been about this payroll tax. But Gregory's not interested in that, he's just concerned that he might get taxed more and, poor Greggy, he's already crossed gel and mousse off his shopping list to economize (hence the George Jetson In A Humid Climate look).

If the administration wants to go on the offensive, the thing for Kathleen Selibus to have done, something we could easily picture Rahm Emanuel doing, is for her to have pointed out, "David, that tax would effect you and me. It wouldn't effect most Americans so let's talk about a topic that would and use the airwaves for the public good."

Would Gregory have cut to commercial?

Probably so and that moment would have been on the page of every newspaper tomorrow. It would have been a gutsy move.

There were no gutsy moves from Selibus who even attempted to sell health care reform as a cure-all for the economy ("It may be the single most important issue to get our economy back on track").

McConnell was on next and, like Selibus, he proved Health Action Now was a liar in his segment as he noted that, "I don't think he [Barack] ought to get the particular bills that we've seen." Bills. Plural.

McConnell argued that the process was being rushed ("the same sort of rush and spin we saw on the stimulus bill"). Of course, he also insisted that all Americans already have health care. He insisted that with a straight face.

That took place when David Gregory pointed out, "You say we have the best health care system in the world, but it seems to be a matter of debate." He quoted from Shannon Brownlee and Ezekiel Emanuel's "5 Myths About Our Ailing Health-Care System" (Washington Post), " The United States is No. 1 in only one sense: the amount we shell out for health care. We have the most expensive system in the world per capita, but we lag behind many developed countries on virtually every health statistic you can name."

McConnell wasn't buying it. Mitch insisted, "You look at surveys and you ask the American people what they think" and the results are different.

But people only know what's covered and passed on. And we thought about Bob Somerby's point about how most US outlets don't note that all advanced countries except the US have universal health care and that the US spends double per person on what those countries -- those countries offering universal health care -- spend per person (he touches on this theme often at The Daily Howler, click here for July 9, 2009).

So Mitch can play My-faith-is-in-the-people but how much do the average news consumers in this country know when the media refuses to cover certain aspects of the debate?

We didn't have much time to explore that because we were quickly laughing so hard our sides were aching. Mitch was claiming that the 47 million Americans without health care do have health care. Everyone does in the US, he insisted.

When we stopped laughing, we realized he'd attacked Canada's health care twice with anecdotal stories. We'd grasp that we could never be told that all other advanced countries had universal health care -- not by the administration official Selibus, not by the US Senator McConnell -- but we could hear repeated attacks on the Canadian system.

McConell whined that "we're spending a hundred million a day on the stimulus." We're not sure where he's getting his figures but we'll allow them long enough to note that whining was the 'in thing' today on Meet The Press males and that he's not at all troubled by the amount of money spent on the illegal war.

Iraq came up. Credit to Mitch for mentioning it. David Gregory never did. David asked about Afghanistan. Specifically, he asked about Bowe R. Bergdahl. If you're asking "Who?" you may have watched the show because David Gregory was really not interested in it.

He tossed out that a US soldier was being held in Afghanistan and that video had been released. That was it, less than thirty seconds. It even surprised McConnell causing David to ask him again what he thought. McConnell explained, "I'm sorry, I thought you were going to show it," referring to the video. Show it? No, that's what a real journalist would have done. [Click here for BBC coverage.] David's not a real journalist.

Maybe he was afraid of airing Bergdahl declaring:

To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it's like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home. Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country. Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power.

Does Berdahl mean that? Probably not. He was most likely instructed to say that. Jill Carroll, the reporter for The Christian Science Monitor and other outlets, who was kidnapped in Iraq, was forced to make similar statements on tape and she rebuked and withdrew those statements after her release. There's no reason that David Gregory couldn't have shown the tape and then noted what we just did.

There was time for McConnell to share that he agrees with Barack on Afghanistan -- to share that twice. The second time adding, "I think he's done the right thing in both Iraq and Afghanistan." If you ever doubted that the US needs to be in the streets protesting, that moment should have convinced you.

Then it was time for the panel: Wall St. Journal's Paul Gigot, NPR's Michele Norris, New York Times' John Harwood and Another Universe's Richard Wolffe.

It was so much garbage that the worst moment was difficult to pin down but we're going to go with the final minutes which David wasted on baseball and his son and how they attended an All Star Game and role models and blah, blah, blah. Are you even trying to pretend you're a journalist, David Gregory?

We've got an economy tanking, two declared wars, a third that's undeclared with Pakistan and a host of other issues and you're acting like the lost sibling from The Waltons?

At other points, David noted Barack hits the six month in office date this week and then played a clip of Barack yelling that "we have talked and talked and talked" -- Barack screaming and screaming and screaming. David thought, and the panel agreed, that Barack was "in campaign mode." Michele thought Barack was "all over the place right now" and that his message was getting lost. Paul pointed to polls that find his popularity falling and his agenda even more than his personal popularity. What really stood out was that while reporters attempted to analyze what was going on, alien Richard Wolffe thought his journalistic role was to prescribe and that's what he did, listing what the White House must do, how it must sell the bill, how to persuade the American people . . . On and on it went as though Wolffie mistook himself for James Carville or anyone else with experiencing selling policies.

Oh, but wait, Dicky Wolffe was instrumental in selling Barack. Maybe he thinks it's just as easy to sell policies?

As Dickie repeatedly pronounced "pocket book" as if it were some other, foreign word, Michelle finally interjected to stay that polls show (we're not aware of these polls but we know her and we've never known her to cite a poll that doesn't actually exist) 90% of the people who voted for Barack (we're not in that group) "actually have health care and three-quarters are happy" with the coverage they have. She thinks health care might not be the issue to emphasize. We disagree with that but she supported her argument. And? The topic immediately changed because, as Joni Mitchell once sang, "Nothing is savored long enough to really understand" ("Dog Eat Dog").

There was time for David to get snide about Hillary. Smirking as he cited Crazy Like A Serial Killer Peggy Noonan's latest in her decades war on Hillary. Michele shot down the nonsense declaring, "I think too much is made perhaps of this Obama versus Clinton narrative." David look dejected. Fortunately Dick Wolffe wanted to weigh in.

Gregory wrapped up with what he billed as "our Meet the Press Minute." We haven't sat through the show in full since Tim Russert passed away. Today's minute was dedicated to CBS News' Walter Cronkite who passed away at the age of 92. We found it insulting that you'd try to 'honor' Cronkite in a single minute. We kind of doubt that the network that went into non-stop specials on the deaths of celebrities last month is planning a special on the man known as "Uncle Walter."

But we'll take comfort in the fact that when David Gregory goes, he'll get even less attention.

These shows are a song and dance. People pretend to care, pretend to be concerned but the only time they're ever really concerned is when it's their own pocket book. David Gregory was never more honest before the camera than when repeatedly whining over the prospect that his own taxes might increase. The show ended with him declaring, "We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday . . . it's Meet The Press." That might be the saddest thing about the entire hour.
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