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“Are Americans “Stupid” Or Uninformed?”: The Purpose Of The Media Is To Produce ‘Eyeballs’…For Advertisers

Republicans are making hay out of Jonathan Gruber’s suggestion that those who crafted Obamacare thought the American public was stupid. While that was a politically incorrect (and stupid) thing to say, we’ve all seen enough “man on the street” interviews where too many people don’t know which party controls Congress or who the current Vice President is to simply dismiss it as untrue.

But a more relevant question would be to ask whether or not the American public is “stupid” (inferring a lack of intelligence) or uninformed. That is the question sparked by this recent Gallup poll. They found that – while the violent crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990’s (from 80 incidents of violent crime/1000 people to 23/1000), 63% of Americans think that violent crime is increasing.

Back in the 1990’s I attended a workshop on the effects of television on young people. The presenter asked the audience, “What is the purpose of television?” After a lot of responses that focused on entertainment, the presenter said that the purpose was to produce eyeballs…for advertisers. I would suggest that the same thing is now true of our news media. The perception of an increase in violent crime is likely a direct result of the old adage: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Media Matters recently produced a report showing that both cable and network news reporting on Ebola spiked in the days leading up to the 2014 midterms and then simply went to almost nothing afterwards. I don’t buy the idea that this was some collusion between the media and Republicans. I suspect it had more to do with the way that fear of the disease spreading grabbed everyone’s attention, and then a total elimination of coverage once it was clear that wasn’t going to happen (at least not in this country). In other words, success at containing the spread of Ebola doesn’t produce eyeballs.

Circling back to the subject of Obamacare, its interesting to note the effect all this has on the perceptions of the public.

Jon Krosnick, Wendy Gross, and colleagues at Stanford and Kaiser ran large surveys to measure public understanding of the ACA and how it was associated with approval of the law. They found that accurate knowledge about what’s in the bill varied with party identification: Democrats understood the most and liked the law the most, independents less, and Republicans understood still less and liked the law the least. However, attitudes were not just tribal. Within each party, the more accurate your knowledge of the law, the more you liked it.

These researchers found that in the unlikely event that the public had a perfect understanding of the law, approval of it would go from 32% to 70%. That’s the price we pay for an uninformed public.

Its true that technology has allowed partisans and ideologues to choose media sources that confirm their beliefs. But those who simply want “the news” are pretty regularly fed a diet that inflames more than it informs. If you doubt that, take a look at one retired anchorman’s reaction to the movie “Anchorman.”

If we want this to change, we’ll need everyone to think twice about what they do with their eyeballs.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 23, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Media, Public Opinion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Collective GOP Orgasm”: Today’s Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts’ health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that “universal coverage” that everyone involved said was its goal.

Up to the point where the Supreme Court rules on Halbig, those conservatives will be citing Gruber’s 2012 comments. A lot. But the idea that something Gruber said in response to a question in front of what looks to be around 20 people is more relevant than literally everything else that happened during the drafting and debate over this law’s passage is, to put it plainly, insane.

Let me provide a partial list of people who spent over a year between the beginning of the debate over health-care reform and the passage of the law talking about the ACA, but never mentioned what was supposedly the intent of Congress that people in states using the federal exchange would be deprived of subsidies:

  • Barack Obama
  • Kathleen Sebelius
  • Harry Reid
  • Every other Democratic senator
  • Nancy Pelosi
  • Every other Democratic House member
  • Every health-care analyst in America
  • Every health-care reporter in America
  • Every Republican in the Senate
  • Every Republican in the House
  • Every conservative opponent of the law

Ezra Klein, who wrote as much about health-care reform during this period as anyone, tweeted this morning that he interviewed Gruber dozens of times, and not only did Gruber never mention this issue, “[t]he same is true for literally everyone else I interviewed. I never heard a single person say subsidies don’t work in federal exchanges.”

As for Gruber himself, this morning he spoke to Jonathan Cohn, and here’s what he told him:

I honestly don’t remember why I said that. I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake. People make mistakes. Congress made a mistake drafting the law and I made a mistake talking about it.

During this era, at this time, the federal government was trying to encourage as many states as possible to set up their exchanges. …

At this time, there was also substantial uncertainty about whether the federal backstop would be ready on time for 2014. I might have been thinking that if the federal backstop wasn’t ready by 2014, and states hadn’t set up their own exchange, there was a risk that citizens couldn’t get the tax credits right away. …

But there was never any intention to literally withhold money, to withhold tax credits, from the states that didn’t take that step. That’s clear in the intent of the law and if you talk to anybody who worked on the law. My subsequent statement was just a speak-o—you know, like a typo.

There are few people who worked as closely with Obama administration and Congress as I did, and at no point was it ever even implied that there’d be differential tax credits based on whether the states set up their own exchange. And that was the basis of all the modeling I did, and that was the basis of any sensible analysis of this law that’s been done by any expert, left and right.

I didn’t assume every state would set up its own exchanges but I assumed that subsidies would be available in every state. It was never contemplated by anybody who modeled or worked on this law that availability of subsidies would be conditional of who ran the exchanges.

Cohn, too, says he never spoke to anyone who mentioned this before the Halbig lawsuit. If this was actually what Congress thought the law would do, then liberals would have been freaking out about this provision for years, because it would mean that millions of people wouldn’t be able to get coverage. And conservatives would have been crowing about it for years, for the same reason. But nobody on either side was, because it was never part of Congress’s intent. It was a mistake, and one contradicted by multiple other provisions in the law.

I have no doubt that when the Halbig case is re-argued before the full D.C. Circuit, either the plaintiffs’ attorneys or one of the conservative judges will bring up Gruber’s 2012 comments. Let’s just hope it gets shot down like the baloney it is.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 25, 2014

 

 

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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