08/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What's Wrong with the Media?

Two different articles came out today on healthcare reform. One is in Politico and the other is in the Washington Post. They both do two things that are inexplicable and inexcusable.

First, the president's healthcare reform package is thrown into doubt in both articles. Will he be able to pass it? Is he floundering? Is this reform effort in trouble?

When you read the articles, however, you don't get any reason why these assumptions are made or these questions asked. There are no poll numbers to indicate that the American people want healthcare reform any less - or that they are more skeptical about Obama's version. In fact, we know the opposite is true. There have been many different polls that show the public is overwhelmingly in favor of Obama's version of reform, which includes a public option (for example, a CBS News/New York Times poll had 72% in favor and even a poll done by healthcare reform opponents showed 83% in favor of the public option).

Those are unreal numbers and indicate that Obama has the public clearly behind him on this issue. So, what does the media do? They write an article about how Obama is in trouble on this issue. Their evidence? He called a "hastily scheduled" press conference on Friday that Republican Senator Chuck Grassley was not in favor of. Are you kidding me?

But mainly they almost seem to rejoice in pointing out that he is having trouble getting some of his fellow Democrats on board. That is true. And that gets us to point number two. Throughout both articles, they credulously point to conservative Democrats concerns about how quickly this is all proceeding or how much the plan will cost.

Did it not occur to these reporters that some of these so-called conservative or centrist Democrats might be against this reform effort because their primary financial benefactors are the same healthcare companies that are desperate to kill this bill? Would it not have given the reader a better and more informed perspective to at least mention this possibility? Or do you want to just take these politicians at their word?

Look, we all knew the healthcare industry was going to try to kill this reform effort, especially the public option provision. How did you think they were going to do it? Did you think they would just walk up to the media and announce, "We have bought these six to eight senators and they will vote our way because we paid them."?

These senators are not against Obama's healthcare effort because they want to have time to study it more. How credulous and sadly naïve and misinformed about politics can you be if you think that's what's happening here? Please don't tell me that you grizzled DC reporters are that pathetically unaware of how politics is actually played.

The "centrist" Democratic senators and congressman should more accurately be called "corporatist" Democrats. There is nothing conservative about being against more competition in the free market, which is what the public option does. But that is certainly in the best interests of the existing corporations - to limit competition. There is all the difference in the world between being a capitalist and being a corporatist.

I get why the politicians are corporatist. Those are the guys who pay their bills, fund their elections and allow them to hold on to their power. That's no big mystery. That's exactly the battle we were waiting for in trying to do healthcare reform. What I don't get is why the media goes along with this theater?

What's the motivation of Politico and the Washington Post to help the healthcare industry fight back against Obama's proposals by: a) painting the effort as failing and losing momentum (if this idea sticks, maybe Obama will panic and just get reform done without a public option - which is exactly what the industry wants) b) pretending that the "centrist" politicians are on the level and totally unconcerned about where they get so much of their political funding?

It leads to the same question we unfortunately run into about the media so often - are they incompetent or complicit? The Washington Post healthcare salons give you a sense of why they might be financially motivated to play ball. But I can't get myself to believe that they are that craven and compromised. Maybe I'm being sadly naïve.

I tend to think that they suffer from DC bubble disease. They have forgotten that they are supposed to challenge politicians. They have been captured by the power interests in the capital and they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. They have become convinced that politicians generally mean well and the only acceptable way to challenge a politician is if you have an equal and opposite politician demanding that you do (because presumably he must mean well in offering up this challenge -- after all, it is not a legitimate opinion if it is not offered up by someone in power in Washington).

There is one more layer here. If one side is being bought by corporate interests and their opposition to another politician is not genuine or based on principle, you must not under any circumstances let the public know what game is actually being played. Pretend everything is on the level - everyone's job depends on it (though I'm not sure that it does; if that is The Washington Post's calculation , I think they have gravely miscalculated).

The final move by the established DC media is - step aside, call everything 50-50, do not fight for anything - let alone the truth. You must resign yourself to covering the process and "politics" of any issue, which is so ironic because they never, ever tell you what the politics is really about (when's the last time you so an expose on how a politician voted a certain way because of corporate or lobbyist money he was given? shouldn't you see an article like this nearly everyday given how much money lobbyists pour into Washington?).

You must never dare to look into what the substance of an issue is (would The Washington Post ever dare to try to show whether the public option would in fact be less expensive for the average American - no, heaven forbid they should be accused of lacking neutrality if they try to actually figure out which side is right about the facts).

You must never let on that these respected politicians who you see everyday in fact are bought and sold on the open market by lobbyists who give them most of their money. There might be a vague article here and there about lobbyists in general, but when is the last time you saw an expose about which lobbyists bought which politicians?

Of course, if you say Ben Nelson or Orrin Hatch are frauds who vote based on the money and not their principles it will be awfully uncomfortable at the next cocktail party (for the record, I use "cocktail party" only as a symbol for the symbiotic relationship reporters have with politicians these days; I don't think Ben Smith and Orrin Hatch are necessarily knocking back appletinis together). It would be so ghastly impolite to challenge your friend and source like that. Better to lie to the American people and pretend that all that money never influences a soul.