According to Politico, strange things are afoot in the world of Obamacare and the media, as the White House makes its case for the law:
President Barack Obama has bungled HealthCare.gov so badly that he’s told senior aides to not even try to win positive coverage from the national press.
Instead, they’re going local.
In the past month, Obama and his Cabinet have hit nine of the top 10 cities with the highest concentration of the uninsured, while senior administration officials have held almost daily reporter conference calls in nearly a dozen states to challenge Republican governors who refuse to expand Medicaid.
OH NOES, what's going on here? Obama is bypassing the national press and instead targeting the local media? Surely, that's bizarre, right?
Well, actually, it's not really a new thing to see the Obama White House take its message to the hinterlands. During the 2012 campaign, talking to the local media (which we're using here as a catch-all term for "media outside the Beltway") was a central part of Obama's strategy. As HuffPost's Michael Calderone reported, by the beginning of August 2012, Obama had "done 58 local media interviews," compared with "eight national media interviews." At the time of Calderone's report, Obama hadn't appeared on a Sunday morning political chat salon since 2009. (Which is okay, because those shows are terrible.)
The national political media tends to grouse about Obama's strategy of avoidance, and when an Ohio radio station spends eight minutes lobbing softballs about sports at the president, you can sort of see that point of view. Of course, the national media lose some credibility when the president has a press conference and the reporters there act like having to do their actual job is a terrible chore. And if he gives too much attention to the national political press, they start to write pieces about how he's risking "overexposure."
"He's talking to us all the time," is a real complaint made by a real national political reporter in Obama's sixth week in office! It's hard to not take a hint.
Politico takes this "going to the local media" phenomenon and casts a lot of weird aspersions on it (It's "unusually aggressive!" It's "desperate!") before noting something very obvious: It's the "local press" where "far more people who Obama wants to target get their news."
Naturally, the political goal here is to challenge the governors of states that have neither opened up Medicaid expansion nor created a state insurance exchange. In that case, the aggression is noteworthy in a way not suggested in the Politico piece: At a time when the White House's signature piece of legislation is enduring such storm and stress, the Obama administration isn't running away from it. This is in keeping with what I've been saying about "the Obamacare bet." At this point, if you've supported the bill or fought for its repeal, you've gone "all in." (Though Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) seems to want backsies on that all of the sudden.) So if your electoral fortunes are tied to Obamacare's success, heck, you might as well fight for it.
But let's think about something else, here. The White House is targeting "the top 10 cities with the highest concentration of the uninsured?" Well, another reason you might want to do that is because you can actually inform people who are uninsured what they can do to avail themselves of health care using the Affordable Care Act, through reporters who still feel a sense of responsibility to their neighbors. (And local reporters can be just as unsparing in their criticism, because of that same sense of responsibility.)
I mean, if one of your key issues is helping uninsured people get insurance, who are you going to turn to, other than the local media? Let's recall that NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, speaking on behalf of the national media, basically implied that providing nuts and bolts information to the public about Obamacare wasn't their job. Heck, on another occasion, Todd implied that Obama was going to have to personally expend "political capital" to properly correct the public's misconceptions on the debt ceiling -- presumably because all of the teevee cameras and broadcast technology at NBC's disposal had more important things to do.
So, yeah, I think that when you want to help 10 cities full of uninsured people, and most of the reporters within a 10-block radius of the White House are saying, "Hey, man, we don't really want to get involved in that whole 'helping people' thing," your best bet is to find some reporters who tell you, "Oh yeah, we are still basically concerned about providing good consumer information to the people who live in our communities."
Just a crazy idea I had, anyway.
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This story appears in Issue 78 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Dec. 6in the iTunes App store.