A full day’s worth of single-payer friendly health care coverage on ABC was just what President Barack Obama’s doctor ordered.
The president hopes to radically change the country’s current health care system, so he enlisted his one of his more powerful constituents — ABC News — for help.
The network devoted significant chunks of its daily programming Wednesday [June 24] to Obama’s plan to broaden the country’s health care system to cover all Americans without giving opponents a chance to respond.
And the president delivered, filibustering the tougher questions during the town hall Q&A and ladling out the kind of generalities that didn’t assuage people’s real concerns about his proposals.
ABC’s news anchors all but pleaded with the president to keep his answers short, but the most powerful man on the planet would have none of it.
“ABC News promised a tough town hall meeting but delivered a White House infomercial,” said The Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler.
The only thing missing was Billy Mays and his incredible OxiClean product.
“Good Morning America” featured Diane Sawyer interviewing the president on the subject, while “ABC’s World News with Charlie Gibson” also tackled the topic.
The network’s centerpiece came during prime time when “Questions for the President: Prescription for America“ featured Obama answering health care questions from “regular” Americans. Finally, “Nightline” weighed in with more Q&A moments from the aforementioned town hall-style meeting.
All of the above were set in or around The White House. Why the shows had to be staged on Obama’s turf is a question for the few honest ombudsmen remaining in the news industry.
Some challenging questions did emerge, a few shockingly from “GMA” co-host Sawyer. But Obama was in full duck, cover and spin mode, dashing away from pressing questions or changing the subject without fear his interviews would pin him down.
Conservatives railed against the day-long coverage before it even began, bemoaning what appeared to be an absence of dissent in the conversation. The GOP wanted to buy commercial time to counter some of the claims Obama was sure to make about his plan.
“The government-run plan could crush all your other choices, driving them out of existence," the planned ad would say, according to Fox News.
ABC refused, citing a long-held policy against advocacy ads.
The Congressional Media Fairness Caucus wrote the head of ABC News, David Westin, to complain about the one-sided nature of the programming but got a testy answer in response.
So just how fair — and informative — was it? The news shows ended up revealing more about Obama and ABC then the health care debate itself.
Sawyer started the day’s events with a friendly chat with the president on the White House’s south lawn.
Even though Sawyer pressed Obama repeatedly on his proposals — and if the country could afford them — the interview was never less than chummy.
“Please tell us this is complicated for you, too,” Sawyers said at one point, deferring to Obama’s all powerful intellect. At least she didn’t bow to the president like NBC News’ Brian Williams recently did.
Sawyer was no match for Obama’s perpetual spin cycle.
“You know about the vast skepticism out there,” she said regarding elements of his plan.
“The burden should be on those who say we do nothing,” he answers, one of many responses which told the viewer nothing. But that was the game plan all along, apparently, which made the need for opposing voices all the more critical.
Sawyer couldn’t even nail Obama down on his smoking habit, looking bemused when the president refused to answer.
“I tried to follow up and as you’ll see got shot down,” she said with a grin to co-host Robin Roberts.
More Obama-friendly coverage could be found at abcnews.com, like the headline — The Politics of Health Care: Congressional Republicans blast ABC: ABC fires back” and “Poll: 62 percent support a government insurance plan” and “America’s looming health care disaster.”
“ABC’s World News with Charlie Gibson” provided the most balanced reportage, with some GOP dissent included — and without Obama’s filibustering on the issue. Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said via a clip “we wouldn’t have much of a private health care system” in 10 or 20 years if Obama’s plan is enacted.
The day’s signature program, “Questions for the President: Presciption for America” proved to be the least valuable news element.
The show gathered 164 people “from all over the country, from all walks of life,” we’re told, to question the president. Yet every single person said the current health care system needed to be changed.
Obama rarely answered any of the questions directly, some of which were tougher than anything today’s journalists have asked the Commander in Chief in recent months.
“All the experts agree … ” the president said at one point, one of his many verbal tricks meant to appease rather than enlighten. And while Obama went on … and on … with his answers, co-hosts Gibson and Sawyer tried in vain to reign in their interview subject.
“The status quo is untenable” Obama said. “We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.
Gibson and Sawyer gingerly interrupted the verbose president, who spoke in generalities, anecdotes and revolving talking points
The president — and ABC News — never got off message — the system is broken but our leader here to save the day.
The same could be said of broadcast journalism.