September 30, 2013

Fox News today echoed concerns voiced by the Weekly Standard and other conservative sites about a possible violation of journalistic ethics by NBC News. Did the network lie about something? Give massive amounts of money to an organization that it’s covering? Mis-edit another audiotape, as it did in its coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing?

Uh, no. It set up a consumer-friendly, multiplatform series of special stories and features to inform citizens of their options under the Affordable Care Act, a big chunk of which goes into effect starting Tuesday. From an NBC News press release:

“Ready or Not, the New Healthcare Law” kicks off on Monday, September 30th with results from a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, conducted in conjunction with NBC News, that details public opinion and awareness about the ACA. That evening, “NBC Nightly News” will air an interview between NBC News’ Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Throughout the week, Dr. Snyderman will invite the public to submit questions about what the laws mean for them using the hashtag #AskDrNancy. Through a series of short videos aimed at social and digital audiences, Dr. Snyderman will respond to many of these questions directly. The videos will be available at NBCNews.com/Healthcare.

The Weekly Standard delivered its verdict on NBC News’s coverage decisions with this headline: “NBC Launches Week of Programming to ‘Help’ Obamacare Succeed.” Fox News, showing sympathy with that slant, cooked up a midday segment on NBC News’s editorial decision. “Cheerleading for Obamacare? NBC to help Americans navigate new HC law,” read the chyron for a segment hosted by Fox News’s Jon Scott, along with contributors Alan Colmes and Jim Pinkerton. The array of opinions stacked up in the classic Fox News fair-and-balanced manner, with the host (Scott) and the conservative commentator (Pinkerton) essentially allied against the liberal participant (Colmes).

Scott kicked off the proceedings by asking this question: “Alan, we know that the president has been barnstorming around the country trying to get Americans to sign up for his signature law. Now NBC News is going to be doing essentially the same thing — trying to promote Obamacare. Is that crossing the line?”

Brilliant, Scott! Ask a question so deeply premised on partisan politics that it’s not really a question, it’s a platform. To the extent a reply was even possible in this case, Colmes correctly said that NBC News was most certainly not crossing a line but rather providing information to citizens about taking advantage of the law of the land. Pinkerton, meanwhile, retorted that there’s a double standard here. The media didn’t help the George W. Bush White House with its pet policy initiatives. Pinkerton: “The global war on terror existed, too, and NBC didn’t run segments saying, ‘Here’s how you can help.’ ”

Just how would such a segment work? Tonight, on NBC News, Tom Brokaw demonstrates how to kill a man with his bare hands.

Fox News didn’t dig too deeply into the stuff that NBC News is actually producing for this feature, so allow the Erik Wemple Blog to present a bite of it. The following is the result of NBC News’s Q & A by Snyderman:

My question involves maximums on health plans. I recently discovered my group plan has a maximum of $3,500 on durable medical equipment. I thought the ACA totally abolished all maximums on health plans?

The ACA does abolish lifetime caps on medical expenditures.

Does it mean that I’ll have to wait months for an appointment and that the quality of care [will be] significantly impacted? Will I have a choice in medical providers?

No, this should not have an impact on wait time to see a physician. The hope is that quality will improve as access to health care providers improves. There will be an increase in choices for providers.

How much would a healthy 50-year-old woman probably pay for a full coverage plan?

This is one time you have to do your homework. Go to www.healthcare.gov and input your basic information to determine what your costs would be.

Is it true you won’t have to purchase the insurance if it costs more than 8% of your families income?

That is true, you are exempt if the lowest option available to you is more than 8% of your household income.

I am a retired state employee. Will my medical insurance be effected by this Act?

If you are at Medicare age it has no influence at all as you are still covered by Medicare. In fact, the Part D doughnut hole is removed and will actually save you money on prescription drugs.

So there’s the scandalous material, loaded with media bias and a prejudice toward . . . helping people with their medical insurance questions. The outrage over the presentation measures just how far the U.S. media’s ideological divide has progressed: A television network gets savaged for a news-you-can-use feature. Running a tutorial on Obamacare in early October 2013 is no different from running a tutorial on filing taxes in early April. Everyone needs help dealing with the federal government. Though conservatives continue battling to kill Obamacare on Capitol Hill, the law is just that for millions of people who don’t live on Capitol Hill: the law.

In his segment on NBC’s work, Scott hinted at his rooting interest: “My question, Alan, is if Obamacare does not prove to be very workable, are you going to see that story covered on NBC? That’s the question.” Naw, Fox News has that angle covered.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.