There was a time when progressive think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) and its affiliated Web site, ThinkProgress, wrote in positive strokes about famous health-care economist Jonathan Gruber.
Here, for example, is a 2011 CAP policy paper written by Gruber, an MIT economics professor explaining why repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate is a bad idea. More: CAP held a January 2012 get-together to “celebrate” Gruber’s book, “Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works” (with illustrator Nathan Schreiber). CAP even teamed up with Gruber and Schreiber to make a video about Obamacare. The Gruber-CAP history of collaboration goes back as far as 2006, according to the CAP Web site.
As for ThinkProgress, here is a post on the site noting Gruber’s opinion that Obamacare wouldn’t have made it without RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health-care reform under Gov. Mitt Romney; Gruber served as an adviser to both initiatives. Here’s a ThinkProgress post from the early days of Healthcare.gov in which Gruber counsels patience with the health-care law. Here’s a post citing work by Gruber and another expert for CAP citing $190 billion in federal government savings from Obamacare. There’s much more from where that came.
Now check out the URL of a story that popped up today on ThinkProgress: “http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/11/13/3591850/jonathan-gruber-lying-obamacare/”. Though the headline of the story is a bit more tame — “Jonathan Gruber’s Comments About Obamacare Are Offensive, But They Are Also Untrue” — the point is the same: The guy who was once an authority is now a chump.
It’s actually a bit more nuanced than that. In his piece torching Gruber, ThinkProgress Managing Editor Igor Volsky addresses the controversy over comments that Gruber has made regarding the passage of Obamacare:
This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass…
Few have had nothing to say about those remarks. As the Washington Post noted on page A1 today, they’ve created fresh problems for a law with a lot of them and may even prompt a congressional hearing or two. Volsky seeks to compartmentalize Gruber’s expertise, noting that the guy is strong on technicalities and cost models, yet no authority on the matters he was discussing: The public history of the Affordable Care Act.
Judd Legum, the editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that his Web site is editorially independent of CAP, so there’s no need to alert the think-tank’s leaders when they’re about to publish a URL accusing an expert in the CAP archives of lying. “We don’t need to check in with them,” says Legum, saying he didn’t take that step. As to why the word “lying” was in the URL but not the headline — that was a decision made by the Internet, says Legum. The site, he says, tests “headlines for click-through rates” and the one with the word “lying” in it didn’t pop quite as much as the one now sitting atop the piece.