Just one week ago, the remarks of Jonathan Gruber regarding Obamacare were lighting up the Internet. At a 2013 conference, The MIT economist had credited a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity” of American voters for getting the landmark health-care law through the legislative process.
As everyone was pouncing on Gruber, he showed up on MSNBC for an interview with host Ronan Farrow. The treatment couldn’t have been sweeter. Farrow asked Gruber whether he stood by his remarks. “The comments on the video were made at an academic conference. I was speaking off the cuff and I basically spoke inappropriately and I regret having made those comments,” Gruber said. The hug from Farrow then swooped in, as the MSNBC host asked, “But your point that you were making, underneath the choice of words, was actually quite nuanced. You were saying, essentially — correct me if I’m wrong — that due to political pressures, the language of Obamacare had to be somewhat opaque, somewhat lacking in transparency. Is that correct?”
No wonder Gruber gave Farrow the exclusive.
“Hannity” wanted a shot at Gruber, too. Last night on his program, host Sean Hannity noted that Gruber had turned down the show’s invitation to expand on his remarks about transparency and American stupidity. So “Hannity” sent Fox News contributor and radio host David Webb to MIT with a film crew. The result was classic American ambush journalism — the footage shows Webb walk-jogging alongside a hurried, umbrella-toting Gruber, with very little give-and-take going on:
Webb: You’ve had lots to say to the media. What about talking to us? We just want to talk to you.
Gruber: No, thank you.
Webb: Do you think the American people would have actually bought into Obama care without all the deception for the CBO scoring?
Gruber: I have no comment.
Webb: If you’re telling the truth, why are you apologizing, as you did, for being honest about what was done to get Obamacare passed?
Gruber: I have no comment.
Webb: Professor, come on. One last chance to have a conversation. Professor, do you really think the American voters are stupid?
Gruber: No comment.
Webb: What about the Obamacare? Is that just a hoax on the American people?
In other words, not much discussion of the “nuance” in Gruber’s remarks. “Pretty gutless” is how Hannity summed up Gruber’s behavior.
Delivering his take on the interview to Hannity on last night’s program, Webb said that at first Gruber appeared “willing to talk to us until I identified myself and mentioned your name. And let’s just say for the record I don’t think you’re on his Christmas card list.” Correct: “Hannity,” along with Fox News programming around the clock, has been consistently inimical to Obamacare, highlighting its every vulnerability and minimizing its victories. The company line comes from the company boss: Fox News chief Roger Ailes told biographer Zev Chafets that he’d do away with Obamacare in a hypothetical Ailes administration.
Is Gruber worth ambushing? This tactic — sticking a microphone in the face of a blindsided person — had undergone some ups and downs over the years. The late CBS News journalist Mike Wallace made it a trademark of his aggressive approach yet soured on it as the years wore on. As Wallace noted in a 2006 CNN interview with media reporter Howard Kurtz, he and his producer “came to the conclusion that there was more heat than light that came out of that. We weren’t getting a lot of information from those so-called ambushes. So we quit . . . I have no doubt that what we started has become a plague.”
Certainly the “Hannity” ambush furnished more heat than light, yet this was a justified lark for a network of Obamacare detractors. Gruber owes the public a much more thorough explanation than the agree-athon that emerged from his time with Farrow. Pushing the MIT eminence on his controversial statements doesn’t appear to be a job for the ideological poles of cable news.