Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio at a campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C., this month. (REUTERS/Jonathan Drake)
Media critic

To judge by the article that the New York Times published on Dec. 9, presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is a top gladiator against Obamacare. Here’s the lead sentence, as it originally read (via NewsDiffs):

A little-noticed health care provision that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.

Now have a look at how the New York Times has rephrased things:

A little-noticed health care provision slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.

What happened to Marco Rubio?

The truth, as it turns out. The Florida senator had received a fair bit of credit for the barely discussed insertion of language in a spending bill that curtailed the ability of the Obama administration to make payments to insurers under a provision of Obamacare known as “risk corridors.” Since the law required insurers to cover everyone, instead of cherry-picking healthy people, it foresaw the need to compensate companies that had taken on high proportions of sick customers. Opponents of the law, including Rubio, saw the provision as an unworthy “bailout.”

In a Dec. 1 tweet, Rubio boasted, “Last year, I stopped an Obamacare bailout and saved taxpayers $2.5 billion.” That tweet linked to a Fox News article that credited Rubio as follows: “Marco Rubio’s Republican presidential bid is getting a surprisingly big boost from a little-known legislative tweak he helped tuck into last year’s spending bill — one that ObamaCare critics are crediting with shielding taxpayers from jittery health insurance companies that may be eyeing shaky bottom lines.”

The legislative “tucking,” however, was the handiwork of other legislators, according to Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler and the Associated Press’s fact-checking team. As a matter of fact, the insertion of the anti-risk corridor provision was a collaborative and extremely quiet legislative maneuver by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and then-Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). Though Rubio did indeed raise the matter of this “bailout” rhetorically, he didn’t effect its demise. “He needs to adjust his rhetoric to acknowledge that the key plays were made by other Republicans — and the news media should not so credulously accept his claim,” wrote Kessler in issuing Four Pinocchios to the candidate.

Though the New York Times took a while to straighten this story out, its correction agrees with the conclusions of Kessler and the AP:

Correction: January 14, 2016
An earlier version of this article about Marco Rubio’s efforts to undermine an element of the Affordable Care Act referred incorrectly to one element of the legislative history. While Mr. Rubio was the most prominent congressional opponent of the so-called risk corridor payments in the health law, and introduced measures to undermine them, other Republicans were ultimately responsible for inserting a provision into a 2014 spending bill that limited the payments. The error was repeated in an accompanying picture caption.

Legwork here is critical. It takes a great deal of legislative research and phone-calling to staffers on the Hill to track down the exact provenance of a little-discussed piece of a congressional spending bill.

The correction of the New York Times reads well. The same, however, cannot be said of the article, which the Times has edited. But perhaps not enough. For instance, it still says this:

The attack stems from two years of effort by Senator Marco Rubio and others in Congress to undermine a key financing mechanism in the law. So for all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican presidential hopeful has actually done something toward achieving that goal.

Mr. Rubio’s efforts against the so-called risk corridor provision of the health law have hardly risen to the forefront of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but his plan limiting how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses has shown the effectiveness of quiet legislative sabotage.

Though the New York Times is now admitting that Rubio didn’t do the critical piece of work to undermine the “risk corridors,” it still keeps him at the very center of this story.

If the correction and the article’s text had Twitter accounts, they could perhaps settle their differences in public. In any case, the New York Times responded to this blog’s interview request by doing the old correction-speaks-for-itself trick.

Echo alert: Last month, the New York Times shoehorned a rewrite and a correction into a story that had also suffered a premise-compromising revelation. Whereas the paper originally reported that U.S. officials had missed social media postings by the San Bernardino, Calif., assailants, it later turned out that those postings were private. A salvaging effort fell a bit short.