How do you defend an effort like the Senate’s new health care bill, which neither repeals nor replaces Obamacare, but merely loots it to deliver tax breaks to the rich? By the president’s own standards, the bill fails to deliver: There would be higher, not lower premiums, and cuts to Medicaid. Instead of “insurance for everybody” there would be insurance for millions of fewer Americans — many of them the same people who elected the president.
So how do you spin a bill that seems un-spinnable? The answer, if you’re Fox News, is that you don’t. You deflect, you distract, and if necessary, you bend the truth. Above all, you hope that people care more about the politics than the policy.
According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Trump voters named Fox News as their primary source of information about current events. But if you were watching Fox News last night, you wouldn’t have learned much at all about an impending piece of legislation that could upend your life. You wouldn’t understand anything about it expect that liberals hate it and the president sees it as a victory.
Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity could scarcely find time to discuss this major piece of legislation in between segments on Nancy Pelosi, Chinese dog meat, and “leftist rage.” When they did get around to talking about health care, they spent more time reviewing their complaints about Obamacare than discussing the new bill.
Hannity chatted briefly with Health Secretary Tom Price, who described the bill as offering “greater choices” for patients before pivoting to the demerits of Obamacare — a visibly more comfortable subject. Carlson did not discuss the bill at all. Instead he played a 90-second clip of Trump describing Obamacare as “virtually out of business.”
On The Five, a roundtable talk show, the pundits did devote a substantial amount of time — 10 minutes — to what they described as the “SENATE HEALTH CARE SHOWDOWN.” But the framing was entirely political. Instead of talking about what the bill would do, they talked about the bill’s chances of making it through Congress.
“Democrats won’t even come to the table,” said Jesse Watters.
Greg Gutfeld complained about the group of disabled protesters who were arrested outside Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s office yesterday. “They’re staging these die-ins” he exclaimed. “Because ‘Republicans kill people’ — that's what we do. Isn't that the inflammatory language we were talking about,” he said, referencing the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise last Thursday. (Nobody remembered that the GOP used the specter of “death panels” to rally resistance to Obamacare.)
The crew then began to fantasize about what it would mean for the president if this bill were to pass.
“Health care passes, tax reform gets teed up, the economy starts jamming again,” Watters mused. “This could be a turning point.”
“Yes, in theory, you could actually get there” said Dana Perino, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush. “But the next two weeks, they are not going to be smooth.”
Juan Williams, the token liberal, was the only person who brought up substantive details about the new Republican bill. “This is going to drive the premiums and costs for working people who come to the hospital,” he said. “What about the elderly, Jesse? The people we all have sympathy for?”
“They are all going to die, according to the liberals,” Gutfeld mocked.
“You forgot the children dying of cancer,” deadpanned Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was at one point rumored to be a possible replacement for Sean Spicer as the president’s press secretary.
A simple way to distinguish the press from public relations is to consider whose interests are being promoted. There are journalists who might lean left or right, who might have genuine disagreements about the impact of a policy — but no one would dispute that the mission of the press is to serve the public. Sometimes, that requires the courage to tell people what they don’t want to hear.