The late Arnaud de Borchgrave and the still kicking Robert Moss published The Spike in 1980 to expose the power of the media to suppress politically unpalatable stories in the service of covert political interests. The University of Chicago’s Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Charles Lipson draws on the metaphor of “the spike” to describe what has happened to the revelations of Monday’s Wall Street Journal story reporting the substantial evidence of Jonathan Gruber’s instrumental role in the development of Obamacare. The Journal’s story, ah, belied President Obama’s denials of Gruber’s role this past November. Professor Lipson’s column on the ensuing silence is “Spike it! When the media kill a story for political reasons.”
Professor Lipson writes:
What happens when the news media catch the White House in a demonstrable lie? That depends entirely on whether they like the administration. If they loathe the administration, it’s front-page news. If they like it, they spike the story. As Momma used to remind us, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. What a great motto for reporters.
That is exactly what the national media have done to an important story about the White House’s intimate working relationship with MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who helped craft the Affordable Care Act. You may remember Gruber from his infamous videotapes, the ones in which he called the American public too stupid to understand the law. He added their stupidity was helpful to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid in passing the law.
The Obama administration snapped into action. At a press conference, the president noted that Gruber was not employed by the White House and said flatly that he had not played an important role in drafting the law. Nancy Pelosi said the same thing. On background, senior White House officials reinforced the story. They vaguely remembered somebody named Gruber or Goober or something but, fortunately, he played only a marginal role in health care. Thanks for asking. Next question?
Now, this may surprise you, but it turns out the White House knew Gruber very well and knew he played a crucial role in the health care bill. The White House simply decided to lie about it. Perhaps they agree with Gruber’s judgment about your intelligence.
How do we know about Gruber’s role? Not because the White House released any documents, not because the media dug into it, but because the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, got MIT to turn over the relevant emails. There were 20,000 pages of emails back-and-forth between Gruber and the White House in the crucial months when the bill was being crafted and passed.
The Wall Street Journal just revealed the news about the Oversight Committee getting these emails in a major story. The key points are that Gruber was deeply involved in crafting the health care law, he worked very closely with the White House, and, when he became a political liability, the president and his senior aides simply lied about it.
Is that a big story? Not if you are a national TV network or major U.S. newspaper. Except for the Wall Street Journal, they maintained radio silence. Not a peep.
UPDATE: A friend writes to comment: “Why didn’t he connect the dots? isn’t the head of CBS News (David Rhodes) the brother of someone who works high up in the Obama administration (Ben Rhodes)? And what about reporters married to WH operatives? Isn’t it time for the kind of chart the NYT made of the Straussian connections and their supposed links to the Iraq war? That was fanciful, and this is real.”