OFF THE GRID

Health Care: Have We Been Fooled?

Sep 11, 09 | 7:57 AM   byMichael Wolff
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What’s it like, I am often asked, to know the news before it happens?

I knew, and have said as much in many columns, that not only was the Obama health plan not in trouble, but that shortly everybody in the role-playing news media was going to be exultant about its revival.

Possibly my colleagues aren’t merely self-dramatizers. Possibly they are just credulous, believing their own press. We say the president is down on his uppers in August, only—Shazam!—to suddenly find him restored to prominence in September. He’s gone from end-of-his-presidency catastrophe a few days ago to, in the considerations of his perfectly workmanlike speech (Bill O’Reilly is correct in his view: too long) on Wednesday evening, the unifier of his party, the centrist icon, the helmsman of health care.

This is way too obvious, this overnight reversal of fortune.

So, more likely, it is just about the dramatic form. The news business is full of the cheesiest sort of artifice and contrivance.

The health care debate was dreaded by everyone in the media and in politics not because it promised to be so emotional but because it might have been, more naturally, an incredible snooze.

Everybody was desperate for conflict.

That came in the form of town hall meetings around the nation in which the emotionally addled were encouraged (initially by right-wing organizations, but then too, undoubtedly, by liberal politicians who saw the publicity advantages of weird audience outbursts) to have public breakdowns. This was augmented by lots of attention to wild and specious claims about the bill, ever-shifting polling data, right-wing radio chatter, and Democratic politicians (the so-called Blue Dogs) who understood they could only make news by expressing reservations about a health care bill (meaning they’ll be personally courted by the White House).

What’s more, all of this nattering became ever-more-pronounced and was allowed to run on precisely because the reversal was coming soon—we know our news cycles. What’s more, the August emphasis on the negative wasn’t just the media fanning the conflict, but the White House itself, both managing expectations (ie, dealing with the left-wing) and setting itself up for the great reversal.

The outcome, however, with a vast Democratic congressional majority, a popular president, and wide public support for health care reform, was never in doubt.

So we’ll get better health care, but meanwhile we’ve been played.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.


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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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