Saturday, July 25, 2009

But For The Last Question

We are a trivial country with a trivial media. We stand at the threshold of confirming the best of what we believe “the land of the free and the home of the brave” stands for, and we are riddled with ADD. With a national health care program clearly in our sights at long last, our eyes dart instead to the sideshows on the sidelines—the C Street hotbeds, the “wise Latina” brouhaha, the blathering Birthers.

So we have the plight of Barack Obama’s press conference expressly “about the progress we're making on health insurance reform and where it fits into our broader economic strategy” upstaged by a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times, Lynn Sweet, who posed the last question to the President—about health insurance reform, of course: “Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you and what does it say about race relations in America?” Obviously, Lynn’s attention must have been riveted by the president’s remarks up to that point.

It didn’t take sophistication or savvy for anyone to realize what the story would be. No matter how the President answered, race was the issue and “that incident” trumped the president’s concern for “the 47 million Americans who don't have any health insurance at all” and the “14,000 Americans [who] will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.” It dwarfed “the woman in Colorado who paid $700 a month to her insurance company only to find out that they wouldn't pay a dime for her cancer treatment” and “the middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs and woke up from the emergency surgery that he required with $10,000 worth of debt.”

Not to take anything away from “Skip” Gates, a distinguished scholar who happens to be among my intellectual heroes, nor from the appalling appearance of possible racial profiling in the Cambridge police’s handling, or mishandling, of the iconic Harvard professor, but regrettably, as the highly-charged situation became the distraction not only of the day, but easily of many a day to follow, the consummately important issue of our time, health care reform, faded from sight for a time, essentially unnoticed.

I’ve yet to see the Cambridge affair dubbed WaterGates, but don’t hold your breath. I saw a clip of Rush Limbaugh fuming, “The president’s reaction was not presidential… we got the militant black reaction.” I watched Chris Matthews, who opens his hour on MSNBC declaring, “Let’s play Hardball!” but often as not doesn’t even lob softballs to guests like those on Thursday night’s show. Before him sat the newly- and likely briefly-famous Lynn Sweet, but instead of using the opportunity to ask her why she veered from the press conference’s vital subject matter and changed the subject—particularly after she had said she found it “remarkable… that Obama decided to engage in the question in a very animated way…”, he concluded his non-inquiry of her by telling her, “Good question last night! Talk about makin’ noise in this country!” Guess he wants her back on the show.

Midway through the hour, Matthews introduced G. Gordon Liddy, a leader of the Birthers, those tiresomely-dogged agitators who refuse to accept evidence that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen because they refuse to accept that a man with black skin and an African name is the legitimate President of the United States. (Matthews might have asked why the American people didn’t ask George W. Bush, or Teddy Roosevelt for that matter, to prove their citizenship, but he didn’t.) Quite a show, right? Liddy said that Obama’s “Certificate of Live Birth,” issued in Hawaii and certified by the state’s Republican governor and everyone else but the right wing-dings, wouldn’t qualify him for an American passport. (Note to Chris: why didn’t you ask Liddy to explain how Obama traveled all over the world long before and ever since he entered political life?) So we were treated to the spectacle of a convicted felon accusing the President of the United States of being an illegal alien.

Just hours ago on “Hardball,” radio talk show host Michael Smerconish said that after twelve hours on the air over the past two days, the Gates/police/Obama issue “is the only thing the American people want to talk about.” As for health care? God Bless America.


  1. A-fucking-men! You are SO right about America's media. And it is simply getting worse. No wonder so many of us are spending more time on the blogs, using our own sense of what's right or wrong, intelligent or stupid, worthwhile or not in order to ferret out the shit (oodles) from the Shinola (very occasional). I suspect -- as angry as Professor Gates was and might still be -- he would never want to see the national "interest" turn away from health care and onto his (individually important but still relatively paltry) recent incident.

    Yes, the issue of race is important to this country, as it is to so many others. But no one is going to solve it anytime soon. So deal with this incident at the local level (but make sure, of course, that it is genuinely dealt with there), rather than turning it into headline-making "national trauma." With health care, on the other hand, we have a very real and timely chance right NOW to make major headway into the current crisis. Please, media idiots, when our President -- who has a lot on his plate -- turns the subject to health care, don't pull the rug out from under him -- and us -- in the guise of asking a "timely" or "important" question that is entirely off the subject. Ms Sweet and Mr Matthews should go soak their heads in some sort of solution that creates real thought. "Hardball" indeed.

  2. I actually heard a "pundit" suggest the question was scripted. as to the "reason" he supposed that Barry is aware of the crumbling support curve he is currently in (but it is not about him) and chose to gin up racism to galvinise his core and take focus off of health care for now ( it worked)

  3. It's all well and good to blame the media, and its members are not without fault, BUT - - the media writes and reports what the public wants to read and hear in order to sell papers and magazines, and collect viewers who watch their programs and buy the products of their advertisers so the advertisers will keep advertising and the media can keep writing and reporting. So what does that say about John and Jane Q. Public? Health care is a major issue. Its reform is critical to this country's well-being. But being one of many asking a question about health care doesn't draw attention to the reporter who asked it. Do you remember who asked the president which particular question? Chances are you don't. But in the extremely competitive world of journalism, where name recognition is paramount to the ambitious journalist and his or her employer, it's safe to assume a great many people who never heard of Lynn Sweet before, now know her name, and readers who might have by-passed her by-line before, are now checking to see what she might ask next. And others, who may have deserted the Chicago Sun-Times with the death of Ann Landers, are now newly challenged to return. The onus is not exclusively on the heads of the media. It's the responsibilty of all of us who allowed the once-respected field of journalism to be compromised by those who seek the almighty buck first and put integrity and sincerity second....or third....or last, however far down the list that may be. While we look at the myriad ways to reform health care, and we MUST keep doing that, we should take a look at ourselves as well. Perhaps health care is not the only major problem that is in need of reform.
    Ms. Anonymous

  4. Wonderful comments all! I am, however, alaways suspicious of the new American Media who are more the PR arm for leftist agenda than they are for the fourth estate. That said, it is my personal belief that the reason this story was given such long legs is that the media itself was embarassed that their annointed savior of the Republic was failing in his bid to socialize medicine. Ray is correct about our collective ADD and the press was relying on this to help deflect attention from the issue of their falling hero. The masses ARE asses and get entirely what they deserve.

    As for the issue of the health care bill. Which one? The one originally portrayed because health care needed to be reformed immediately because The Alll Knowing said so? Or the newest one which is now health INSURANCE reform? Yes this change of direction too is intended to play on the ADD of the masses; they don't like the heath care reform idea so let's change the name but effectively give them the same crap.

    Yes the health care bill (all 1300 pages that my profession requires reading) we needed to pass immediately is filled with nothing but crap. It takes health insurance out of the hands of 230 million people who are happy with it (295 million of whom 78% said they were happy with their care) and puts it into the hands of 530 incompetent members of Congress.

    The numbers lie. Blatantly. And those who drank the Kool aid of the campaign are now drinking the Kool Aid of the Annointed. The real numbers of uninsured are in the neighborhood of 20 million. 1% of America. Of course we need to do something for those people, but why do we have to do it at the cost of what works. IDIOCY!

    Both health care AND health insurance ARE in need of serious repair in this country. Government is not the solution now nor has it ever been to any problems; witness, social security, medicare, The US Post Office, Fannie MAE and Freddie Mac, all ideas concieved by the government, all terribly in debt and on the brink of failure. Go to the free market and look at health insurors, package deliveery services, and a banking system if not under the threat of the CRC to give horrible mortgages would be doing very well today. Look at the economic stimulus package and its trillion dollar price tage. Less than 100 billion has been doled out and miraculously the economy is starting to turn around. NOT because of government intervention, but because the free market works.

    In his press conference the President said that "we have identified 500 billion in medicare savings". The last question should have been "Mr. President, with all the savings identified, couldn't that be used to help 1% of Americans who are uninsured? Then let the states work out the issues of health INSURANCE reform because it is a states issue?" Idiots. The constitutional questions that will arise will prevent the bill from ever going into effect. And instead of helping those who need it we will just have wasted more time.

    Watch the American people take the bill by the horns on 9-12-09. It will be an awakening for those who want to take this country out of the hands of "We the People"

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