Fox News gets into the propaganda business

Sean Hannity.Eric Stern knows a lot about the Affordable Care Act and couldn’t believe what he heard from callers complaining about it on Sean Hannity’s show last Friday, so he tracked them down and interviewed them for a story on his Salon column that went live today.

I expected some shenanigans, given how biased Fox News is. This is the network that acted as the official PR wing of the Tea Party in 2010, with Hannity himself speaking at events as an advocate and member.

What I didn’t expect was to find the country’s most watched “news” channel perpetrating a fraud on the American people.

For those who would ask me rhetorically if I’ve ever watched Fox before, look, I don’t take accusations of fraud lightly. Fraud is a crime. And while the first amendment means this incident isn’t a crime — President Obama and Congress having working on that little problem in true bi-partisan fashion — it’s a lot more damaging to society than many actual crimes are, such as copyright infringement or marijuana use.

Most Americans don’t have the time or opportunity to directly question their representatives in Congress, investigate claims about complex legislation, or spend days and weeks finding the truth about what’s going on in Washington. News outlets do, and they have a responsibility to the truth, not their personal political agenda.

Fox News doesn’t understand that, and neither does MSNBC since Keith Olbermann was fired.

The first person that Stern got a hold of was small construction business owner in North Carolina who told Hannity that he had to hold off on plans to hire more people for his company and cut back on hours of his current workforce to avoid unaffordable Obamacare costs. It should have been obvious right away that he was either lying or confused, and I’d like to think that a real journalist — which is to say not Sean Hannity — would have picked up on the contradiction and demanded an explanation.

The excuse for not hiring more workers is that Obamacare exempts businesses under 50 employees from the “employer mandate” that requires them to cover their workers. (A common complaint on the right is that this exemption harms job growth, even though Romneycare in Massachusetts is far more strict, setting this limit at 10 employees. Not only has no Republican complained about the Romneycare limit, there’s no evidence that having it set even at 10 harmed job growth in that state.) If Mr. Cox was holding back hiring to stay under the 50 employee limit, then he wouldn’t have to cut back hours on his current workforce because the health care reform law wouldn’t apply to him. If he had to cut back hours to get another Obamacare exemption, that means he was over 50 employees, and holding back hiring more people wouldn’t gain him anything.

As it turns out, Cox was lying. He didn’t have to cut back worker hours or hold back on hiring because his business only had four employees, and Obamacare wouldn’t apply to it unless he expanded his workforce by 1150%. When Eric Stern asked him what exactly it was about Obamacare that was holding him back, Cox said he’d call Stern back, but never did.

Do you remember Joe Wurzelbacher? AKA Joe The Plumber? He made a name for himself lying to then-candidate Barack Obama during a campaign stop in Ohio in 2008. Obama explained his plan to raise taxes on businesses earning more than $250,000 per year — to control the deficit — and Wurzelbacher’s response was “I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year. Your new tax plan’s going to tax me more, isn’t it?”

It didn’t take long to figure out that Wurzelbacher didn’t have the money to buy a business no matter the size, had no intention of doing so, and in fact wasn’t even a licensed plumber in Ohio and was working illegally.

Now I guess you could say that Sean Hannity and Fox News have Bob The Builder, their very own Joe The Plumber, a conservative voter that exaggerated and lied about their life just to shit on political policies they dislike. In the end, it was found that Joe The Plumber would have (and almost certainly did) get a tax cut under Obama’s plans because of where he was financially, earning less than $200,000 per year. Because of the small business exemption, Paul the Builder in North Carolina is not affected by Obamacare at all. One of the features built into the law to protect small businesses from costs they can’t afford is actually helping this asshole’s business.

Calls to radio and TV shows are always screened, which means one of two things. Either producers for Hannity’s show didn’t bother to find out if this guy was lying, or they knew and didn’t care, because the message fit their agenda.

There’s a word for that, and it ain’t news: propaganda.

The other two callers didn’t do their homework and would benefit from Obamacare if they’d just stop watching Fox News. One woman lost her family’s great healthcare plan because her husband left his job to start his own business, not because of Obamacare. Their private market plan cost them $13,000 a year for a lot of reasons, one of them being that she had a pre-existing medical condition and is actually lucky she wasn’t denied insurance entirely. Most places won’t insure someone with pre-existing conditions as benign as teenage acne, behavior that’s now illegal under Obamacare. Eric Stern found a plan for her this woman and her husband on an exchange that would save the family 60% on premiums.

The final caller had their existing plan canceled because it wasn’t compliant with the ACA, which was expected because so many private market plans have limited coverage to protect profits and keep premiums down. These two goofballs told Stern that they were so deadset against Obamacare and would never go to an exchange for insurance.

Eric was more kind than I’m about to be:

Fair enough, but they should know that I found a plan for them for, at most, $3,700 a year, a 63 percent less than their current bill.

I would have taken a different track: “Fine, pay the stupid tax, then.

Of the three callers, the ACA would be saving two of them money today and the third wrongly thinks that it applies to his business when it doesn’t, and may actually know that and decided to lie about it anyway. And Fox news facilitated all of it under the guise of a legitimate news organization interested in the truth.

It’s neither of those things.

* * *

On a related note, I find it fascinating that so many conservatives are attacking the botched roll out of the insurance exchange websites. Mainly because they think it’s a funny back-slapping attack on “Big Government” and the Obama administration, when it’s actually a scathing indictment of the private sector. Every single website was built by a private contractor, not the government, and they all fell over to some degree. Whenever conservatives talk about privatizing this and privatizing that (think Social Security), I think about Wall Street nearly destroying the economy and literally destroying trillions in private pension investments.

When I see them attacking the exchange roll out, I actually see them reminding everyone how it doesn’t matter if it’s a business or government, it all boils down to the competency of the individual. Businesses are run by people, which means they are subject to the failures that people are prone to.

The vaunted private sector spanning more than dozen companies simultaneously failed at building a series of Internet-scale websites that all do exactly the same thing. Which isn’t exactly surprising. There are very few companies that can engineer and then deploy an Internet-scale website. It took Twitter more than a year to get it right and that company actually knows what it’s doing.

I also find it distasteful that so many conservatives are happy about the roll out fuckup. It may be reflect poorly on the Obama administration, but the people suffering from it are people who couldn’t afford insurance or are looking to take advantage of lower premiums who aren’t getting what they desperately need.

That is no cause for celebration, it’s a disgrace.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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