A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Americans reacted to increased security after a worldwide terror threat. President Barack Obama called for ending the mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Bank of America. The White House announced proposed health care rules for congressional employees. The judge in the Fort Hood shooting trial said defense attorneys must assist the accused gunman. And Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the top national news stories of the week.
- Laura Meckler Staff writer for The Wall Street Journal.
- Chris Frates National correspondent for National Journal.
- Rachel Smolkin Deputy managing editor for Politico.
The panel discussed why President Barack Obama seems to prefer speaking to talk show hosts like Jay Leno and Jon Stewart over traditional news reporters. “I assure you the White House press corps never feels a whole lot of love from the president in terms of the amount of time he spends with them,” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler said. She added that the Obama administration instead uses other forms of media to get specific messages out, such as specialized or ethnic news outlets in addition to entertainment media. Chris Frates of National Journal noted the White House has its own videographer, so is less reliant on nightly television news for media attention.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Pres. Obama is scheduled to give his first press conference in more than three months. Americans react to a heightened worldwide terror alert and Amazon's Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post. Here for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Frates of National Journal and Rachel Smolkin of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and this hour of the Friday News Roundup is also video-streaming live. So you can watch the show as well as listen to it. And welcome everybody.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. CHRIS FRATESGood morning.
MS. RACHEL SMOLKINGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Happy Friday. Chris Frates, talk about how Americans reacted this week to the threat of new terror alerts.
FRATESWell, Diane, I think Americans largely reacted with a collective shrug. I don't think many people were apt to change their travel plans because embassies have been closed. Nineteen embassies have been closed in hot spots like Yemen. I don't know that a lot of people, you know, who are looking at maybe a European vacation or traveling overseas or going to the Middle East or to Africa.
FRATESAnd if they were, I think we would have seen, you know, a much bigger reaction. But I think people look at this and they -- it's just like the orange, yellow, green alerts. They see this and they say, OK, well, you know, how much of this is, you know, the president, you know, covering his butt, how much of this is, you know, real and, you know, a kind of blanket worldwide travel advisory. It doesn't really have the same effect as I think of a don't travel to this country advisory.
FRATESSo I think largely a shrug.
REHMCertain skepticism as well, Laura.
MECKLERPerhaps. You know, there's -- I think that there's a sense that as Chris has just alluded to, is the administration just tried to sort of cover for themselves to make sure if something happens, well, we warned you. I think this also is a reflection of sort of the new normal that we live in. You know, we hear these things, and it's just, you know, if you get yourself, you know, worked up and riled up and scared every single time, you know, that's sort of how you're gonna be living your life all the time.
MECKLERI'm sure there are some people who do react much -- with -- much more fear, but, you know, I think a lot of people that isn't the case anymore and for better or worse.
REHMAnd what about the idea that people were looking at this and saying, well, because of all the security stuff with Edward Snowden and the like, they're simply creating a situation.
MECKLERThat's a great point whether you believe that they're creating a situation or not. It certainly puts national security squarely on the agenda once again. And where just a few weeks ago, it looked like the civil libertarians were making some progress in -- had some momentum behind then and using Edward Snowden's revelation to push for more watchdogs, more checks and balances on the government surveillance. Now, the momentum shifts back against them once again and makes that an uphill fight.
SMOLKINBut I think, I mean, it's really hard, I think, to say, oh, they're just trumping this up to protect their program. I mean, they actually, from my colleagues' reporting, from my understanding...
SMOLKIN...they had actual intercepted communications of an al-Qaida branch chief, you know, talking about a plot and getting approval to go ahead with it. So it's, you know, this is serious stuff, and we, you know, we see what happens when they under-react, like Benghazi.
REHMOf course. Yeah.
SMOLKINAnd that's -- became and still is to some extent a huge problem for the administration. So I don't think they're ever gonna, you know, get in trouble for having given people to much information or being too cautious.
FRATESAnd my favorite detail out of that communication between al-Qaida and al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, then the (word?) al-Qaida group was that it was a conference call.
FRATESThat you would call in to, and it was that organized. That, you know, there were chiefs calling in, and they were discussing this, and our intelligence picked that up. So that certainly is a high enough level where they were able to pick up a conference call, that kind of...
MECKLEREven al-Qaida has...
FRATES...organization. Yeah, I wonder if they have to...
MECKLEREven al-Qaida has conference calls.
FRATESI know the pass code.
SMOLKINI think because of Benghazi and the controversy that Benghazi has created you will see the administration be a little bit more proactive in putting forward some of the intelligence they're getting to the extent they feel like they can do that.
REHMAll right. Rachel, Pres. Obama hasn't given a press conference in three months. He appeared on "The Jay Leno Show." In fact, I gather Politico has six questions you would very much like to ask the president. What would they be?
SMOLKINThat's right. Everyone should take a look at our website. We have just a few of the many questions we would all love to ask Pres. Obama. Today, he will be a holding a news conference at 3 o'clock. One of them is about al-Qaida. As we were just discussing, he's described the organization in bold terms, as saying decimated, on the run, has become a little bit more subtle, a little more nuanced with some of his language lately and discussing the core of al-Qaida being decimated, but they're being a blanching off.
SMOLKINHe hasn't quite explained that messaging to the American people, so that's one of the questions. Obamacare, there will obviously be questions about why should Americans put their trust in Obamacare. Enrollment begins October 1st. There's huge political controversies still about this program with Republicans at every turn trying to defund, delay, repeal, otherwise stop, pushback and make sure Obamacare never actually happens.
SMOLKINSo how can the administration expect the American people to put their faith in the program, especially when the employer mandate a key part of the program has now been delayed. So those are just two.
REHMAnd I gather you'd like to ask him whether he or Secretary of State John Kerry is ultimately responsible for the decision on the Keystone pipeline.
SMOLKINI'll be very interested to see if he gets a Keystone question. It's not quite top of mind maybe to some White House reporters. Laura can speak to this, but maybe not top of the mind in the same way that the Putin cancelation is or Obamacare is or the fiscal fights questions that we're sure he will get. But Keystone obviously a huge looming issue. The president has said that the proposed oil pipeline is only in America's interest if, quote, "it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." But he has distanced himself...
SMOLKIN...from the approval process. So if he gets asked about it, we'll have to watch closely to see just how much he either embraces or continues to distance himself from the issue.
REHMAnd, Laura, why is the president going to these big talk shows, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, as opposed to coming before folks like you?
MECKLERRight, exactly. Well, I can assure you the White House press corps never feels a whole lot of love from the president in terms of the amount of time he spends with them. You know, of course, today is the day he is having a press conference. So -- but as you said, you know, first in three months. So he -- this White House has taken the art of going sort of directly to the American people, around the reporters who cover him day in and day out who know his record, who know what he said last week, who know what he said a year ago.
MECKLERHe has gone around them repeatedly. Sometimes, he does that by going to very specialized media, say, a Hispanic media, or a local TV station that's gonna have very specific interests that he wants to speak to. Sometimes, he does that by going to entertainment outlets, like Jay Leno. Although to Jay Leno's credit, he did ask a lot of very serious questions. But still, it's not the level of precision and ability to, you know, hone in on the details of things that you would get from, you know, from a reporter who's covering the administration day in and day out and who doesn't have to worry about sort of being funny in between the questions.
MECKLERSo I mean I'm not dissing Jay Leno at all, I think he did a great job, but still it's never gonna be the same. So you -- and besides, on top of all of that, where he'll go to these types of outlets, the White House is also -- the people who they enjoy covering them the most is themselves. They like to cover themselves. They have their own Twitter feed. They have their own Flickr feed. They have their own blog. They have their own video program. They do -- they really aggressively use the tools of communication to cover themselves.
REHMSo that gets kind of frustrating for reporters like you, Chris.
FRATESOh, absolutely, because you have a White House machine as Laura was making the case, you know, this president had the first videographer who follow him around, and they were able to make all kinds of videos that they could put on YouTube that they don't need the nightly news anymore. And they're not getting the kinds of pointed questions that reporters love to give the president, and that's on purpose because, you know, when Jay Leno asked the question, the president can answer it, and Jay Leno will move on. Whereas a reporter is going to go, well, what do you mean by that? And I need to really pin you down here.
REHMBut at press conferences, you don't get too much of an opportunity...
REHM...to follow up.
FRATESBut you get a sit-down.
MECKLERThere's -- well, first, let's look in how many actual sit-down interviews he's done with White House reporters.
REHMBut they just did one with The New York Times.
MECKLERWell, they just did one with The New York Times, but that was...
FRATESThe first one in three years.
MECKLER...it hadn't been for in a long time.
MECKLERAnd The Wall Street Journal also hasn't had an interview much longer.
MECKLERThere's a lot of organizations that haven't. He doesn't -- I'm not saying he never does it. He does do some of it. It's just not what they like to do. It's what -- and if you ask them...
SMOLKINAnd with a very select member of organizations.
MECKLERRight. But if you ask the people who make these decisions at the White House, they're -- this is not in dispute. I mean they will tell you straight up that they don't think it's in their interest to have reporters be setting the agenda for these questions. They much prefer to be in a situation where they have more control.
REHMSo are they right?
FRATESWell, certainly, from their perspective...
FRATES...if they want to get their message out...
REHMBut are they right that you should perhaps not be their filter?
FRATESI think they believe that.
SMOLKINBut they're right from a political perspective.
MECKLERI mean but from -- if you're looking at it as what's the best way for them to get their message across, yes. If you look at it from the point of view that reporters tend to look at it from, which is that a vigorous media asking questions that they don't necessarily want to answer, pushing them, bringing up the Keystone pipeline, even maybe it's a day they don't want to talk about the Keystone pipeline. That's good for democracy.
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. You can hear the frustration. You can see it if you wish to watch the program, go to drshow.org and get onto video streaming.
REHMAnd welcome back. Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Frates of National Journal, Rachel Smolkin of Politico are with me. We are having the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. If you'd like to join us, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. The White House announced proposed health care rules for members of Congress and congressional employees. Explain how they may be similar to or different, from what the rest of the country is going to experience, Laura.
MECKLERWell, in truth, congressional employees, and even members of Congress, are employees of the federal government. And the way they get their insurance is the way that other employees of big companies get their insurance. However, there was in a rather political move, during the writing of this legislation, there was a provision proposed and accepted that said, hey, if these exchanges, these, you know, so-called health care insurance exchanges with a few Democrats think are so great, let's give it to all of us too.
MECKLERAnd the Democrats said, OK, and they put it in there. And as you remember, the health care law just got pushed through in a very unusual way. It didn't have all the vetting that normally happens with a big law like this. It would never went to conference committee, for instance. So they ended up with this provision. There was one problem, the law didn't say anything about the federal government continuing to pay for that health insurance.
MECKLERNow, normally, you get your employer pays, and in this case, the federal government pays about 75 percent of the health insurance cost, which is pretty normal. But on the exchanges, of course, the government's not picking up 75 percent of the cost for every random person who buys health insurance. So the question was, can the government continue to subsidize the insurance of its own employees?
MECKLERAnd everyone wanted that to be the case, but there was some concern that the law did not allow for it. Well, this week, we got our answer. The White House Office of Personal Management ruled on this, and they said, yes, in fact, what is logical, what makes sense -- whether it's to the letter of the law, I don't know -- yes, the federal government can continue to provide this benefit for people who work there.
MECKLERAnd we're not just talking about members of Congress. We're talking about some not particularly well-paid, in some cases, congressional staffers, who, of course, have every right to this benefit.
SMOLKINThis became a huge controversy on Capitol Hill, and there was a lot of worry about a brain drain where talented, experienced staffers leave if they couldn't work out a fix to the point that President Obama himself got involved and assured lawmakers that he would personally help to resolve this controversy, which, to say the least, is highly unusual to have a president be directly involved in an issue like this.
REHMBut you know what's fascinating to me is that smokers are gonna be charged more, and who is one of the smokers but House Leader John Boehner.
FRATESJohn Boehner. No, that's right, Diane. What was interesting about this was that there was a bipartisan agreement that the legislative leaders knew that they had to keep their staffs and that they needed to continue to subsidize their employees' health care in the same way that any other employers subsidizes their health care, and Republicans were very quiet about that.
FRATESYou didn't see John Boehner out there making a lot of noise, but he did get with Harry Reid behind the scenes and say, hey, I'm not -- and he promised the president, I'm not going to make this an issue because some on the right, particularly outside of Capitol Hill, conservatives have tried to say, well, why are aids and top lawmakers getting different treatment on these exchanges than other Americans would?
FRATESAnd the answer is because the government is the employer here, and they're being subsidized, but it's a great political issue that the Republicans in the -- on the Hill had been unable to make.
REHMAll right. So you've already had 40 attempts to try to overturn ObamaCare. Surely, they're going to continue?
MECKLERThere doesn't seem to show any signs of abating. (word?) , if at first you don't succeed, you know, try 41 times, I guess. It, you know, is obviously something that they view as a very strong political issue for them going into the 2014 midterm elections. They think that this issue still has political juice left in it, and they're gonna continue to try. And I think that this is going to continue to be a political issue, at least until this law is implemented, and we find out whether it's working or not working.
MECKLERSo what amazes me, frankly, about the opposition, I'm no longer surprised when the House takes a vote like that. But, you know, there are conservative groups, Tea Party groups out there and talk radio shows that are discouraging people from signing up, actually saying, hey, make a political point. Don't sign up for these exchanges, even if you need health insurance, which strikes me as even, like, a step beyond to say to somebody, you know, if you feel so strongly about this that you should take that into consideration about whether this is best.
MECKLERThey said, you know, go ahead and pay the fine. Don't buy the insurance. That'll show them. And, you know, that might be cutting off your nose to spite your face depending on your circumstances.
SMOLKINTheir goal is to show that ObamaCare will not work. And if enough healthy people, young people don't sign up for the program, then it won't work.
MECKLERIt won't work.
SMOLKINThat's the challenge the administration is facing. This is red meat for the Republican base, and the question will -- is, will those efforts, at some point, backfire now? Conservatives such as Ted Cruz and others are pushing to defund the government over ObamaCare, and you're beginning to hear some pushback in the Republican Party, voices like Paul Ryan saying, wait a minute, guys. Let's do whatever we can to delay this, but we really don't wanna shut down the government over this issue.
FRATESAnd the politics of this are so good for Republicans. They are showing -- their polls show that even Democrats and Independents support some level of dismantling ObamaCare and taking apart the pieces that Republicans have really pointed to as problematic. And the president gave a huge opening when he delayed the employer mandate to say, if it's not gonna work for big employers, shouldn't we also delay that for individuals? And why is big business getting treated differently than the little guy?
FRATESThat was a really effective message for the GOP. You saw them pound that. They went to the House floor, and they passed two bills that would've put into law the administrative delay on employer mandate and a delay on individuals...
FRATES...because they believe that the polling is there.
MECKLERAnd, you know, the central problem that the White House has -- and that this law has is that it's still is not popular with the American people. It just isn't. And I remember when it was going -- when it was being debated in Congress and you'd ask the White House, well, why is this is so unpopular? They'd say, well, this is the legislative sausage making. Nobody likes that. Once we get pass that, it will be better.
MECKLERThey said once the popular benefits that are early on kick in, it will become more popular like being able to stay in your parents' health insurance plan until age 26. Well, that happened. That was popular. But the overall law itself still is not, and so that's the problem that they have. They haven't been able to convince people that this is good for them. And until they do, this is gonna be an issue that the opposition seizes on. And...
REHMI thought it was interesting that the Pentagon -- the Defense Department says it's considering revising its same-sex benefits policy. What's that all about, Laura?
MECKLERWell, that's actually -- it's an interesting situation. What they -- before the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Pentagon had no way to offer any sort of benefits for gay couples, who -- where one person worked at the Pentagon or was in the military. And so they said, well, we'll give you some lesser benefits if you're just a couple, if you're -- but you're not necessarily -- but you're not married. You're not legally married.
MECKLERNow that marriage itself is legal in many states and, in fact, the federal government is required now to offer, extend those benefits, they're saying, OK, you want benefits? Get married. You just being -- living together or being in a committed relationship isn't enough. Just like for heterosexual couples, if you want benefits and you're working in the military, you've got to get married. So what they're thinking about doing is saying, OK, it's not legal everywhere.
MECKLERWe'll give you 10 days off to go to the state of your choice and go get married, if you want to. And then once you're legally married, you'll get the benefits. But I do think that it's a little more complicated, but at the same time, it's part of an overall step forward for this issue in the sense that, you know, it wasn't that long ago where you could be drummed out of the military for being gay. Now, we're saying, OK, we're gonna give you 10 days off to go get same-sex married. You know, that's a pretty remarkable progress.
REHMI thought it was also interesting that the Pentagon announced it wouldn't have to quite do the sequestration as deeply as it thought it might. Chris.
FRATESAnd that's a setback for Democrats. It's a setback for the administration because Republicans had made this point that the cuts aren't as bad as everybody says, you know, particularly the fiscal hawks in the Republican Party have made this point time and again that if you push these big bureaucracies to make the cuts, they'll find ways that they don't have to furlough as many people as they thought, or they can furlough them for less time, which is what we saw this week.
FRATESAnd so it's only kind of proving the point that we're going to go into the fall, and the House is trying to cut even further below those across-the-board spending cuts to keep the government funded. The Democrats want more funding. They wanna reverse some of those cuts, which I think leaves us in a place where those sequester cuts, which are in law now, stay in law, and that's where we're gonna head this fall.
SMOLKINWe've been talking about the administration's struggles, challenges and messaging for ObamaCare. Sequestration, very much another issue where the president's messaging has not broken through, and we've seen the administration pivot a couple of times. First, they sort of had the sky-is-falling approach on sequestration, and they got attacked from the right for being too histrionic. So they tamped that down a little bit.
SMOLKINBut now it looks like sequestration is here to stay. We've got two other big fiscal fights coming up when Congress returns, keeping the government running and then raising the debt ceiling. So it's hard to see where sequestration itself is going to fit into that mix. The solutions for these others will be hard enough.
REHMYou know what, it struck me the other day hearing that there are only nine working days for Congress in September. Shocking.
FRATESIt's shocking, and it's part of the reason why everyone expects that there will be an agreement on continuing to run the government, that both Republicans and Democrats understand that that's bad politics and that they will come together on something, but it will be very short term. I mean, this could be a end of the year, a three-month patch.
FRATESNobody's going to accept another year-long continuing resolution, but everybody's preparing for that debt limit showdown, which is gonna happen in October and November. That's where, I think, we're gonna see the biggest fight and where Republicans really think they have some leverage to get more cuts.
REHMAll right. And let's talk about Fannie and Freddie. Apparently, up until now, there had been a good deal of support for Fannie and Freddie, and now there's talk of simply shutting them down. How come, Laura?
MECKLERWell, the reason is because that there was this -- a lot of support, (word?) of support for it to help the housing market thrive and to help banks essentially make more mortgages. They knew they could sell those mortgages to Fannie and Freddie. The problem was there was sort of this implicit government guarantee that they would bail them out if they ever got in trouble, which, in fact, they did get in deep trouble.
MECKLERAnd as President Obama put this week, it was, you know, heads I win, tails you lose. Essentially, we take the profits. Fannie and Freddie take the profits when things are doing well, and when things aren't doing well, the government comes in. So what they're -- OK. He talked about a solution, finally. We've been waiting for years for him to say, well, what do you wanna do about it, you know?
MECKLERAnd so what he said was essentially is that the private sector needs to have a -- more skin in the game. They need to be the ones who are on the hook, and the government needs to be just a backup behind that. But the -- really that private money needs to be drained before the taxpayer comes in.
REHMSo what's that going to mean for the average homebuyer, the average taxpayer, Chris?
FRATESI think that means that the mortgage rate will go up for the average mortgage holder because if there is not as much guarantee on the loans, then that risk goes up, and the mortgage holder is going to pay that. And what the president said was that he likes a Senate bipartisan proposal that's floating around on Capitol Hill. It's not seen any committee action or any floor action yet, but he's hoping that that's where this debate will go.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right, let's talk about the story that surely most of Washington and a good part of the country has been talking about this week, the sale of The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, the founder/owner of Amazon, a shock to everybody. Rachel.
SMOLKINTruly shocking and a seismic event in the media world, certainly, and in Washington where The Washington Post and the Graham family have for so long been an institution, the Grahams, you know, as stewards of high-quality journalism. Their names are synonymous with Watergate and with the Pentagon Papers and so many other fine investigative reports out of The Washington Post.
SMOLKINSo really a stunning development, but shows how much we're all in the digital age now. And The Washington Post, like so many other metropolitan newspapers, has struggled with declining circulation and pressures on profitability. Kaplan helped them for many years, but less so recently with all the controversy attached to that. And they've struggled as much or more as many other papers to move into the digital space in an effective way. So this will be a fascinating development to watch.
REHMYou know, a lot of people were also wondering how, where Jeff Bezos is going to take the newspaper. Is he going to expend part of his gazillion-dollar fortune into making it a better newspaper, or is he going to do away with the newspaper as paper altogether? What's your guesstimate?
FRATESWell, it looks like he won't get too involved in the editorial side, and he'll look strictly at the business side of this. And there's been a number of conversations where people said, well, will he use Amazon and package a newspaper in with everybody's box? And, you know, he now owns Washington Post. Could he send that? My friend Sasha Issenberg over at The New Republic said, you know, is Bezos buying The Washington Post for its paperboys?
FRATESThe idea that the last mile, getting all your goods from a warehouse to the consumer the same day is very difficult, and nobody's quite mastered it yet except for newspapers. They've always been a same-day service. You get that newspaper on your door in the morning. Could he then expand and use that to also bring you groceries or bring you other things that you want that same day?
FRATESSo there's a lot of synergies that people are looking at and saying, where will Bezos take this? And it will be more than, I think, just a digital product for journalism.
MECKLERI mean, I think the big question here is nobody has really been able to figure out how to save newspapers, essentially. The -- it used to be that newspaper people bought the newspaper for all sorts of things, for classified ads, for movie listings, for sports scores. And they also got some investigative reporting and foreign affairs, you know, along with it, and it all supported. It all worked as a package.
MECKLERNow, you know, we have lots of ways to get all of those different pieces, and we're left with the core, the public service mission of newspapers, without the same kind of commercial viability. So the question is, can he figure out a way to crack the nut that a lot of other people have not figured out yet?
MECKLERAnd I thought it was very interesting listening to Don Graham, who made this decision, this very painful decision, to sell the paper, who's been synonymous with his family. And in a lot of ways, it was a brave decision. And basically what he said was, you know, we could have limped along, but I want a better future for The Washington Post. And as somebody, you know, who both competes with The Washington Post, but also really cares about it as a -- somebody who lives in Washington and wanting a thriving newspaper, I hope that Jeff Bezos figures it out.
REHMAnd, boy, did they keep this news secret...
REHM...even from The New York Times where Sheryl Stolberg had done that piece on Katharine Weymouth the day before. She asked her pointed questions. She asked pointed questions to Don Graham. They kept it quiet, avoided all questions of that nature. Short break, and your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to welcome your calls. Let's go first to Galax, Va. Hi there, Bill. You're on the air.
BILLHi, Diane. Thank you very much.
BILLMy comments are aimed at the health care situation of the United States.
BILLI -- No one ever talks about the comparison of the United States health statistics compared to similar nations, meaning industrialized, wealthy, well-educated countries especially Western Europe. But there are some countries in Africa and South America who compare much better than we do. Nobody ever brings that up, and I don't understand why. You know, we are not in the top 10 for infant survivability in the United States (unintelligible)
REHMYou bet. You bet. Chris.
FRATESWell, I think, the caller is right that there is that disparity, but I think it's talked about quite a bit. I mean -- and New York Times had a front page story about this on Sunday and trying to explain why things have gotten so expensive. And part of that reason is because insurance billing when you have an insurance company that covers things and they are able to charge much more than the cost of a medical device. You know, you see a spiraling health care inflation that is part of the system and is part of what ObamaCare is trying to get rid off.
REHMAll right. To George in York, Pa. Hi there.
REHMHi. Go right ahead, George.
GEORGEYeah. My comment is going back to why the president doesn't do more news conferences with the White House reporters there. I just think it's a little disingenuous. I heard one of your guests say, you know, it is further into democracy, but, you know, I think most Americans watching those news conferences know that there's no good faith between the press and the president anymore, and it hasn't been for a long time.
GEORGEAnd it's all about, you know, furtherance of their own careers, and it's all about, you know, pushing whatever interest the corporate masters or Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes' talking points. So why would the president subject himself to that?
SMOLKINWell, I think, the caller points to a real problem that the press has which is the credibility gap. I mean, reporters are trying in good faith to ask the tough questions and to hold public officials accountable. But we ourselves in the media are so unpopular that it's hard to convince the American public that that's what we're doing. And I think there can be posturing that we've seen at new conferences, and it's a good reminder that all of us need to keep our heads down and do our jobs.
SMOLKINWe're not here to be popular. That's not our job. Our job is to ask the tough questions. But we also need to be cognizant of how that's playing and what their perception is.
MECKLERAnd I would just add. I mean, I disagree with the caller in terms of what the motives are of the reporters who are asking the questions, you know, perceptions aside. But I'm wondering if the call -- how the caller would feel or other people listening would feel if, you know, if the president who is in office or someone that they didn't like, say, would they want a vigorous press out there asking those questions, or should we just let them say what they wanna say and leave it at that?
MECKLERI mean, even if you do have reporters who are trying to showboat sometimes which certainly does happen -- I'm not saying reporters are perfect, they're not. Sometimes they ask the wrong questions, sometimes they don't ask it well. But it's still better than not having questions asked at all because...
REHMAll right. To Fort Worth, Texas. Let's hear Elmo and his take on this.
ELMOGood morning, Diane, and good morning to your guests.
ELMOExcellent program. Long-time listener.
ELMOIt's just that, it seems to me that when the reporters -- and they do do a good job most of the time. When they ask the questions, when they receive the answers and then later they comment on the answer and what it means, many times, they get a totally different take than the average citizen out here. When I talk to my coworkers and friends about the questions and about the answers, our understanding of the answer is totally different than the press's understanding.
REHMThat's very interesting. What do you make of that, Chris?
FRATESWell, I think, the caller is right and I think often times what we are talking about is a very inside Washington game and that we're analyzing this for -- what does it mean for Washington? What does it mean for the power structure? And we're not necessarily analyzing it as maybe we should be for what it means for everyone in the country.
REHMExactly. Let's go now to Dayton, Ohio. Hi there, Mike.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
MIKEActually, I -- today, I have a comment and then a question.
MIKEAnd my comment is just how disgusted I am that conservative groups would actually advocate the young people, especially young people, just refuse to buy health insurance and pay the fine in order to attempt to derail ObamaCare. And my question is what exactly is the fine? How much does it equate to?
MECKLERWell, in the first year, it's not very much. I think it's about $95. It ramps up overtime. So, I mean, that, you know, it's less than health insurance is but, of course, you pay the fine, you don't get the health insurance. So, you know, we'll have to see whether the dollar amounts that they picked for the fines are -- provide the right incentive without being, you know, overly burdensome and not frankly under burdensome.
REHMAll right. And here's a comment once more on the press, "Would you please ask your guest to comment on Mark Leibovich's book, "This Town," in relation to their frustration expressed this morning. I read the book. It speaks clearly to why I no longer pay too much attention to the Washington press. So much talk. It seems myopic with so little content." From Donna in Rye, N.H.
SMOLKINThat's a great question. The book paints a very particular portrait of the Washington press corp and Washington influence makers as being very interconnected. Certainly, I can see why that portrayal would turn off many, many listeners. I would argue that there's -- that is one particular perspective. I'm not saying that the book is wrong. But there's so much more going on in Washington reporting than was represented in that book. That was one slice of the world we live in.
SMOLKINThere is terrific reporting happening from so many news outlets, not just The Times and The Post and the Wall Street Journal -- I would put Politico in there, of course -- but other, you know, The Huffington Post, more media outlets than ever are doing really spectacular and important work.
REHMAnd, you know, I think that's right, Rachel, but at the same time, I think there is a growing perception in the country that the press is not reporting as fully as the people who are out there want them to do. That we get caught up in these inside fights, in this bickering and that the very publicity we shine on, say, the fights in Congress have perpetuated those fights in Congress. Laura.
MECKLERI think there's a lot of truth to that. I think part of that is because there is a lot more media. And the media is obsessed with the process and the politics of things. I think there is a lot of quality reporting on the substance, but I think it sometimes gets drowned out by the much more superficial reporting on the process and what goes on.
MECKLERAnd the truth is the substance doesn't change day to day. The process does. And that's why media reporters -- the media and reporters tend to seize on it.
REHMHere's an email from Michael in Plymouth, Mich., who says, "Yesterday, a woman confronted a Republican congressman from North Carolina about her deceased son whose pre-existing condition since birth prevented him from getting health insurance. His response was that he agrees with a number of provisions of ObamaCare, yet he always voted for complete repeal. Why don't reporters press those Republicans who simply want to do a blanket repeal yet offer no alternative which would include provisions they supposedly agree with?"
MECKLERWell, the -- yes, I mean, I think that's an excellent point. You know, the House keeps saying they wanna, you know, repeal and replace and we never see the replace.
MECKLERWe just see the repeal.
MECKLERAnd the truth is that that's the -- that question right there gets to the heart of health care and what the problem is, which is that you can say, oh, I like the part that requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions. I don't like the part that requires young people to go buy insurance. But those two things go together. You can't have an insurance company be required to cover every -- the sickest people in the country without giving them some healthy patients to balance them out.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the trial of the accused Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, that started this week. Really, really, took some unusual turns. Yesterday, defense attorneys approached the judge as to either take over the case because he is defending himself or be excused because they believe that Hasan is begging for the death penalty. Chris.
FRATESAnd this was a very, very unusual case because the lawyers felt like if they can't defend him and he's not listening to their advice, then they should not be responsible for the verdict. So they essentially asked the judge, either let us defend him or excuse us because he's on a path where he's going to be found guilty. And the judge denied that motion and said, you need to stay here. You need to advise him should he want to be advised.
FRATESAnd that's really a difficult place for a lawyer to be, to know that their client could be making mortal mistakes and watching it happen and being completely disregarded in their counsel.
SMOLKINBut legal analysts have said that as uncomfortable and unfortunate as that situation is for the defense attorneys, the law is fairly clear that that is their role. So while the defense attorneys are appealing, the, sort of -- I wouldn't say unanimous but prevailing view among legal analysts is that they're likely to lose that appeal.
REHMSo she's just going to let the trial proceed as it has?
FRATESAnd that's exactly what she did. She let it proceed. And we saw a lot of testimony, very gruesome testimony and violent testimony from witnesses this week, where there was not a lot of cross examination from the accused. And he did not engage in a way that the lawyers felt was going to protect him.
REHMAll right. I want to ask you about the sexual harassment allegations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Now it's coming from military veterans, Laura.
MECKLERNot just military veterans, but military veterans who have been the victims of sexual abuse when they were in the military, who he was supposedly trying to help and then he's like, you know, putting these inappropriate moves on. It's -- the whole thing has just -- goes from bad to worse. It seems like every time I turn around, I'd -- he's supposedly off, you know, with some behavioral treatment program. I don't really understand exactly how that...
REHMHe's a former chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
MECKLERRight. Well, that gave him lots of access to these women evidently.
SMOLKINAnd totally -- and had cast himself as a champion of female veterans at that time.
MECKLERI mean -- and evidently, actually, I mean, you know, I guess in his defense, people who care about veterans say he was an advocate and he was a champion. But evidently, there are people in this world who are able to put up a block in their head between their personal behavior and their public behavior. So maybe he's out there doing the right thing from a public policy point of view, but in his personal life, he just doesn't seem to understand that this is just completely not OK.
FRATESCan we all just agree that this dude's a little creepy? I mean, this idea that if he -- there are now 13 women who have come out.
FRATESDouble-digit women who have come out and said that he either asked inappropriate questions, touched inappropriately, you know, groped them. It just -- it goes beyond the pale. And one of the things I wondered was, how was he able to operate in Washington for 20 years and none of this come out? And what does that say about Washington's culture and what women here might experience that they didn't in San Diego?
MECKLERJust so, you'd never hear about this from a female mayor. You never hear stories like this. (laugh)
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." That's not to say it doesn't happen. It's not to say it won't happen as more women take positions of power. But he is now, as you said, on a week's leave or two weeks leave in a behavioral treatment program. You know, it's not looking good there.
REHMLet's go to Louisville, Ky. Hi, Chris. You're on the air.
CHRISThank you, Diane Rehm. I appreciate this. I acknowledged that we are a country of many religions, but the conservative side of this country seems to keep emphasizing that we are a Christian nation. If we are, then I do not understand why everyone who says they're Christian -- ministers, people who go to church -- do not support ObamaCare or Affordable Health Care Act because we have the Golden Rule, which Jesus says was the law and the prophet.
REHMWell, the point here is that it's clearly as much about politics as it is about health care. If this does move forward, it's going to be thought of as one crowning achievement of the Obama administration. His opponents don't wanna see that happening.
SMOLKINAnd it's not -- it depends how you view ObamaCare and what frame you're using to understand the law. For opponents, they don't see it in that same way. They see it as a massive intrusion by the federal government. That's their frame and that's their prism for viewing the issue.
FRATESNo. I think that's exactly right. And I think the other idea that opponents would put forward on for repealing ObamaCare is that if you are a Christian, as the caller pointed out, then you will do that yourself. You don't need the government to take care of your neighbor. It's your responsibility to take care of your neighbor, and charities and hospitals and other institutions exist to do that. And so that would be another argument that the opponents would use.
REHMAll right. And here's the final email from Mary Jo. She says, "Your panelists are not speaking for me. I am very supportive of the Affordable Care Act. I'm a person of lower middle-class income, self-employed after open heart surgery. My insurance company raised my premiums to over $900 a month. I had no recourse but going to a catastrophic policy, paying for it and paying everything out of pocket. I just stopped going to doctors."
REHMAnd that is something that happens to a lot of people. Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Frates of National Journal, Rachel Smolkin of Politico, thank you all. Have a great weekend.
SMOLKINYou too. Thank you.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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