Let’s Not Forget Who Drove The Needlessly Alarmist Obamacare Coverage

Bill Scher

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn has a satisfying article cataloging the litany of off-target Obamacare doomsday predictions.

His fire largely torches conservative politicians and pundits, who deserve it. But he does not extend his ire to the driving force behind the alarmist coverage: former Washington Post WonkBlog editor Ezra Klein.

Granted, Klein was smart enough to avoid the prediction game, thus saving him from Cohn’s pen. But as a liberal opinion journalist generally supportive of Obamacare, his negative coverage played an outsized role in stoking panic.

As I wrote back in October: “The problems with the website were evident and would have to be addressed without Klein’s Washington Post Wonkblog and related Twitter feeds adopting a ‘flood the zone’ approach to its coverage, with nuanced coverage thrown together with a slew of overheated micro-stories devoid of context.” Instead Klein went to the scandal coverage playbook, demanding “is anybody going to be held accountable? Is anybody going to be fired?” before knowing if actual incompetence was involved, but setting the pace for the rest of the media.

Scandalous incompetence need not have been assumed. As I argued repeatedly in those days, early hiccups in government program launches, and private sector launches, are not unusual. In particular, Social Security suffered similar glitches. But as a result of those mistakes, government workers learned, grew smarter and became more effective.

Such historical context would have been useful at the time, instead of stoking panic and making people fearful of accessing the system. Perhaps the enrollment numbers would have been even better without the alarmist coverage, though we can never know for sure. Fortunately, our government overcame the hysteria, and the damage done was not fatal.

I’m confident our federal government has learned its lesson. The media, I’m not so sure.

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