Anatomy of Bias: New York Times [Updated]

Media bias is turning out to be the theme of the week.  In this edition of “Anatomy of Bias,” we take a look at a national story with a suspiciously local angle.

Based on a tip from The Network, my attention was called to this New York Times article on problems with Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges (“Uninsured Find More Success via Health Exchanges Run by States”).  The opening sentence reads as follows,

Robyn J. Skrebes of Minneapolis said she was able to sign up for health insurance in about two hours on Monday using the Web site of the state-run insurance exchange in Minnesota, known as MNsure.

She reports to the Times that,

“I am thrilled,” Ms. Skrebes said, referring to her policy.  “It’s affordable, good coverage.  And the Web site of the Minnesota exchange was pretty simple to use, pretty straightforward.  The language was really clear.”

So the mighty New York Times traveled all the way to Minnesota to find an ordinary, everywoman who happens to be a satisfied customer of the beleaguered state agency.  It turns out that Ms. Skrebes’ experience was atypical of the nationwide consumer, as the Times reports,

The experience described by Ms. Skrebes is in stark contrast to reports of widespread technical problems that have hampered enrollment in the online health insurance marketplace run by the federal government since it opened on Oct. 1.

For its part, MNsure was happy to seize on this good news touted in a national publication, tweeting a link to the Times piece through the official MNsure account.

We are, of course, happy that Ms. Skrebes has found health insurance that works for her and her family.  But let’s not pretend—as the Times does—that she represents the typical consumer seeking out health insurance through the MNsure website.

As her LinkedIn® profile explains, until June of this year, Ms. Skrebes was a community organizer for the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare division.  SEIU is hardly a neutral observer of MNsure, as the organization was represented on the state agency’s Advisory Task Force.

Ms. Skrebes took a break from her SEIU job during the 2012 election to work with TakeAction Minnesota as a campaign organizer.  For its part, TakeAction has been aggressive with its promotion of Obamacare and MNsure.  It doesn’t want you to merely accept the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as settled law; TakeAction wants you to “Fall in Love with the ACA!

 If you were thinking that Ms. Skrebes’ praise of her MNsure experience sounded a little canned, it’s because the language she uses was lifted right out of the agency’s website.  As MNsure touts, “Our aim is to make getting health insurance through MNsure a simple, straightforward process” (emphasis added).  Mission accomplished, it would appear.

 For everyone else in the world where real consumers encounter the government-run insurance exchanges, the rollout of Obamacare has been a disaster.  In the world as reported back to the New York Times by MNsure’s ringers, the agency has been going from triumph to triumph.

Just as last week saw Chad Henderson briefly filling the role of the fake, but accurate Obamacare customer, Minnesota has its own version this week.  As Mediaite reported,

[Chad] Henderson’s story was particularly attractive.  He was precisely what the media, and the White House, needed: a young, ostensibly healthy individual willing to pay a substantial portion of their meager income into the system so that it can support older, more chronically ill patients who will be partaking in health care services regularly.

In the media’s rush to make a star out of Henderson, they failed to vet him thoroughly.  Most of the press missed the fact that Henderson is a current political activist and Organizing for America volunteer.  Somewhat more egregiously, they also missed the fact that Henderson’s story was not true.

According to Henderson’s father, Bill Henderson, neither he nor his son have enrolled in any plan associated with the ACA.

Some lessons need to be learned over and over again.  The legacy media are desperate to have the President’s namesake initiative be seen as a success.  As they say, truth is the first casualty.

[Update] The St. Paul Pioneer Press had the Skrebes story two days before the Times.  The Pioneer Press reporter identified Skrebes as working for both SEIU and TakeAction.  The local reporter, Christopher Snowbeck, paired the Skrebes story with another, less satisfied MNsure customer, producing a much more balanced portrait of the early days of the healthcare exchange.

Cross-posted and comments welcome at Bill Glahn.