COMMENTS: Not Such a Bully Pulpit

The President of the United States demonstrated his power to be the News-Agenda-Setter-in-Chief when he wants to. Barack Obama's 52-minute appearance in the White House briefing room to answer questions about the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act made headlines. He was not there for a bully pep talk, however, more like a recital of his fumbles and a repeated apology for breaking a promise. All three newscasts kicked off with their White House correspondent and healthcare reform was Story of the Day.

It is easy to tease correspondents for grandstanding, when they quote their own questions, asked in the course of routine newsgathering, rather than reporting on the answers. Just check out recent examples, here and here, from ABC's Jonathan Karl. In this case, though, Major Garrett, CBS' man at the White House, seems quite justified in quoting himself, since his questions hit the nail on the head, and they were addressed directly, rather than brushed aside or stonewalled, by President Obama. Why did he launch the federal healthcare exchange Website when the White House had been warned that it would not work? Why did he promise that all individuals could keep existing insurance plans that they liked, even though he knew that the ACA would force some of them to be canceled?

By all, the President explained, he meant "98%."

ABC's Jim Avila dramatized how damaging the bungled rollout was by counting the number of times -- 29 -- that the President apologized for it. He quoted Obama's criticism of federal procurement of computer programming as "cumbersome, convoluted, outdated." ABC underscored the seriousness of the problem by inviting analysis from This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos (at the tail of the Avila videostream): he sees the whole of Obama's second term at stake. NBC's Chuck Todd, who first heard the President apologize in his Exclusive one-on-one last week, included some of the reaction to the President's contrition on Capitol Hill, by folding in reporting by his colleague Kelly O'Donnell.

All three newscasts followed up on those millions of canceled individual health insurance plans. ABC's Rebecca Jarvis (also at the tail of the Avila videostream), imprecisely, reported that they could now be renewed. CBS' Carter Evans was clearer: the mere fact that the ACA no longer insists on their cancelation does not mean that the one million discontinued policies in California will automatically be offered for renewal. NBC's Tom Costello noted that state insurance commissions have decision-making power, not the President. And anyway, even if the canceled policies are reinstated, premiums might be hiked.


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