Wednesday, March 8, 2023

How a Partisan Press Will Cover the Republican Presidential Primary

When it comes to the impending presidential primaries, Republicans need not bother attacking each other. The liberal press seems content to do so for them.

That lesson appears obvious based on the initial coverage to date of Nikki Haley’s campaign. When former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley entered the race, the Trump campaign issued a press release chronicling her political history. Nathaniel Weixel, a “reporter” at The Hill, turned that press release into a partisan attack masquerading as a “news” item. He all but accused most Republicans of wanting to throw Grandma over the proverbial cliff.

Trump Campaign Release

The Trump campaign’s attack, such as it was, seemed comparatively tame and conventional. The release consisted of a series of press clippings about and quotes from Haley, some of which discussed her prior support for structural Medicare and Social Security changes proposed by then-Rep. Paul Ryan when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Compare that to how Weixel characterized the missive: “The Trump campaign noted Haley supported former Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare and turn it into a voucher system.” Weixel then went on to claim, “Republicans have long favored cutting or even eliminating Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.”

The Trump campaign’s release attacking Haley said not a word about “eliminating” Medicare or Social Security. Nor did it use the word “vouchers” against Haley. Weixel decided instead to insert those terms himself, among other attacks thinly disguised as “reporting.”

Partisan Bias

The use of the word “voucher” provides an instant clue as to Weixel’s partisan bias. Consider the Medicare reform plan Ryan released in late 2011 with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., now the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Here is how the plan described the coverage options seniors would have:

Medicare Exchange would provide seniors with a competitive marketplace where they could choose a plan the same way members of Congress do. All plans, including the traditional fee-for-service option, would participate in an annual competitive bidding process to determine the dollar amount of the federal contribution seniors would use to purchase the coverage that best serves their medical needs. The second-least expensive approved plan or fee-for-service Medicare, whichever is least expensive, would establish the benchmark that determines the coverage-support amount for the plan chosen by the senior. If a senior chose a costlier plan than the benchmark, he or she would be responsible for paying the difference.

Two items stand out. First, contra Weixel’s claim that Ryan would “eliminate Medicare,” the plan retains traditional Medicare as an option.

Second, the policy of linking the amount of the federal contribution to the second-least expensive plan comes straight from the Obamacare exchanges. Does that mean Weixel calls the federal payments provided to Obamacare enrollees “vouchers?” Hardly. He wrote an article in October discussing the Exchanges’ open enrollment period that used the term “subsidies” eight times — including in the title — and the word “vouchers” not once. Similarly, one of Weixel’s colleagues wrote an article in recent weeks about Obamacare that used the word “subsidies” 15 times, again including in the title, while failing to use the word “vouchers.”

In other words, to the “reporters” at The Hill, when Democrats enact an insurance bidding mechanism, it’s called a “subsidy.” But when Republicans propose enacting the exact same insurance bidding mechanism, it’s called a “voucher.”

Biden’s Proposed Eliminating Medicare and Social Security

One could make similar claims about Weixel’s comment that “Republicans have long favored cutting or even eliminating Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” In this case, an article in The Hill itself, published six days before Weixel’s piece, noted that President Biden proposed legislation that would have sunset all federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The Hill’s article came one day after I published research showing Biden’s history of proposing sunsets for these programs, along with his history of supporting reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits, and voting against raising the debt ceiling when Congress failed to do so. But did Weixel include any of these facts in his story? Nope — Weixel somehow “forgot” to mention Democrats’ history when leveling accusations against Republicans.

I did try to reach Weixel prior to writing this story, to ask him for an explanation or to clarify his writing. I also contacted several editors at The Hill to ask them about what appears to be a partisan slant in the writing of one of their reporters. Neither Weixel nor his editors responded to repeated requests for comment.

Dishonest Media

The article in The Hill brings lessons far beyond the merits of changes to Medicare and Social Security, the merits of Trump as a candidate, or the merits of Haley as a candidate. It illustrates how the media will act over the next year or so, magnifying the attacks that Republicans level against each other during the primary campaign.

The Trump organization might have liked the way in which Weixel took its press release and amped up the rhetoric against Haley in ways that might benefit its campaign. But on another day, and regarding another issue, the tide will turn. Attacks on Trump will get blown out of proportion and exaggerated in ways that harm him and potentially other Republicans.

Neither Weixel nor his editors bothered to respond when I provided evidence of partisan bias. Their silence illustrated how the media prioritizes achieving its ideological objectives over nonpartisanship or consistency. It means Republicans running for president won’t just have to weather attacks from their fellow candidates. They will also have to withstand those coming from the fourth estate.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.