Generations of reporters have been raised on the journalistic bromide "If your mother says she loves you, check it out" and for good reason. Things may not always be as they seem. Unfortunately, in our ADD culture, and where being first with a "scoop" is more important than being accurate and precise, you run the risk of misleading the public, which is precisely the opposite of the journalistic ethic.
We've been told there are no figures for how many people are enrolling on the government's health care website. CBS News claimed otherwise in a report Thursday night, even going so far as to suggest the administration is engaged in a cover up.
Throughout October, the Obama Administration has maintained that millions of Americans are visiting the new health insurance website despite all of its problems. Yet, they won't divulge figures showing how many policies have been purchased. CBS News thinks it "may have found out why."
Newly disclosed documents from twice-a-day "war room" meetings inside the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that enrollments got off to an horrendously slow start.
On Day 1 of the launch, Oct 01, the government said there were 4.7 million unique visits, but war room notes from the next morning say only six enrollments had occurred so far. By that afternoon, the figure was up to 100. By the end of that day, it was 248 enrollments nationwide.
The health care exchanges need to average 39,000 enrollees a day to meet the goal of seven million by March 01.
Among the problems for the sluggish start:
- Direct enrollment --signing up directly on an insurer's website-- wasn't working for any issuers
- The Experian credit reporting agency created confusion with credit check information
- Issuer phone numbers weren't appearing correctly on the "pay now" page
The "war room" notes also say a daily tally of enrollees is being kept by one of the contractors that designed the website, QSSI, but as we heard in Congressional testimony this week, the administration insists it won't have figures until mid-November.
A spokesman at Health and Human Services says enrollment was always expected to start very slowly and then skyrocket as the deadline approaches.
Now here's the reality check, the place where you should "check it out."
CBS News obtained the documents from the House Oversight Committee. That's your first red flag. More likely, someone from the committee gave the documents to the network's reporter, in this case Sharryl Attkisson, and the source was probably a staffer from a Republican member on the committee. Ask yourself: Does anyone think a Republican source on the committee would've released the info if it had made the administration look good? Of course not. Then it would've been leaked by a Democrat. So we really don't know the source. It would help if we did, though that's not always possible.
It might be worth noting for all the diaper wetters complaining about that darned "librul media": This was a CBS News report, not one from Fox News.
The larger problem lies in other questions we should be asking:
- Are the only documents in CBS' possession from those first two days?
- Are there other documents their source on the House Oversight Committee didn't leak that might've been favorable?
- In other words, while we have an enrollment figure from the first day, what's the enrollment figure from these "two-a-day" meetings for yesterday, Oct 31st?
These questions aren't address in the CBS News report --not even raised-- and it should be noted that their story on Monday about the woman in Florida with the $54 a month premium going up to $591 was debunked not only here but by --of all networks-- Fox News. (See accompanying video)
While it's tempting or even habitual to take things at face value when reported and/or breathlessly promoted in our 140-character soundbite culture, its often better to wait until more complete results are available, or at least reported. Don't agree? Anyone remember how the Balloon Boy story was covered?