Nets Highlight Obama's Hug at Health Forum; CNN: 'Bold Display of Presidential Concern'

Network reporters swooned over President Barack Obama hugging a woman, who has cancer and lacks insurance, at his Wednesday “town hall” on health care, as both CNN -- where Suzanne Malveaux heralded the hug as “a bold display of presidential concern” -- and NBC failed to point out how all the questions (just seven in total) were pre-selected or from members of pro-Obama groups. Instead, NBC's Savannah Guthrie showed a kid in a video (“My mommy and daddy have small businesses, and we need health care”) before she touted how Obama “solicited questions on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and in person, with a hug for a woman who says she cannot pay her medical bills,” while CNN's Ed Henry related “he fielded questions from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and a live audience.”

CBS's Katie Couric showcased “an emotional moment” when “a 53-year-old cancer patient described her battle to get treatment she can afford.” Couric relayed how Obama “called her exhibit A in a system that's too expensive and too complicated,” but at least, unlike NBC and CNN, Couric noted the woman “is a volunteer for Mr. Obama's political operation Organizing for America” and “the White House invited her to attend.”

Filling-in as anchor on CNN's The Situation Room, Suzanne Malveaux painted Obama as a combination of General Patton and Oprah as she set up Henry in the 6 PM EDT hour:

President Obama has a message for some critics. He will get his way. Today he made a bold promise regarding health care reform. And, in a bold display of presidential concern, the President comforted a sick and emotional woman.

Audio: MP3 clip of Malveaux (15 seconds)

ABC's World News on Wednesday night only mentioned the event in passing during a story on increased obesity.

NBC anhor Brian Williams set up the report on his newscast by trumpeting the “big deal” of Wal-Mart's support for Obama: “Today a big American name swung its support to President Obama. Wal-Mart has endorsed a key part of the President's plan to overhaul health care. And, as U.S. employers go, that's a big deal.”

Major Garrett, on FNC's Special Report, pointed out how the forum presented Obama with “a pre-screened audience and pre-screened questions.” At the end of his piece he elaborated:

The Debby we just saw in that piece is Debby Smith. She's a volunteer for the political arm of the President's Democratic National Committee Organizing for America. The President took another question from a member of the Service Employees International Union and yet another question from someone who participated in a healthcare rally on Capitol Hill last week on behalf of the President's program. Nevertheless, the White House denied it controlled today's event.

After Malveaux's intro, CNN's Ed Henry reported: “The President was bullish about the prospects for health reform but warned critics are lining up to kill it. So he used a town hall in Virginia to urge the public to rise up as he fielded questions from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and a live audience.”

Henry did note that Obama is “facing a skeptical public” as a new CNN/Opinion Dynamics poll found 51 percent favor Obama's efforts, but 45 percent are in opposition.

From the CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: There was an emotional moment today during President Obama's town meeting on health care reform in Virginia. A 53-year-old cancer patient described her battle to get treatment she can afford.

DEBBY SMITH: I'm no longer able to work, and I have no health insurance. Now I have a new tumor. I have no way to pay for it.

COURIC: Debby Smith is a volunteer for Mr. Obama's political operation Organizing for America. The White House invited her to attend. The President called her exhibit A in a system that's too expensive and too complicated. One of his solutions would change the way doctors are reimbursed. Here's Wyatt Andrews.
Andrews provided a fairly favorable review of Obama's wish to pay doctors for outcomes instead of for each service provided. He concluded: “So when the President calls for payment reform, almost every health care expert says he's right. But the amount he can save, no one knows that for certain.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide a transcript of the story on the Wednesday, July 1 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: And now to another big-ticket item -- this nation’s health care system. Today a big American name swung its support to President Obama. Wal-Mart has endorsed a key part of the President’s plan to overhaul health care. And, as U.S. employers go, that’s a big deal. The President was out making the case on health care again today. Our White House correspondent, Savannah Guthrie, with us from there, with more on this tonight. Savannah, good evening,

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Good evening, Brian. With Congress in recess, the President’s trying to move this health care debate out of Washington. And today, he didn’t have to travel very far to do that. The President took his health care message out of town -- Annandale, Virginia, near Washington, and online.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL IN VIDEO: My mommy and daddy have small businesses, and we need health care.

GUTHRIE: The President solicited questions on YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter, and in person.

DEBBY SMITH: Now I have a new tumor. I have no way to pay for it.

GUTHRIE: With a hug for a woman who said she cannot pay her medical bills.

BARACK OBAMA: I don’t want you to feel all-

GUTHRIE: The President hoping this message will speak more powerfully to Congress than any other.

OBAMA: When the American people decide that something needs to happen, nothing can stop us. So I hope you’ll join me.

GUTHRIE: The President has launched a full-court press on health care. His old grassroots campaign machinery is mobilized, soliciting personal health care horror stories. And in contrast to 1993's famed health care reform failure, industry is getting on board, promising to cut costs. And, in a letter to the President yesterday, Wal-Mart said it could support a government requirement that employers provide health care, a major change of heart for the nation’s largest private employer. Still, on Capitol Hill, it’s been a bumpy ride, even with a commanding Democratic majority. The battle lines are drawn over the President’s plan to have government offer an insurance plan. And with costs estimated at least $1 trillion, a key fight looms on how to pay for reform. White House advisors won’t rule out a tax on some health care benefits, potentially violating a key campaign promise not to raise taxes on middle class families.

ROBERT LASZEWSKI, HEALTH CARE POLICY ANALYST: This is a very pragmatic White House and a very pragmatic President, and we know that, to get health care reform, they’re going to have to give some things up. I think it’s too early to tell exactly which things they’re going to have to give up. You don’t want to start giving things up too early.

GUTHRIE: Well, the President has made his own suggestions on how to pay for reform without taxing benefits. The trick, of course, is getting Congress to buy in. Some members have been cool to some of his ideas. Either way, the White House wants to get health care reform done this year, Brian. The feeling is it’s now or never.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center