ABC Notices Obama Administration's Effort to Suppress Criticism of ObamaCare

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to go to the Senate floor on Tuesday to call out the Obama administration for using the full power of a federal regulatory agency to suppress free speech -- specifically, to silence Humana's predictions about the impact of proposed ObamaCare cuts to the Medicare Advantage program -- led ABC, but not CBS or NBC, to air a story on the “gag order.”    

ABC's story began with a McConnell soundbite (“'Shut up,' the government says, 'don't communicate with your customers. Be quiet and get in line,'”), before reporter Jonathan Karl explained McConnell was referring to the “Department of Health and Human Services, telling insurance companies who serve Medicare recipients, to stop 'misleading' and 'confusing' mailings, saying, quote: 'We are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings, and remove any related materials from your Web sites.'”

Karl continued: “The extraordinary order comes in response to a mailing the Humana insurance company sent to customers in the Medicare Advantage program. The Humana mailing warned that because of Medicare cuts in the health care reform bills, quote, 'millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many important benefits and services.'”

On Monday, HHS offered “guidance” to silence criticism: “MEDICARE ISSUES NEW GUIDANCE TO INSURANCE COMPANIES ON MEDICARE MAILINGS.”

So far, the government's power play has succeeded. “Humana backed down, stopping the mailing and announcing that it would cooperate with the investigation,” James Taranto noted in his Monday “Best of the Web,” lamenting: “Corporations may provide lots of useful goods and services, but never count on them to take a stand for freedom.”

Now the question is, will the media champion free speech and be outraged by the abuse of power to suppress it, or will most journalists not mind the government hushing voices which go against Obama?

The story on the Tuesday, September 22 World News on ABC (transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth):
CHARLES GIBSON: In Washington, the Senate Finance Committee today began voting on amendments to the health care reform bill, and the bill that comes out of that committee will become the centerpiece for the health care debate. But even before the amendment process began, a war of words broke out over what one of the nation's largest health insurance companies is saying about the bill. Here's Jonathan Karl.

JONATHAN KARL: It's not often you hear language like this on the Senate floor.

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: "Shut up," the government says, "don't communicate with your customers. Be quiet and get in line."

KARL: He's talking about this order issued last night by the Department of Health and Human Services, telling insurance companies who serve Medicare recipients to stop "misleading" and "confusing" mailings, saying, quote, "We are instructing you to immediately discontinue all such mailings, and remove any related materials from your Web sites." The extraordinary order comes in response to a mailing the Humana insurance company sent to customers in the Medicare Advantage program.
The Humana mailing warned that because of Medicare cuts in the health care reform bills, quote, "millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many important benefits and services." But Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus says it is misleading to say his bill cuts Medicare benefits and ordered the HHS to investigate, prompting the gag order. Some legal experts say the order is unconstitutional. Senator McConnell agrees.

MCCONNELL: We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they say.

KARL: And even some Democratic Senators are concerned that the bill now before the Senate Finance Committee reduces spending on Medicare Advantage by $123 billion.

SENATOR BILL NELSON (D-FL): I think it would be intolerable to ask the senior citizens on Medicare who have it to give up substantial health benefits that they're enjoying under Medicare.

KARL: HHS declined a request for an on-camera interview, but told us that they are investigating whether the mailings illegally give the impression that they are official communications from Medicare. While that investigation goes forward, Charlie, the gag order remains in place.
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