Sen. Udall's Attempts to Bully Colo. Ins. Division Over Health Policy Cancellations Get Only Grudging National Notice

Bullying by staffers of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has denied knowledge of their actions when they were taken, is a national news obsession. Bullying by staffers of Colorado Senator Mark Udall — which the Senator has acknowledged and is defending — is barely a blip.

The story, first reported in the Colorado blogosphere at Complete Colorado, is that Udall staffers "worked assiduously to revise press accounts that 249,000 Coloradans received health care cancellation notices" by pressuring the state's Department of Insurance to change the definition of "cancellation." There is no dispute that the cancellations as normal people understand the word occurred (links are in original; bolds are mine):


Udall’s office pushed back hard on number of health care cancellations

MarkUdallWide

At the height of controversy surrounding President Obama’s promises on the federal health care overhaul, U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s office worked assiduously to revise press accounts that 249,000 Coloradans received health care cancellation notices. Because the 249,000 figure was produced inside the Colorado Division of Insurance, Udall’s office lobbied that agency to revise the figure, or revise their definition of what qualified as a cancellation.

From an email inside the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), Director of External Affairs Jo Donlin bluntly stated to her colleagues:

Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.

... Worth noting is the fact the original media reports of 249,000 cancellations in the state happened on or about November 6. The dispute between Udall’s office and the Department of Insurance didn’t happen more than a week later on November 14. Specifically, the issue didn’t appear to rise to importance for the Udall office until President Obama decreed citizens could keep cancelled plans.

... In yet another email, Udall staffer Joe Britton gives away the extent to which Udall’s office was seeking complicit messaging from the Division of Insurance.  ”We need to move on this ASAP – or we’ll be forced to challenge the 249K number ourselves.  It is wildly off or at least very misleading and reporters keep repeating it.”  Eventually, Udall’s office did take the task upon themselves, successfully garnering a telling of their story in The Denver Post with an online publishing timestamped 4:57 PM MST, November 15.

Imagine that. The Denver Post gave sympathetic coverage to a senator who was trying to change the definition of "cancellation," and whose office (yes, I know, presumably unbeknownst to the Post at the time) was in the process of trying to intimidate state officials.

The paper's reluctance to bring up what Complete Colorado broke is obvious. The following January 9 headline is in my view deliberately deceptive:

Colorado official felt pressure from Udall office on Obamacare tally

"Obamacare tally"? That sounds like it relates to how many people have enrolled in a news plan.

They also gave him a chance to defend the indefensible. In the process, Udall made it clear that, unlike in Christie's situation, Udall was the lead bully:

Udall defended his staff's actions in an interview with The Denver Post on Thursday. He called it "really important to correct the record" that the 250,000 number wasn't actually the number of people who outright lost their health insurance. He called the number "only 4 percent of the story."

"I put my team to work to find out whether those numbers would stand up to scrutiny," Udall said.

Udall said his focus was on "standing up for Coloradans and their health insurance needs. ... I'm going to be there every day ensuring that every Coloradan who wants health insurance gets health insurance."

While the Christie story might as well be the only story as far as the press is concerned, Udall's bullying is getting grudging notice at best. Emily Schultheis has a story at the Politico, the traditional burial ground for nationally significant stories the rest of the establishment press feels like ignoring. In a petty, childish move, Schultheis linked to the Denver Post story but not to Complete Colorado.

Meanwhile, a search at the Associated Press's national web site on Udall's last name returns nothing relevant. This is odd, because the wire service's Steven K. Paulson did prepare a story on Thursday which can still be found at certain AP-subscribing outlets (examples here and here). Predictably, Paulson turned it into a "Republicans attack" story. But the larger point is that AP seems to want to limit the story's exposure.

Predictably, the Udall matter is not a story at the New York Times. At Google News, there is little in the way of national press coverage beyond the AP leftovers among the 52 results returned (on "Udall cancellations" [not in quotes], sorted by date). The majority of the results are center-right blogs, online-only news outlets, and Fox News.

It's hard to avoid concluding that the Udall bullying isn't much of a story because he's a Democrat.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.