How ABC Stacked the Deck for Obama

June 25th, 2009 4:10 AM

With the very first question of its prime time special, Questions for the President: Prescription for America, ABC set the tone that essentially confirmed for viewers that the president was right in his desire to radically remake America's healthcare system. As the infomercial began, "moderator" Charles Gibson asked a seminal question of the doctors and other participants that were about to hear the president speak: "How many of you agree with the president that we need to change our healthcare system?" Naturally they all raised their hands.

Imagine that? This handpicked crowd all agreed with ABC and Obama that "change" was paramount. Surprised? Hardly.

So, as the viewer is introduced to the infomercial, they start off with the unanimous affirmation that the president is right, radical changes have to be made. The premise is set and even the sharp questions to the president later in the show are blunted by the assumption that some major change is needed. And since the president is the only person allowed to offer any plan during this ABC special, the further assumption promulgated is that he is the one that must affect that change.

For viewers of this healthcare infomercial, Obama wins thanks to an assist by ABC. The viewer is deftly led to the desired conclusion.

The problem with the "change" question is, what sort of change are we talking about? Why is Obama's change the only plan on the table, here? Is there no other plan for change out there? ABC's viewers sure won't know from what they got Wednesday night.

Granted, ABC did throw some pointed questions at the president. But, sadly, his non-answers were rarely challenged and Obama was allowed to dole out his talking points without opposition. For instance, the president kept to his "you can keep your plan if you want to" talking point even as more and more politicians, political pundits, and healthcare and economics experts are beginning to say this claim is an untruth. Obama himself recently moderated his claim a bit by saying that he really meant that government wouldn't specifically require that people must lose their current plans. The difference is he went from explicitly saying no one would lose their current plan to tacitly admitting that his policies will force people to lose their plans whether government specifically says they must or not. It's as if he were slowly inching toward the truth. Unfortunately, Obama was not pressed on this point during the ABC infomercial and was allowed to reiterate his earlier, obviously false, claims. A recent study shows that "anywhere from 10.4 million to 119.1 million people could end up switching from their current plans" and onto the public plan if it gets implemented. This will not be a voluntary move, but one forced on them by their employers dropping their current plan in favor of the public option.

ABC did a masterful job setting up the claim that they were fair and balanced, too. A webpage has been launched to "fact check" the president's Wednesday appearance where ABC says that the president was "eager to make his case to the public -- but sometimes glossing over the thorny details of how to achieve reform." But, while they do talk of some of the president's errors, it is unlikely that more than a small percentage of Americans will ever see this webpage. The chances that only one or two percent of the TV audience will see the "fact check" webpage is strong. Even as ABC can say they corrected the president, most people that saw the special will come away on the president's side due to how the show was presented.

Finally, without any strong, intelligent counter voices, this ABC special was all Obama. It did not do much to advance the education of the audience or better inform those at home watching and left anyone viewing with the impression that the only "solutions" are coming from Obama.

Only The One cares. That was ABC's message.