Out on a Limb

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on December 3, 2013

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

“I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. . . . When we moved onto the block where we still live, we were told, ‘You can’t live there.’ Thirty-five years later, we’re still here. My children are being told ‘you can’t live there,’ but for different reasons. We were seen as ‘pioneers,’ moving into dangerous territory. My children, all with advanced degrees, productive spouses and professional jobs, can’t live here because they can’t afford it. After 35 years of building a community and living comfortably in the house we renovated, I am saddened by the advice of many who say we should sell our house and get rich. It almost seems like yet another ‘you can’t live there.’ “–letter from Christine Napolitan, New York Times, Dec. 2

Math Is Hard
“House Republicans passed a farm bill earlier this year that cut a whopping $4 billion from the program [food stamps]. Senate Democrats’ ‘better’ plan is a cut of $4 billion. The real amount will no doubt be somewhere between those two numbers.”–George Zornick, TheNation.com, Nov. 27

Out on a Limb
“Local Businesses Hoping for Successful Holiday Shopping Season”–headline, KTVB-TV website (Boise, Idaho), Nov. 29

ObamaCare and the Totalitarian Mindset
Suppose some inventor hatches an idea for what he thinks would be a great and revolutionary new product. He raises money from investors, sets up office, hires people–and fails spectacularly. The company’s customer service is atrocious, the product is expensive and lousy, and the whole business plan is fundamentally flawed. Who’s to blame?

The news media, of course. After all, journalists could have put out stories touting the virtues of the product and explaining how to navigate the crummy customer-service system, and maybe then the whole business plan would have worked out.

That, at any rate, is the argument Paul Waldman puts forth in an article for the leftist American Prospect. Of course being a good leftist, Waldman is not blaming the media for the failure of a private business. But then neither would any nonleftist. But because the enterprise in question is a governmental one–ObamaCare, in case you’ve been away from Earth for the past two months–the argument somehow makes sense to him.

We find it not only wrongheaded but sinister (in every sense of the word). Waldman argues that journalists have a “responsibility” to provide “audiences with practical information that could help them navigate the new system”–and not just that, but to provide such information “repeatedly or people won’t get it.”

“Media outlets haven’t done much to be of service,” Waldman complains. He quotes Timothy Noah, a like-minded journalist, who moans: “The New York Times has published the URL for the New York exchange exactly twice, both before October first.” By the way, the URL for the New York exchange is . . . nah, we’re not going to do it. Take that, Waldman.

Waldman does address a counterargument from conservatives–but since the “conservatives” he is answering are figments of his imagination, they are particularly stupid:

Of course, conservatives would allege that if a newspaper writes a guide to getting insurance through the new exchange, it has demonstrated its liberal bias and become an arm of the Obama administration. But it’s the law. As of next year, if you don’t get insurance through your employer, you need to go to an exchange. Media outlets would just be helping people do what they have to do. I suppose conservatives could also argue that if the local paper puts up a tool on its website that helps people find their polling places and tells them what the voting hours are, it’s just trying to boost turnout, and everybody knows that helps Democrats. Or that if it reminds you to file your tax returns on April 15th, then it’s just helping fund big government. Or that if it tells you to set your clocks back for daylight savings, it’s just feeding the Illuminati/Bilderberg time-theft conspiracy.

Actually, that last one is true. Readers who followed the newspaper’s advice would arrive at work on Monday two hours late. Waldman’s phantasmic conservative has him anxious to turn the clock back. But here’s a response from a real conservative:

What Waldman is describing is a genre of reporting known as “service journalism” (or, an expression Waldman employs, “news you can use”). Common forms of service journalism include advice columns, investment advice, reviews and listings of restaurants, movies, plays and other entertainments, and to a lesser extent book reviews.

There’s nothing objectionable about service journalism, which can be useful and fun to read. Nor is there anything objectionable about service journalism that informs readers about ObamaCare, provided the news organization adheres to the same standards of accuracy and impartiality it would apply to any other subject.

What is objectionable, however, is Waldman’s claim that news organizations have a journalistic “responsibility” to provide service journalism on that particular subject–that doing so is, as Waldman puts it, “part of any major media outlet’s mission.” No one would say that about film reviews or advice columns. Service journalism is a peripheral form of news.

An interesting example of service journalism about ObamaCare appeared in July on the op-ed pages of the Washington Times. It was written by Dean Clancy of FreedomWorks, a national Tea Party group, and it explained how to avoid the ObamaCare mandate tax:

Under Section 1501 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we’re required to certify on our yearly tax return whether we have “acceptable” coverage. However, the Internal Revenue Service is forbidden to use any penalty to enforce the mandate, except for a user-fee payment, which the IRS can only collect at the end of the year out of any tax refund we may be owed. This means we can simply sidestep the fee by carefully adjusting our withholdings to avoid being owed a refund. As for the amount, it’s comparatively small: in 2014, just $95, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, rising to $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016 and thereafter. It’s a pittance compared to the cost of compliance.

The op-ed was part of FreedomWorks’ campaign called (as was the op-ed) “Burn Your ObamaCare Card.” Waldman disapproved, noting–news you can use!–“there is no such thing as an Obamacare card.”

Is there any doubt that Waldman wants ObamaCare service journalism to serve a hortatory purpose, not merely an informative one? That is, he wants news organizations to encourage their audiences to sign up because that would boost the likelihood that ObamaCare proves successful (politically, economically, or by whatever other measure one might devise).

Any self-respecting journalist, no matter how liberal, will recoil at that notion. Service journalism whose purpose is to serve the government is not a “responsibility” but an abomination.

Meanwhile, a reader calls our attention to a curious post by a blogress called “annalee” dealing with another aspect of ObamaCare. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the government’s appeal of an appellate court’s decision in the case now styled Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby .

The retail chain’s owners object on religious grounds to the ObamaCare mandate that employer-provided insurance include coverage for abortifacient drugs and devices (along with contraceptives and sterilization procedures). The high court will decide whether the application of the mandate to Hobby Lobby violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which under certain circumstances requires the government to make conscience exemptions from generally applicable laws.

Annalee isn’t buying it:

As a Quaker, I believe in Conscience Protection. I believe people should have the right to refuse work that violates their principles. If a draft were called tomorrow, I would wholeheartedly support people’s right not to serve.

But if someone serving in the military came to me and said they [sic] wanted me to defend their right to refuse military service, but that they also wanted to keep their job and be paid as if they were actually serving in combat, I would laugh in their face.

A pharmacist demanding the right to keep their job even if they refuse to dispense legal medication is like a Marine demanding to keep their job even if they refuse to follow lawful orders. That’s not “conscience protection,” that’s a handout to someone who wants to be paid not to work.

I feel the same way about Hobby Lobby’s Affordable Care Act stunt.

Put aside the pharmacist example (which is from a years-old post of hers) and consider the analogy between the military slacker and Hobby Lobby. We’re with her on the military example; in fact, we mocked such a slacker back in 2003:

Compare this courageous young woman’s story with that of Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk, a 20-year-old Marine reservist who is seeking “conscientious objector status.” Yes, there actually is such a thing, even in the all-volunteer military. According to the Associated Press, Funk claims he joined up because he was in a funk:

” ‘Ultimately, it’s my fault for joining in the first place,’ said Funk, who didn’t show up when his unit was deployed to Camp Pendleton. ‘It wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been. It was about me being depressed and wanting direction in life.’ “

Funk, who “said he’s attended every major San Francisco Bay area anti-war rally since finishing his military training last fall,” adds: “They don’t really advertise that they kill people.”

The AP dispatch begins by setting the stage, noting that Funk had “his sister carrying his duffel bag and his mother holding his hand.” No word whether he was sucking his thumb.

(We should note that the “courageous young woman” was Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who later testified that the military had exaggerated her heroics in Iraq. We wish we’d been as skeptical of the government then as ObamaCare journalistic cheerleaders failed to be in 2010.)

Funk isn’t exactly like annalee’s hypothetical serviceman; he was looking merely to break his commitment, not to break it and continue collecting a military paycheck. Either way, though, it constitutes a breach of contract.

But Hobby Lobby is not a government contractor–or if it is, that is not relevant to the government’s asserted authority to impose the contraceptive mandate on it. And even if it were a government contractor objecting on conscientious grounds–say a road builder–it wouldn’t be analogous. There is no logical connection between building roads and providing birth control or abortifacients. The analogy would work only if it were a company contracting with the government to provide birth-control devices or services purporting to object on conscientious grounds.

Annalee’s failure to grasp this distinction reveals a totalitarian mindset: To her, we all work for the government. Just as to Paul Waldman, journalists in particular do.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”