The White House's Media Feedback Loop
When it was revealed last week that MIT economist and ObamaCare booster Jonathan Gruber had taken almost $400,000 from the Obama administration's Health and Human Services department to do consulting work on health care reform, I noted that Gruber had failed to disclose his funding to numerous reporters when serving as an impartial health care analyst. But as liberal health care scourge Jane Hamsher notes in an exhaustively researched article at Huffington Post today, an even bigger problem is that prominent government officials — including some who almost certainly knew of of Gruber's funding — cited his research as independent analysis, when, in fact, it was lavishly funded by the administration.
Sometimes it was done directly, such as when Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, a health care budgeting expert who met with Gruber the day after his HHS contract was finalized, cited Gruber's analysis in a blog post responding to David Brooks. But more often, it was done through what Hamsher calls a "feedback loop," in which Gruber releases an analysis, prominent members of the political media cite his analysis, and then the White House points to those reports to back up their claims about health care reform — a process which, as Hamsher documents, happened repeatedly, and without any disclosure of Gruber's administration backing.
Gruber began negotiating a sole-source contract with the Department of Health and Human Services in February of 2009, for which he was ultimately paid $392,600. The contract called for Gruber to use his statistical model for evaluating alternatives "derived from the President's health reform proposal." It was not a research grant, but rather a consulting contract to advise the White House Office of Health Reform, headed by Obama's health care czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle, to "develop proposals" for health care reform.
How did the feedback loop work? Well, take Gruber's appearance before the Senate HELP Committee on November 2, 2009, for which he used his microsimulation model to make calculations about small business insurance coverage for his testimony. On the same day, Gruber released an analysis of the House health care bill, which he sent to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post. Ezra published an excerpt.
White House blogger Jesse Lee then promoted both Gruber's Senate testimony and Ezra Klein's article on the White House blog. "We thought it would all be a little more open and transparent if we went ahead and published what our focus will be for the day" he said, pointing to Gruber's "objective analysis." The "transparent" part apparently stopped when everyone got to Gruber's contractual relationship to the White House, which nobody in the three-hit triangle bothered to disclose.