Why the Press Didn't Ask Obama About Obamacare Today

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 8 2013 4:38 PM

Why the Press Didn't Ask Obama About Obamacare Today

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In his Oct. 8 press conference, President Obama was asked zero questions about the implementation of Obamacare. Thank you, shutdown!

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Sept. 30, the day before the shutdown, the Weekly Standard's great reporter-pundit John McCormack made a short yet complicated argument against Republican intransigence. The party, he wrote, could expect Obamacare to collapse under its own weight. But it shouldn't distract from the system's failures by causing the rest of the political system to sputter. "Republicans will have a good shot at passing real reform—so long as they avoid blundering into a government shutdown that will not stop Obamacare but will only lend credence to false Democratic claims that the problem with Obamacare isn’t the law itself but rather GOP obstruction and sabotage."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

McCormack reminded me of that column today after President Obama's lengthy press conference drew no reporter questions on the implementation of Obamacare. There was agreement on the right and among mainstream reporters that this was crazy. And hey, I agree—it was crazy!

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But anyone who understands the normal rhythms of the press corps could have predicted this. Conservatives like McCormack did predict it. The press always rates a conflict above an expected outcome. The administration had previewed the health care exchanges by pre-apologizing for glitches. Glitches occured—all the Slate readers participating in a project to report their "lives under Obamacare" failed to log in.

This was enough of a story to lead off the Associated Press's weekend interview with the president. "What's happened is the website got overwhelmed by the volume," said Obama, "and folks are working around the clock and have been systematically reducing the wait times, but we are confident that over the course of the six months—because it's important to remember people have six months to sign up—that we are going to probably exceed what anybody expected in terms of the amount of interest that people have."

The press, understandably, skipped another round of questions on this—something Obama would clearly not change—to ask how he'd act next in the ongoing shutdown drama. Would the press conference have been improved by some Obamacare questions? Probably. (Having given a bunch of interviews about the topic since mid-September, he was probably ready with a robotic answer.) Is the White House press corps, generally, too inclined to let the president ramble about some existential issue? Sure. Doesn't change the fact that the shutdown blew the exchanges, and immigration reform, and basically everything else out of the news—and some conservatives predicted that this would happen.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.