Rule of Law

No, Ms. Rovner, This Is What You Meant When You Wrote That

Most advocates confronted with a journalist’s own explanation about the meaning of an article she herself reported and wrote – an article that the advocate was not a part of – would recognize their own error in mischaracterizing that journalist’s view. Not so Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute.


A webinar yesterday afternoon hosted by the National Institute for Health Care Management – moderated by Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News and NPR – discussed King v. Burwell, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act being heard by the US. Supreme Court. Cannon, one of the participants on the panel and an architect of the challenge to the ACA in King, not only used a story by Rovner to support his claim that a handful of Democrats basically wanted to insert a secret time bomb into the ACA, he also responded to Rovner’s own clarification about her own reporting by demanding that he be “convinced.”



(The video starts with Cannon speaking, then a response from Rovner directly to Cannon about his use of her words, then covers a follow-up exchange between Cannon and CAC’s Press Secretary Doug Pennington. Note the audio quality isn’t superior, but the full exchange is audible on a close listen.)


To best understand the reality that Cannon denies, first take a look at what he and his colleague Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University and another leading opponent of the ACA, claim on pages 28-29 of an amici brief they submitted in King. They say that 11 House Democrats – led by U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett of Texas – thought the ACA “conditioned subsidies on states creating Exchanges.” Next, compare that to what the Doggett letter actually says. Then read this excellent synopsis from Scott Lemieux, posted on Tuesday in The Week:


Tacitly recognizing that the argument they attribute to the House Democrats [in the Doggett letter] is not remotely supported by the text, Adler and Cannon attempt to conscript one of the country’s foremost health-care reporters into their crusade, citing an NPR report by Julie Rovner to buttress their misreading of the letter’s meaning. But, again, nothing in Rovner’s story says that the Senate bill would not provide subsidies on federally established exchanges. I contacted Rovner by email, and she confirmed that “there was never any discussion about only state exchanges offering subsidies that I was party to. I never meant to imply it in my story.”


It takes more than a little gall to tell a reporter that she is misinterpreting her own reporting, but Cannon’s tactic yesterday was characteristic of the entire strategy of the ACA’s challengers in King. As Ian Millhiser mentioned, with Rovner, Cannon has engaged in classic “mansplaining.” But  Cannon and Adler have also told sitting Members of Congress what they meant by the legislation they passed. Apparently, Cannon and Adler believe they have some magical ability to know what was in the minds of former elected officials, too, including Senator Max Baucus and Senator Ben Nelson, and still-serving officials like Rep. Doggett. 


Speaking of Baucus, Cannon had to retract an assertion he made about what the former Senator believed about the availability of tax credits on the federal exchanges. And then Nelson wrote a letter that should embarrass every anti-ACA advocate from Michael Carvin on down about what Nelson’s understanding was about tax credit availability on the federal exchanges – the exact opposite of claims made in briefs (including here and here) and in open court by the ACA’s opponents about Senator Nelson’s intentions.


No matter what Senator Baucus, or Senator Nelson, or esteemed reporters like Julie Rovner, or anybody else says about his or her own words concerning the drafting and passage of the Affordable Care Act, leave it to Cannon and the rest of the ACA’s challengers to tell us what they really meant. Whatever leads to the destruction of Obamacare is apparently all that matters.