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Axelrod Responds To White House Criticism

The White House today issued two press releases criticizing media organizations. One criticizes the economic coverage of The New York Times, charging that the paper "continues to ignore America's economic progress." The other criticizes last night's report on President Bush's Medicare push by CBS News' Chief White House Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

It seemed unusual to me for the White House to issue an actual press release criticizing news coverage. But, according to CBS White House Correspondent Bill Plante, it's something the White House began doing during the push on Social Security reform and has done with increasing frequency since. As for today's release on CBS' coverage, you can read it all here. Among the complaints the White House had with Axelrod's "Evening News" story are:

  • CBS News Misleadingly Reports That Only 8 Million Seniors Have Signed Up For Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage.
  • CBS News Cites Poll Showing "Less Than 40 Percent Of Seniors Have Enrolled In The Program." (CBS' "Evening News," 5/9/06)...

    But 37 Million Beneficiaries With Coverage Means Almost 90 Percent Of All Eligible Beneficiaries Now Are Either Enrolled In Medicare Drug Plans Or Have Other Sources Of Coverage.

  • CBS News Claims There Are "Still Some 7 Million Eligible Seniors Without Drug Coverage." (CBS' "Evening News," 5/9/06)...

    But There Are Only About 5.7 Million Seniors Who Still Need To Be Enrolled. Of the 5.7 million people remaining, most (about 3 million) qualify for the low-income subsidy and therefore can enroll after the May 15 deadline.

  • CBS News Says Enrolling "Can Be A Confusing Process." (CBS' "Evening News," 5/9/06)

    But There Are Just Three Simple Steps To Getting Drug Coverage Now....

  • CBS News/New York Times Poll Shows 81 Percent Of Seniors Think The Medicare Enrollment Deadline Should Be Extended. (CBS' "Evening News," 5/9/06)

    But Almost 90 Percent Of All Eligible Beneficiaries Now Are Either Enrolled In Medicare Drug Plans Or Have Other Sources Of Coverage.

  • In an e-mail, Axelrod responded:
    Very simply, the White House is cutting and pasting to make a point, something they accuse their critics of doing constantly. I am clearly talking about the "final push" Mr. Bush is making on Medicare. The pictures we show at the time I say "8 million already signed up," clearly refer to an appearance the president is making to make sure people understand the deadline is fast approaching for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. I took information provided to me directly by the Medicare administrator's office about the number of people signed up so far in their push, and relayed it.

    The White House takes issue with our reporting, "less than 40 percent of seniors have enrolled in the program".. stating that "90% of eligible beneficiaries" have coverage. However they don't reference the next sentence in my story:

    Narration/Graphics [script]: "The latest CBS News-New York Times poll shows less than 40% of seniors have enrolled in the program – and nearly half say they don't plan to, mostly because they have other prescription coverage."

    Nearly half say they don't plan to, mostly because they have other prescription coverage. That sounds like selective editing on the part of the White House to make their own political points.

    Another point made by the White House is that we report "enrolling can be a confusing process." Is that really such a controversial statement when 75% of seniors polled say the new Medicare drug plan is difficult to understand?

    I am always open to criticism and believe we should be as transparent as possible in how we put together our reports, especially on such important issues as Medicare, but if the White House has a point to make, perhaps they should furnish the full and proper context for everything that is broadcast.

    More Axelrod:
    The 8 million already signed up number is in no way contradicted by the 37 million seniors who already have coverage. But most were automatically enrolled. That is separate and apart from the seniors who needed to sign up – of which the Medicare administrator's office told me – came to 7 million because they had already signed up 8 million.

    Again, the White House is clearly manipulating what I broadcast to fit their agenda. And they are wrong to do that.

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