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Ezra Klein: ‘Five Thoughts on the Obamacare Disaster’



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This is the funniest thing you’ll read today – an entire post by Ezra Klein bashing Obamacare. I especially like No. 2, which fully exposes Ezra Klein as a cheerleader for Team Obama:

2. Are there problems behind the problems? In the weeks leading up to the launch I heard some very ugly things about how the system was performing when transferring data to insurers — a necessary step if people are actually going to get insurance. I tried hard to pin the rumors down, but I could never quite nail the story, and there was a wall of official denials from the Obama administration. It was just testing, they said. They were fixing the bugs day by day.

I’ve been saying this for awhile. There is an ‘Information Technology Industrial Complex” that, unless you’re a reporter with a tech background, you can’t fact-check what you’re being told about large technology programs. The same goes for Congress. Dianne Feinstein tells us she understands the NSA programs, but I doubt she can set up her own WiFi router, let alone understand the technology to a point where she can provide oversight. But back to Klein, I’d like to know what he did to try to nail down the story because it’s hard to nail something down with pom-poms in both hands. He continues:

According to Bob Laszlewski, those problems aren’t resolved. They’re just not getting much attention because the health-care law’s Web sites aren’t working well enough for people to get that far in the process. Laszlewski does a lot of work with the insurance industry, so I’d take this post of his very seriously:

The backroom connection between the insurance companies and the federal government is a disaster. Things are worse behind the curtain than in front of it”

Here is one example from a carrier–and I have received numerous reports from many other carriers with exactly the same problem. One carrier exec told me that yesterday they got 7 transactions for 1 person – 4 enrollments and 3 cancellations.

For some reason the system is enrolling, unenrolling, enrolling again, and so forth the same person. This has been going on for a few days for many of the enrollments being sent to the health plans. It has got on to the point that the health plans worry some of these very few enrollments really don’t exist.

The reconciliation system, that reconciles enrollment between the feds and the health plans, is not working and hasn’t even been tested yet.

If he’s right then…yikes.

The health-care law’s traffic problems are beginning to subside. Anecdotally, more people are getting through. But most people playing around on the Web site aren’t trying to actually purchase insurance. We’re far from knowing what the fail rate is for those people trying to take that final step of purchasing a plan.

Well, duh. There have been plenty of warnings, but nobody willing to “nail down” the story. 

Klein’s new-found questioning of Obama is welcome, but he’s still not doing the math.

For example, I just posted over in The Feed that only 305 people are enrolled in Obamacare in Colorado out of roughly 760,000 uninsured. To get just 10 percent of these uninsured covered by January 1 (application deadline Dec. 15), Colorado would need to add more than 1,200 people a day over the next 60 days. They’re nowhere near that target.

And take a look at the math for the entire country. President Obama wants 7,000,000 people covered under Obamacare by the end of March, or roughly 165 days from now. That means more than 42,000 people per day need to sign up. How’s that going? Since the White House won’t tell us how many people are signing up, I’m going to guess that they’re not quite on pace for that number. 

 

Piers Morgan’s Inspiration? A Fake Newscaster



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From The Guardian:

Piers Morgan, the tabloid editor turned US television star, has said the inspiration for his vehement anti-gun campaigning was the grumpy hero of Aaron Sorkin’s television programme, The Newsroom.

In an interview in Saturday’s Weekend magazine, Morgan said he decided to make gun control a more central focus of the CNN talkshow he took over in 2011 after watching Jeff Daniels’s character, Will McEvoy, making a frustrated outburst about passionless television reporting in the first episode of The Newsroom.

“I had been talking about the guns thing from almost the moment I’d come on air,” the former Daily Mirror editor told the Guardian. “Then, after Aurora, the movie theatre massacre, came Sandy Hook. I was incredibly, embeddedly passionate and angry and emotional about it. You can’t not be.”

There’s just one problem with this: it’s not real. President Obama actually made a joke about Aaron Sorkin and how the MSM would love for Obama to act more like Sorkin’s characters. From this year’s W.H Correspondents’ Association Dinner

Of course, everybody has got plenty of advice. Maureen Dowd said I could solve all my problems if I were just more like Michael Douglas in “The American President.” (Laughter.) And I know Michael is here tonight. Michael, what’s your secret, man? (Laughter.) Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? (Laughter.) Might that have something to do with it? (Applause.) I don’t know. Check in with me. Maybe it’s something else. (Laughter.)

Maybe Piers Morgan needs a new muse. 

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Crew: Captain Phillips Not a Hero



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The new Tom Hanks film, Captain Phillipsis getting great reviews, but the crew wants everybody to know their version of the story. Via The Guardian:

Captain Phillips ‘no hero’ in real life, say ship’s crew

Sailors who served under Phillips during hijacking of Maersk Alabama dispute captain’s actions as portrayed in Tom Hanks film

Sailors who endured the real-life attack by Somali pirates which forms the basis of Oscar-tipped thriller Captain Phillips have condemned the version of events shown in the film.

Crew members of the Maersk Alabama, which suffered the raid off the coast of lawless Somalia in April 2009, told the New York Post the titular hero played by Tom Hanks in Paul Greengrass’s critically acclaimed film was far from heroic. The sailors, who are suing their employers Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp for $50m, said Richard Phillips was a sullen, self-righteous man: their suit claims the captain’s wilful disregard for his crew’s safety contributed to the attack.

“Phillips wasn’t the big leader like he is in the movie,” said one crew member who worked closely with the captain, speaking anonymously for legal reasons. “No one wants to sail with him,” he told the Post.

The crew member said Phillips, who went on to meet Barack Obama and write a memoir, refused to cut power and lock himself and the crew below deck in line with anti-pirate protocol. “He didn’t want anything to do with it, because it wasn’t his plan,” said the crew member. “He was real arrogant.”

The rest here.

And look how Tom Hanks describes the film:

Hanks describes the movie as “non-fiction entertainment,” a genre that fascinates him. “I’m always reading newspapers and magazines and seeing a story that really happened and saying, ‘This is better than any movie could possibly be.’”

He says the book written by Phillips was “almost a screenplay already. It is a very straightforward delivery of what he went through but when it’s put up on the big screen it has all the elements that go into commercial filmmaking. It has an incredible visual vista and it takes place in an oddly glamorous locale, even though it’s a container ship. Then you’ve got this motley crew and a ragtag group of evocative protagonists. Because it actually happened, I don’t think anybody has made a movie like this before. We’ve seen quite a few fictionalised versions of what can happen when bad guys come and try and take over a ship or a plane or the White House or whatever, but we are working on today’s headlines and facing perhaps the biggest challenge a filmmaker can face – what really happened? And how do we make it so gripping that it warrants a place in what essentially is commercial entertainment?”

Which is odd because even Captain Phillips doesn’t agree with some of the movie, an admission he made to CNN.

Non-fiction? Hardly. 

 

 

And Now for Alec Baldwin’s Ratings



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And MSNBC still gets killed by Fox News:

Alec Baldwin’s premiere of his new MSNBC  interview show Up Late With Alec Baldwin logged an average of 654,000 viewers on Friday  – up 53%  compared to the timeslot’s take one week earlier. That said the Hollywood A-lister clocked 172,000  viewers in the news demo — a 7% drop compared to MSNBC’s performance in the hour one week earlier.  FNC trounced Baldwin in the timeslot: Hannity logged 1.5 million viewers — 338,000 in demo. Baldwin’s gain may have been Anderson Cooper’s loss. CNN was down 52%, week to week, in overall audience (347,000) and 58% in the demo (111,000).

Why Is Alec Baldwin’s MSNBC Show so Boring?



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Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast writes:

How could the deadpan-hilarious prince of SNL and 30 Rock turn in such a boring late-night talk show debut? Lloyd Grove on the deadly television sins the comedian committed.

This is a terrible and surprising question, but is Alec Baldwin really that boring? After watching him chat sedately with New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio for the premiere of Up Late with Alec Baldwin, MSNBC’s latest offering at 10 p.m. Friday, I can’t help asking.

Baldwin is a gifted actor, a brilliant comic, and a worthy—often volatile—opponent of pushy paparazzi, New York Post reporters, Fleet Street hacks, discourteous Starbucks baristas, bossy flight attendants, and anyone else who has the misfortune of getting on his bad side. He has raised pugnacity to an art form, as when he told me years ago, when I was writing a celebrity column for the New York Daily News and he was having a dispute with famed stylist and costume designer Patricia Field,that she was “a fruit-salad head,” “a whack-job, 24-7,” and “a cranky, miserably unhappy woman.” I probably shouldn’t admit it but that made me laugh.

He is also a smart, thoughtful guy, and—on his recently-ended WNYC radio podcast Here’s The Thing, anyway—a compelling and skillful interviewer. All of the above would seem to make for exciting, even dangerous, television. It certainly wasn’t crazy for MSNBC President Phil Griffin to hire Baldwin to freshen up a weekly time-slot previously occupied by the prison reality series Lockup and, before that, Alan Keyes Is Making Sense, starring a voluble, rabidly right-wing African-American politician who, when his show was canceled after six months, went on to lose to Barack Obama in the 2004 Senate race in Illinois.

And yet.

Baldwin’s debut as a TV talk show host didn’t do him or his audience any favors.

The rest here.

I did catch parts of it and also think there’s certainly room for improvement. As much as I disagree with Baldwin’s politics, he is a good actor and could be a good fit for one of these interview shows. 

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Fox’s Ed Henry Walked Out of Obama’s Presser Friday



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Ed Henry was not happy that Jay Carney wouldn’t let President Obama call on any TV reporters on Friday. Mediaite has the details.

H/T Johnny Dollar’s Place.

Kathleen Parker Compares Ted Cruz to OBL



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She has an op-ed up today that compares the GOP to the fictional Corleone crime family, with Sonny the “hothead” (Tea Party followers) vs. Michael the “intellectual strategist” (establishment legislators).

But comparing the GOP to murderers isn’t a good enough metaphor for Ted Cruz:

That would be Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who grabbed headlines by speaking for 21 hours against Obamacare. Cruz is neither Michael nor Sonny but the star of his own movie. He’s Ted bin Laden — the guy who hands out suicide vests and then goes to lunch.

Really? Oh, there’s more. Here’s the end of her column:

Painful though it may be to witness, it may be time for Sonny to take a drive through the toll plaza. Maybe he could give Ted bin Laden a lift.

(That’s a metaphor, too.)

Not only is Ted Cruz an anti-American terrorist, lets kill him and all those other tea partiers!

Kathleen Parker is leaving out one important player, however. Who in the GOP is Fredo? You know, the guy selling out to Dems to further his own position in the same, corrupt criminal organization Congress? 

Come on Fredo, let’s go fishing. 

 

 

 

AP Forced to Retract Its Terry McAuliffe Story



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Last night, the AP posted a story that accused Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to a postal inspector regarding McAuliffe’s investment with a now convicted felon. It turns out the AP had their facts wrong:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Associated Press has withdrawn its story about documents in a federal fraud case alleging that Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe lied to a federal official investigating a death benefits scheme. The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the “T.M.” who allegedly lied to investigators.

But, this really doesn’t put McAuliffe in the clear. If anything, the alleged lying to the federal (postal) official is the smallest part of the story. Here’s the Washington Post today:

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was one of dozens of investors with a Rhode Island estate planner charged with defrauding insurers by using the stolen identities of terminally ill people, according to court documents filed Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Providence.

McAuliffe’s name appeared on a lengthy list of investors with Joseph A. Caramadre, an attorney and accountant who obtained the identities of dying people to set up annuities that ultimately cost insurance companies millions of dollars, the documents say.

The list also included the law firm of a former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, a Roman Catholic monsignor, a former Cranston, R.I. police chief, and a bookmaker, according to The Providence Journal, which first reported McAuliffe’s investment Wednesday.

Federal court documents do not accuse McAuliffe of wrongdoing, and it wasn’t clear whether he had made money or lost money on the investments. His campaign spokesman said McAuliffe was a “passive investor” who was deceived like many others. Spokesman Josh Schwerin also said that the campaign and McAuliffe donated sums to the American Cancer Society totaling $74,000 — approximately the amount McAuliffe earned as a return on the investment and received in a campaign donation from Caramadre.

“Terry was one of hundreds of passive investors several years ago and had no idea about the allegations against the defendant — who, at the time, was widely respected by business leaders and elected officials,” Schwerin said. “The allegations are horrible and he never would have invested if he knew he was being deceived.”

The rest here. And hopefully more reporting to come.

 

No, Healthcare.gov Didn’t Cost $634M



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A bunch of outlets are linking to this Digital Trends piece that puts a price-tag on developing Obamacare’s healthcare.gov exchange at $634,000,000:

The exact cost to build Healthcare.gov, according to U.S. government records, appears to have been $634,320,919, which we paid to a company you probably never heard of: CGI Federal.  The company originally won the contract back in 2011, but at that time, the cost was expected to run “up to” $93.7 million – still a chunk of change, but nothing near where it ended up.

Um, no. If you follow the link above to the “U.S. government records,” you’ll see that the exact figure for CGI, Inc. is $634,320,919 and over 114 transactions dating back to 2008. Click on “List View” at the bottom of the page and you’ll see a breakdown by year. Keep in mind Obamacare was signed into law in 2010:

To find out how much was spent on healthcare.gov, somebody would have to go through transaction by transaction and find out how the money was spent. And even using the detailed view of each award, that’s not altogether clear.

But even though Healthcare.gov didn’t cost $634,000,000 to build, its failure at launch is enough reason to put CGI under a microscope and find out how much money we’re wasting (or not) with this particular vendor.

 

Is Healthcare.gov Double Counting?



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I am happy to say that I finally made it far enough in the sign-up process to get a username and password on the embattled Healthcare.gov site. (And then I got stuck in a loop trying to add my family information and gave up for the day.)

One problem, however. I’ve been using the same username on my previous failed attempts, but this time, the system told me that username was already taken. Now, I used GPollowitz and other characters to create the username, so it is highly unlikely that there’s an identical username that somebody else is using. The system made me choose a new one before I could continue.

Now, I was never successful at getting past the security questions until today. Why would that old username be in the system? And if it is in the system, is HHS including it in their number of people who have created an account? If they are, their counts are meaningless. 

Slate (Yes, Slate) Has the Best Piece Yet on the Failure of HealthCare.Gov



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And it’s a) not what Team Obama is telling us and b) not a pretty picture. David Auerbach writes:

Err Engine Down

What really went wrong with healthcare.gov?

Of all the terrible websites I’ve seen, healthcare.gov ranks somewhere in the middle. It has been difficult if not impossible to sign up, and customer service has been inadequate. But it’s certainly better than the NYC Department of Education site that I attempted to help a friend navigate two years ago, in hopes of her getting paid her actual salary instead of a default salary; the blatantly inept Web code got the best of us. And it’s better than the evanescent Web encyclopedia Cpedia, which rolled out with pages that literally consisted of nonsense (such as “Clickbooth Cuil but not avail due to flooding traffics and making their servers ‘too hot’ to handle”). The problems plaguing healthcare.gov aren’t due to a unique coding failure or a unique government failure—plenty of products have had similar early deficits, such as the Electronic Arts server bugs that rendered SimCity unplayable by most for more than a week after it was released this March. So healthcare.gov’s failures are not uncommon—they’re just exceptionally high-profile.

The Redditors picking apart the client code have found some genuine issues with it, but healthcare.gov’s biggest problems are most likely not in the front-end code of the site’s Web pages, but in the back-end, server-side code that handles—or doesn’t handle—the registration process, which no one can see. Consequently, I would be skeptical of any outside claim to have identified the problem with the site. Bugs rarely manifest in obvious forms, often cascading and metamorphizing into seemingly different issues entirely, and one visible bug usually masks others.

There are a few clues, however. The site’s front end (the actual Web pages and bits of script) doesn’t look too bad, but it is not coping well with whatever scaling issues the back end (account storage, database lookups, etc.) is having. I tried to sign up for the federal marketplace six days after rollout. The site claimed to be working, but after I started the registration process, I sat on a “Please Wait” page for 10 minutes before being redirected to an error page:

“Sorry, we can’t find that page on HealthCare.gov.”

Except that wasn’t the problem, since the error message immediately below read:

To translate, that’s an Oracle database complaining that it can’t do a signup because its “engine” server is down. So you can see Web pages with text and pictures, but the actual meat-and-potatoes account signup “engine” of the site was offline. A good site would have translated that error into a more helpful error message, such as “The system is temporarily down,” or “President Obama personally apologizes to you for this engine failure.” But it didn’t.

This failure points to the fundamental cause of the larger failure, which is the end-to-end process. That is, the front-end static website and the back-end servers (and possibly some dynamic components of the Web pages) were developed by two different contractors. Coordination between them appears to have been nonexistent, or else front-end architect Development Seed never would have given this interviewto the Atlantic a few months back, in which they embrace open-source and envision a new world of government agencies sharing code with one another. (It didn’t work out, apparently.) Development Seed now seems to be struggling to distance themselves from the site’s problems, having realized that however good their work was, the site will be judged in its totality, not piecemeal. Back-end developers CGI Federal, who were awarded a much larger contract in 2010 for federal health care tech, have made themselves rather scarce, providing no spokespeople at all to reporters. Their source code isn’t available anywhere, though I would dearly love to take a gander (and so would Reddit). I fear the worst, given that CGI is also being accused of screwing up Vermont’s health care website.

So we had (at least) two sets of contracted developers, apparently in isolation from each other, working on two pieces of a system that had to run together perfectly. Anyone in software engineering will tell you that cross-group coordination is one of the hardest things to get right, and also one of the most crucial, because while programmers are great at testing their own code, testing that their code works with everybody else’s code is much more difficult.

Look at it another way: Even if scale testing is done, that involves seeing what happens when a site is overrun. The poor, confusing error handling indicates that there was no ownership of the end-to-end experience—no one tasked with making sure everything worked together and at full capacity, not just in isolated tests. (I can’t even figure out who was supposed to own it.) No end-to-end ownership means that questions like “What is the user experience if the back-end gets overloaded or has such-and-such an error?” are never asked, because they cannot be answered by either group in isolation. Writing in Medium in defense of Development Seed, technologist and contractor CTO Adam Becker complains of “layers upon layers of contractors, a high ratio of project managers to programmers, and a severe lack of technical ownership.” Sounds right to me.

Likewise, the bugs around username and password standards—for example, the fact that the username required a number but the user interface didn’t tell the user about it—are not problems of scale. They’re problems of poor cross-group communication. I’d bet that plenty of people knew what was going to happen when the site rolled out, but none of them were in a position to mitigate the damage.

The rest here.

 

CNN Fact-Checks the New Tom Hanks Film, Captain Phillips



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This is great. Even the real Captain Phillips admits the movie is full of it and blames the media for putting out the story of Phillips giving himself up for the safety of his crew. Oh, and he was warned to stay away from the area but declined. 

But, who needs honesty in a movie based on real life?

Dan Pfeiffer’s Gigantic Typo



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Typos on Twitter on common, but when you tweet out ni**er instead of bigger and you’re an adviser to the president, it’s kind of a big deal. 

Pfeiffer apologized here and deleted the offensive tweet.

This reminds me of the story during the ‘12 primary of Rick Perry painting over the same word on a rock, but that, somehow, was national news for weeks and weeks.

Maybe I’ll accept Pfeiffer’s apology when he publicly says Rick Perry isn’t a racist for having that word painted on a rock on a piece of property he leased.

A Fair Media Account of the Healthcare.gov Launch



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Here’s a very good piece published by the Miami Herald in a partnership with Kaiser Health News that does a great job of reporting on the tech issues that have plagued the online exchanges since they opened on Tuesday. An excerpt:

Consumers who visited the Jessie Trice Community Health Center in Brownsville, where many of the neighborhood’s uninsured seek medical services, still had no luck registering on the site Wednesday morning.

Paul Salazar, a federally-certified application counselor, was stationed with a laptop at the Trice center, hoping to help people learn about the health reform law and apply for coverage through the website.

He ran into the same delays that many encountered on the first day.

“At first, it was showing, ‘Page not found,’,’’ he said, “and now it’s just saying there are too many people on the site and try again later.’’

Herman Edwards, development manager for the health center, said consumers interested in signing up for health plans through the exchange were being told to come back

“Hopefully,’’ he said, “everything will be smoothed out by next week, at the latest.’’

While many consumers were locked out during the first two days, some got in.

Robert Whitman, 56, of Miami, said he was successful logging onto HealthCare.gov on Tuesday, when he created a user account and answered questions about his income that would determine his eligibility for federal subsidies to help pay premiums and cost-sharing amounts. He also browsed plans.

But Whitman was unable to re-access the site with his user account information on Wednesday.

“It was kicked back to me that my account information is incorrect,’’ he said.

The whole thing here.

What I mean by fair: We really don’t know what the problems are behind the federally controlled sites. Traffic numbers are all over the place and, as of yet, we’re not getting the actual number of people who are able to create accounts, and more importantly, the number of people applying for actual insurance. This article does a good job highlighting the problems as we know them, without speculating that they will either be a huge success or failure. 

A Reporter in Tennessee Tries to Enroll in Obamacare Every Which Way



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And fails. She tried on the web, on the phone at the state and federal level, and in person. Nothing. And the building she was instructed to drive to and apply in person was actually vacant.

I tried yesterday and today to get me some Obamacare and failed as well. 

CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted earlier, “WH: 4.7 million unique visitors to Obamacare website, 133k calls, 104k web chats requested. WH claims not to have # for folks enrolled.”

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, however. How do they know the unique visitors, calls, and web chats, but have no idea on the actual number of those enrolled? The number enrolled is the point of all this, not the visitors. 

Updates to follow.

 

No Cursing Allowed at Al Jazeera America



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Jimmy Kimmel: What Do You Like More — Obamacare or the ACA?



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Hilarious

 

SNL Spoofs Obamacare



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There were actually a few funny moments in the SNL season opener’s cold open where they spoofed Obamacare. I liked the father who was furious that his son wouldn’t leave the basement now that he had health care until age 26:

 

Doom: Mother Jones Lists ‘48 Ways a Government Shutdown Will Screw You Over’



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There are a few on the list that, over time, need to be funded, but many are just stupid. Like this one:

Fountains: 45 of them will lose water.

Or this one. . .

Golf: Courses at National Park Service sites will close for the shutdown. So at least we have that going for us.

And this. . .

Ponies: The Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro adoption programs would cease.

Seriously? These make the list?

 

CNN Cancels Clinton Documentary



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Politico:

CNN Films has decided to cancel its highly anticipated documentary about Hillary Clintonafter director Charles H. Ferguson backed away from the project on Monday, citing a lack of participants due to pressure from Clinton-world.

“Charles Ferguson has informed us that he is not moving forward with his documentary about Hillary Clinton,” CNN Worldwide spokesperson Allison Gollust told POLITICO. “Charles is an Academy Award winning director who CNN Films was excited to be working with, but we understand and respect his decision.”

“[W]e won’t seek other partners and are not proceeding with the film,” she wrote.

In a blog post on Huffington Post, Ferguson said that pressure from Clinton aides and supporters, as well as the Republican National Committee, cast a chilling effect on potential sources and interview subjects.

“When I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film,” Ferguson wrote. “Not Democrats, not Republicans — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. Not even journalists who want access, which can easily be taken away.”

Ferguson explains that upon signing his contract with CNN Films, he began receiving pressure from Clinton press secretary Nick Merrill and Clinton aide Philippe Reines, “who contacted various people at CNN, interrogated them, and expressed concern about alleged conflicts of interest generated because my film was a for-profit endeavor.”

Remember that Reince Priebus shut-out CNN from hosting a GOP primary debate because of this documentary, a move I called “idiotic” at the time because “if the Hillary documentaries were biased, that’s an easy talking point in the debate.” It turns out Team Clinton was worried the documentary wouldn’t portray Hillary positively enough. Well, duh. How can you make a documentary, even a biased one, and gloss over everything that might anger Hillary Clinton? You can’t.

I guess Priebus can still say that this shows CNN’s leftist bias because they’re afraid of the Clintons, but that would’ve been a much more powerful point to make if he hadn’t cut CNN out in the first place.

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