Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Howard Bashford stepped out the recording studio, where he had just rendered a number of takes of a voice-over line – “It’s one of the benefits of the new health-care law!” – for the federal government’s multi-million-dollar television and radio ad campaign.
We button-holed him in the studio’s green room to ask, “Howard, how do you feel about the government spending so much money to promote a law that remains the object of intense political controversy?”
“Oh, we’re not being political at all,” he said, dunking a sugar doughnut in his coffee. “What we’re doing is consumer education advertising. It’s the sort of ‘direct conversation’ Health and Human Services uses every year to let citizens know what we’re doing. You’ve seen our Andy Griffith spot, haven’t you? Now, there’s a guy who can really talk to people – especially the old folks.”
We agreed that Griffith came across like a senior citizen from Mayberry, RFD, but asked why he was promoting the health-care law rather than just the benefits offered.
“In the ads that feature him, you don’t have him explain how to obtain the benefits,” we said. “You have him telling seniors ‘good things are coming’ from the health-care reform law, and, ‘that new health care law sure sounds good for all of us on Medicare,’ which is something of a stretch.”
“We’re just providing context,” said Howard. “Griffith also says, ‘Starting next year, we’ll get free check-ups, cancer screenings and low prescription costs.’ After all, the things he talks about in the ad are in the new law.”
“True,” we said, “but you’re cherry picking, and it sounds like you’re taking part in the political debate that hasn’t ceased since the bill was signed into law.”
“Hairsplitting,” Howard sniffed. “People need to know about new benefits, and I’m willing to bet that when we read the law’s entire 2,700 pages, we’ll find a whole bunch of other goodies we haven’t even imagined yet.”
“How about the cost of this campaign?” we said. “The initial Andy Griffith ad cost about $700,000, and you spent another $3 million or so on ads just in October. You have still more money in the advertising pipeline, don’t you?”
“Of course we do,” Howard said. “You don’t expect us to stop educating the public, do you?”
He regarded his snack speculatively and added, “Have you heard our spot about the new prescription drug benefit for seniors in the ‘doughnut hole’? And how about the new ‘wellness’ visits? Isn’t it worth a few bucks to let people know about those things? Besides, opponents of the law have spent millions attacking it. Even Democrats were telling voters how they didn’t support the bill. We’re just providing balance.”
“Howard, is that the job of the bureaucracy?” we asked. “Isn’t it a bad precedent to have an agency of the federal government – using public funds – involve itself in what remains a contentious political debate?”
“We aren’t being political,” he insisted, “just informative. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back in the studio and record another couple of lines. You can watch from the recording booth if you want.”
So we stood behind the engineer in the booth, watching as Howard settled himself behind the microphone and intoned: “Brought to you by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Ministry of Propaganda.”
Last week an Obama supporter called the president “intensely intelligent.” OK. Let’s see his Stanford-Binet IQ score. Perhaps that could be released along with his birth certificate.
A motto for our time: If the Transportation Safety Administration is dumb enough to fine John Tyner for failing to complete an airport preflight screening, he should be able to pay off the $11,000 fine pronto by selling bumper stickers and lapel buttons bearing his now-immortal words: “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”