You could call it bias-by-boring-headline. This typically happens when liberal Democrats do something scandalous or at the very least questionable and a major newspaper covers the story and publishes it, but headline editors give it such a milquetoast headline as to essentially tell the reader,"You'll fall asleep reading this. Move along."
That's essentially the case with the Washington Post's headline* this morning for a story about how Democratic state legislators in Maryland are circling the wagons to protect 2014 gubernatorial front-runner Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) from a steady stream of bad ObamaCare-related news which could sink his chances for the Democratic nomination and/or the governor's office in November.
The story itself -- written by Post staffers Jenna Johnson and Mary Pat Flaherty -- is relatively good, but Post editors did their underlings no favors with the bland headline choice. "Health probe timing decried," droned the non-descript headline. "Md. critics see political motives," added the first subhead. "Likely delay of inquiry could help Brown," the second subheader added.
All in all, it's pretty bland and bloodless. A better headline might have read "Delay of ObamaCare probe could benefit Lt. Gov." with a subheader explaining how "Rivals see cynical partisan motives at play."
That would have been a perfectly fair description but written in a way to pop out at the reader and draw him or her in to read the piece.
Here's an excerpt of Johnson and Flaherty's story. You can read the full piece here (emphasis mine):
For nearly two months, top Maryland leaders have promised to investigate what went wrong with the launch of the state’s online health insurance marketplace. But they have been vague on when or how that would happen.
Last week, legislative leaders said that instead of continuing to question health officials and request documents, they are likely to defer to a previously scheduled state audit of the exchange that is expected to begin this summer and could take a year to complete. That angered many Republicans and some Democrats who want a full accounting now.
They said that a delay could also spare Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is running for governor, from having to publicly address more questions about the exchange before the Democratic primary on June 24 or the general election in November. Brown was tasked with implementing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in Maryland.
“We don’t have time to wait,” said Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor. “I don’t know anybody in Annapolis who feels like they have their hands around what is still problematic.”
Maryland was one of 14 states that opted to launch their own online health insurance exchanges, created as part of the Affordable Care Act, instead of relying on the federal marketplace. But the roll-out of Maryland’s plan has been one of the most troubled. The Web site crashed on its first day of operation and has been plagued with problems that have made it difficult for Marylanders to sign up for health insurance. Two of the contractors that built the online exchange continue to fight.
Jared Smith, the lieutenant governor’s communications director, said Brown is working with others to find the “best way to do a comprehensive and meaningful review, deliver accountability.” In the meantime, he added, the exchange continues to improve.
Brown testified before lawmakers for several hours in mid-January and answered questions about the troubled exchange. Brown said then that he was unaware of impending problems with the site ahead of its launch and had not seen reports about instability.
Although some officials grilled Brown, most saved their most difficult questions for the state’s secretary of health and mental hygiene.
Meanwhile, two contractors that worked on the exchange continue to fight over money in court.
Maryland’s main contractor — Noridian — has a contract worth $193 million, according to a presentation that the exchange’s chief financial officer gave last week. So far the state has paid Noridian nearly $65 million and has unpaid invoices totaling another $13 million.
Noridian hired another contractor, EngagePoint, to integrate different pieces of software together into one seamless operation. Soon after the failed launch, Noridian ended its contract with EngagePoint and went about fixing the exchange itself with few employees and uncertain where to begin, according to internal e-mails obtained by The Washington Post. Noridian then tried hiring back EngagePoint workers, triggering the federal lawsuit.
EngagePoint is seeking $7.4 million from Noridian for work done before and after the site launched, according to recent court filings. Noridian disputes that amount in legal filings. Maryland officials could soon be pulled into that dispute, because EngagePoint has asked the state to withhold the money from Noridian or pay EngagePoint directly. Noridian officials say in court records that withholding money could “significantly” impair their ability to complete work on the Maryland exchange.
Noridian and EngagePoint declined comment, citing the court case.
Of course, an ongoing series of legislative hearings would be incredibly negative press for Brown and his boss, Gov. O'Malley, who is considering a 2016 presidential run. What's more, an ongoing focus on ObamaCare failure could help energize Republicans and Republican-leaning independents while dispiriting Democrats. That's something neither Democrats in Annapolis nor the liberals at the Washington Post -- they rarely endorse Republicans in Maryland gubernatorial races -- want in this election cycle.
*the online version has a different but equally bland headline, "Maryland leaders accused of political motives over long review of health exchange problems."