AOL executive Tim Armstrong last week publicly worried about how ObamaCare is impacting his company, but only CBS highlighted this complaint. NBC, instead, focused solely on his "outrageous" comments about how seriously ill babies have impacted AOL's 401k plan. ObamaCare went unmentioned.
In a CNBC interview on Friday, Armstrong explained why the company would cut retirement benefits: "As a CEO and as a management team, we have to decide: Do we pass the $7.1 million of Obamacare cost to our employees? Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut benefits?" On Monday's CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose wondered, "Are a lot of CEOs concerned about the cost of Obamacare? " Pollster Frank Lutz appeared and retorted, "Almost every one I deal with." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
The crisis communications expert added that executives are trying to decide how to deal with the increased costs from the new health care law without "causing an uproar." He added, " Don't forget. There was certain promises made about the health care legislation three years ago that have proven not to be true."
In addition to talking about ObamaCare last week, Armstrong raised concerns when he blamed the decision to rein in 401k spending on "distressed babies." In a company conference call, the executive blurted, "We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were okay in general."
Over two segments and six minutes, the journalists at CBS This morning managed to balance both parts of the stories.
The same cannot be said for NBC. On Monday's Today and Sunday's Nightly News, journalist Kristen Dahlgren solely focused on Armstrong's remarks about "distressed babies."
Deanna Fei is the wife of the AOL-owned Huffington Post employee. She spoke out against Armstrong's remarks about her baby. Yet, Fei also mentioned his health care argument. Talking to Dahlgren, she noted, "I think it's important to have the national conversation about health care spending that we are having."
Yet, the journalist never explained this comment, leaving Today viewers in the dark as to what she meant.
Additionally, Fei referred to the importance of protecting "tiny, vulnerable and perilous babies, such as her own. The abortion-friendly NBC isn't often concerned with such issues, yet managed to cover this story.
ABC ignored the story on Good Morning America and World News.
A transcript of the second CBS This Morning segment from February 10 is below:
CHARLIE ROSE: CBS News analyst Frank Luntz is an expert in crisis communications. He has worked with top CEOs and politicians. Frank, good morning.
FRANK LUNTZ: Good morning.
ROSE: Has Armstrong – will this satisfy his critics?
LUNTZ: In some ways no it won't and it will never fully go away. There are certain lessons in this, two in particular. Number one, you never personalize a decision for a corporation. You've got thousands of employees. If they think that they're being victimized, they'll never forgive you and second that you don't politicize. And he used the word ObamaCare. As a CEO, you want to call it the Affordable Care Act, even though those who oppose it refer to it as ObamaCare. The language that he used was ineffective and got him into an awful lot of trouble.
NORAH O'DONNELL: Well, first of all, in an interview on CNBC he seemed to blame ObamaCare and then on this conference call with employees, then he blamed these two distressed distressed babies for the reason that everyone in the company's 401k plan would be changed. Is his apology going to be enough?
LUNTZ: I'm not sure and I wan to broaden this, because CEOs go through this every week. And every politician and every CEO that runs into Obamacare, it's like a buzz saw and there are others. The CEO of Whole Foods got into a lot of trouble and he's on the left criticizing the President's health care act. The first thing you have to do is prove your intentions, that your intentions are good, that it's really about the welfare of the employees and the company. Second, you've got to address the bigger picture. They just don't want to look at it in terms of 401k or health care. They want know wait means in the future, five, ten years, or beyond. And, third, you have to respect those who disagree with you. What Armstrong in discussing it at the town hall was give a declaration. What he should have done is listen and learn. Ask them questions. Explain the policy without politics and then pull in what they think.
ROSE: You mean listen before you speak?
LUNTZ: I know it sounds so simple. You'd be amazed at how often they get it wrong. But Charlie, by 69-31, the American people want business leaders involved in policies because they think they have more to answer, better promise offers than elected officials and over 80 percent trust their own leadership when it comes to policies like this. So you've just got to do it carefully.
ROSE: Are a lot of CEOs concerned about the cost of Obamacare?
LUNTZ: Almost every one I deal with. And they're running through the same issues as Armstrong did which is how to explain it so they don't cause an uproar but how to deal with now it so they don't have the financial ramifications of it. Don't forget. There was certain promises made about the health care legislation three years ago that have proven not to be true. Nevertheless, no one wants to be in a CBS Morning News profile like you just did of Tim Armstrong which is going to make them very nervous about what they say and how they say it.