You can give MSNBC’s Morning Joe crew credit for this much: they spent almost half an hour on Tuesday’s show discussing the NBC News report that President Obama knew that millions of Americans would lose their current health insurance plans because of ObamaCare. Host Joe Scarborough seemed appropriately outraged that the president knew about this even as he repeatedly insisted that those who liked their health insurance could keep it.
Curiously, however, neither Scarborough nor any of his guests ever accused the president of “lying.” They never called him a “liar,” said he “lied,” or used any form of the infinitive “to lie.” This gave the impression that they remain cowed by the Obama administration. This is MSNBC, after all. The former Republican congressman from Florida may gnaw on the hand that feeds him, but Scarborough knows not to clamp down and break skin. [See video below the break. MP3 audio here.]
Rather than coming out and saying the president lied, Scarborough opted for softer language, often a variation on “not true.” He accused Obama of “saying things that he knew were not true.” Later, he claimed that the president “knew he was not telling the truth.” Twice he blasted Obama’s assurances that “ended up not being true.”
At one point Scarborough softened up his language even more and said the president “misled” us all:
"I mean, they can try to talk about the policy right now, but they’re not going to get to talk about the policy until they first explain why the president misled the American people for five years."
He also got fancy:
"I would never, on my key landmark piece of legislation, tell the American people something that was diametrically opposed to the truth over and over and over and over and over and over and over again over the past five years."
The most telling moment came during the second hour of the show. Scarborough asserted, “Based on this NBC News investigation, the president knew he was...” At this point, the host paused momentarily, as if he was considering what to say next. The word “lying” would have been sufficient to complete that sentence, but Scarborough found a wimpier synonym to use. With the shadow of a smirk on his face, he continued, “...telling deliberate untruths.” It looked like a conscious effort to avoid calling the president a liar.
Scarborough was not the only one on the program who couldn’t bring himself to utter the L-word. The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein borrowed one of Scarborough’s verbs when he proclaimed, “Let’s concede that the White House did mislead when it said that you can keep the policy that you have.”
Julie Pace of the Associated Press fretted that the administration was “having to answer questions about whether the president was quite honestly telling the truth to the American people.” Later, she mildly wondered, “[I]s that good policy to essentially be dishonest to the American people?”
Don't get me wrong. It was great to see the Morning Joe panelists spend so much time debating this important development in the ongoing ObamaCare saga. It was even better to see Scarborough slam the president for being dishonest. But it was odd to hear the host and his guests refuse to directly say the president lied when they had multiple opportunities to do so. Their soft language blunted the overall impact of their criticism.
Below are some relevant highlights from the episode:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: [President Obama] would point to those terrible Republicans, saying, “Oh, they’re lying. They’re trying to scare you and tell you that some bureaucrat is going to kick you off of your policy. No. I’m here to assure you, as the president of the United States, if you like your plan, you get to keep your plan.” Not only is that not true, Lisa Myers’ reporting shows this morning that he knew it wasn’t true and went on saying it anyway.
SCARBOROUGH: What I’m suggesting is I would never, on my key landmark piece of legislation, tell the American people something that was diametrically opposed to the truth over and over and over and over and over and over and over again over the past five years.
JULIE PACE: It is a real problem when you have, on the one hand, these tremendous issues with the website. Just over the weekend, we had a whole ‘nother set of problems that hadn’t been discovered until now. So you have that component of it. Every day they’re having to answer questions about that. And now they’re having to answer questions about whether the president was quite honestly telling the truth to the American people, so those are not things you want to be dealing with at this stage.
SCARBOROUGH: And now Lisa’s component, the third component of the story, which is the president, if the report is correct, and I know it is, the president’s been telling things to the American people that he and his administration have known aren’t true.
SCARBOROUGH: Has anybody tried to justify – because, I mean, they can try to talk about the policy right now, but they’re not going to get to talk about the policy until they first explain why the president misled the American people for five years. Has anybody tried to explain away to you how this happened?
SAM STEIN: Let’s concede that the White House did mislead when it said that you can keep the policy that you have. There are important things to note here.
SCARBOROUGH: And then third, Lisa Myers’ report this morning talking about all those assurances the president gave about people being able to keep their insurance actually ended up not being true at the end.
SCARBOROUGH: Chuck Todd, the sticker shock story out of L.A, L.A. Times – man, that’s a lot more damning to this administration and supporters of ACA than, say, these website snafues. That’s just an embarrassment. But you stack that with the president’s assurances that ended up not being true, this is a real problem for the White House. What do they do?
SCARBOROUGH: The bigger part of this story is, damaging part is, Lisa Myers is reporting that the president was saying things that he knew were not true.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, Lisa Myers’ report is that he knew he was not telling the truth. And he said it at the State of the Union address, he said it in 2012. Based on this NBC News investigation, the president knew he was (momentary pause) telling deliberate untruths, and how do they get around that?
PACE: You could argue that it is good policy to take people who are on catastrophic plans, who are on plans that have very low levels of coverage and put them on better plans, improve their coverage. But if these people didn’t know that that was happening, is that good policy to essentially be dishonest to the American people?