By Lambert Strether. Originally published at Corrente.
WaPo’s Alexandra Petrie writes a puff piece about how awesome it is that Obama went on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” but she doesn’t do any fact-checking:
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be with you if I didn’t have something to plug. Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?”
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh yeah, heard about that! That’s the thing that doesn’t work! Why would you get the guy that created the Zune to make your Web site?
Obama: Healthcare.gov works great now!
OBAMA: . . .  They can get coverage all for what it costs to pay your cellphone bill.
GALIFIANAKIS: Is this what they mean by drones?
Obama was telling the same lie back in 2013. Quoting 2013 figures:
[OBAMA:] I can tell you right now that in many states across the country, if you’re say a 27-year-old young woman, don’t have health insurance, you get on that exchange, you’re going to be able to purchase high quality health insurance for less than the cost of your cellphone bill.
First, oddly, or not, Obama’s also making the same claim, except for families, not individuals:
So just think about that. Knowing you can offer your family the security of health care –- that’s priceless. And now you can do it for less than your cell phone bill. That’s what change looks like.
Second, neither claim is true. The average individual’s phone bill is $71 a month. According to the White House’s own doubtless self-serving figures, released today, “a 27-year-old with income of $25,000 will be able to get [silver] coverage [including subsidy] for $145 a month.” So Obama’s only off by 100% for young women. It’s even worse for families: The average family spends $139 a month on cell phones. Again according to White House figures, “a family of four with income of $50,000 will generally be able to buy a silver-level plan for $282 a month [including subsidies].” …. Discrepancies like these actually matter to people who don’t have a lot of money.
Yes, Obama’s claim is a lie, even if you’re only talking about the demographic he’s targeting on “Between Two Ferns.” I’m shocked. And oddly, or not, the Democratic nomenklatura at Think Progress [but never make any!] doesn’t do any fact-checking either. Instead, they go meta:
Not every president would be able to pull off this kind of an appearance, but it’s good Obama is adding it into the presidential repertoire of public relations. It shows that, with some thought, public officials can penetrate even the weirdest parts of the internet.
Well, sure. America needs more and better public relations, especially from the President. And I’m totally certain nothing was scripted or practiced or edited and that Galifianakis gave the President no deference whatever. Everybody agrees! The key thing to get into your mind is the meta! Spontaneity! Pay no attention to the facts behind the ferns, the chairs, or the beard! USA Today:
Obama gave as good as he got, responding that he doesn’t think any president should be able to seek a third term, comparing the idea to Galifianakis’ three best-known movies, The Hangover trilogy.
More meta! More spontaneity! Away with you, pesky facts! HuffPo:
Of course, Obama’s comedic acumen didn’t hurt either. He exchanged quips with the bearded funnyman with ease…
Because it’s all so genuine! A-and also meta! With no facts! Time:
In addition to the plug, there’s some good back-and-forth barbs throughout the episode, and Obama is quick on his feet. When Galifianakis asks him, “What’s it like to be the last black president,” Obama follows up with a sharp, “Seriously? What’s it like for this to be that last time you ever talk to a president?”
It’s like Laurel and Hardy! Or Vladimir and Estragon! Or the Two Stooges! It’s a fun-filled, fact-free laff riot assembled by highly skilled improvisational geniuses! Vulture interviews Scott Aukerman, producer-director of “Between Two Ferns, in a totally non-sycophantic yet somehow incredibly ingratiating fashion. The stenographer’s lead is the spontaneity and meta because not facts!
Obama didn’t just do “Between Two Ferns,” he did “Between Two Ferns.” He took host Zach Galifianakis’s harsh burns and hit back with even harsher ones — “If I ran a third time, it’d be sort of like doing a third Hangover movie. Didn’t really work out very well, did it?” — all in the name of promoting the Affordable Care Act.
And from the Vulture interview:
[AUKERMAN:] It really came around in a week. We heard he was interested, and Zach and I prepped and wrote up a treatment for them to look at, with what we wanted to do with the video and how we wanted to approach it. For me, the most important thing was that it didn’t come across as an advertisement. I really wanted it to be a funny, normal “Between Two Ferns” video. And the great part about it was that the White House was very accommodating of that and didn’t want to get in the way of our process. They didn’t want it to be just any kind of ad; they knew that it had to be funny and it had to be what we normally do for anyone to actually watch it. So, to their credit, they actually stayed out of our way with it. But yeah, within a week Zach and I had pitched what we wanted to do, they accepted it, and we flew out to the White House [laughs] and filmed it.
So, the value-add from “Two Ferns”: They used their brand to make an advertisement for ObamaCare look like it wasn’t an advertisement for ObamaCare (and, into the bargain, helped Obama look like the spontaneous, genuine guy who somehow got to be Preznit, instead of an insurance salesman).
Which is what I like so much about Obama apologists: Their honesty.
To be fair, “Two Ferns” isn’t really any different from Johnny Carson or Jack Paar: Shilling is always the point:
[AUKERMAN:] We’ve done integrated marketing in the shows before, and that’s the great part about fake talk shows, as well: There’s a long precedent of people doing talk shows in order to plug things, so it really didn’t bother us at all.
No, I imagine not. Oh, and speaking of deference, just to raise the teeniest possibility that “Two Ferns” might have given Obama — I hate even to think this, I’m just raising the barest hint of a possibility — the very sweetest of reach-arounds:
Did he pitch jokes?
[AUKERMAN:] I don’t think the president has to pitch jokes, he just says jokes and we enjoy them.
Indeed, indeed. Nice to see Aukerman can keep those critical thinking skills sharp, even in the midst of a lingering and very sloppy wet kiss.
Because lies are one thing!
But lies crafted by political operatives and professional TV people for an absurdist faux-cable-access talk show watched by millions of young people seeking some moments of hilarity in the endless desert of Obama’s “new normal” — that’s just unthinkable!
The administration is spinning Obama’s appearance as a huge success:
— Tara McGuinness (@HealthCareTara) March 11, 2014
As is always the case when the administration sells ObamaCare, the numbers are soft. From IMDB’s entry on “Between Two Ferns”:
Potus was on the program to not only trade insults with the Hangover star, but turn the young kids these days onto the healthcare options available at Healthcare.gov. Senior Communications Advisor to the White House Tara McGuinness tweeted earlier on Tuesday that a decent chunk of the individuals who have now viewed the video more than 7.9 million times since its release at 10:30Am Et on March 11, 2014 have clicked over to the website set up by the Affordable Care Act.
http://t.co/FrO24hdvcA is the #1 source of referrals to http://t.co/0r93BavlrV right now.
— Tara McGuinness (@HealthCareTara) March 11, 2014
What site used to be the top referrer to HealthCare.gov and what the referrals from FunnyOrDie.com equate to in terms of actual visits is not clear.
No. Things like that are never clear with ObamaCare. It’s exactly like Day One of the ObamaCare website, when they tried to spin “unique visitors” as a humongous success, even though the site was utterly broken.
All I can tell you is that Abe Lincoln would not have done it. Serious times call for serious action. Mr. Obama is quick and has a good sense of humor, but he needs to be aware of how his enemies perceive him. Because I believe the testing of America is just getting started.
But seriously, that was so dumb even Joan Walsh could pick up on it:
Fox News has an “Angry Grandpa” freakout: Obama is making them irrelevant
Nice little Boomer hate zinger there, Joan! But to continue:
It’s easy to poke fun at Bill O’Reilly’s freakout over President Obama sitting down with Zach Galifianakis on his satirical Web series “Between Two Ferns.” On one level, it’s a typical case of Angry Grandpa just not getting it – Did he really say “Abe Lincoln would not have done it”? Why, yes he did – but it’s more than that. It’s a case of an entire political demographic panicking over how irrelevant they’re becoming, and how Obama is hastening their passing.
And so, another round of the news-like cycle organized by the legacy parties. Good thing this is only health care, with no lives at stake! Oh, wait…
NOTE  Here’s what’s behind that ellipsis, from a full transcript. The lack of punctuation makes Obama sound hopped up instead of the affectless droner he is:
Obama: Health Care-dot-gov works great now and millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans [although we don’t know how many of them have gotten insurance for the first time, because the administration decided not to collect that data.] and what we want is for people to know that you can get affordable health care [health insurance is not health care] and most young Americans, right now they’re not covered and the truth is [oh?] they can get coverage all for what it costs to pay your cell phone bill.
UPDATE Of course, because ObamaCare’s costs are rat’s nest of special cases and vary randomly by age, location, family status, work status, phases of the moon, and so forth, an average cost is hard to determine. For an individual 27-year-old in Maine making $30,00 a year in Penobscot County, the cheapest plan is $163/month after subsidy ($30,000 is the median for “some college.”) If there’s a cell phone plan that’s more expensive than that, it’s, well, a Cadillac plan.