Tonight on TV, President Obama will address a joint session of Congress in an effort to reclaim the health care reform debate from what most Democrats no doubt perceive to be a new generation of nabobs of negativity. Let’s give the Tea Party crowd credit — they’ve brought guff to a whole new level, and reinforced that America remains a vital democracy given to nattering, and to homemade signs. I suspect Gov. Bobby Jindal will not be tapped by the GOP to offer another button-eyed rebuttal following the president’s address, but Republicans will almost certainly get time from the networks for a rejoinder. 
 
That wasn’t so much the case last week when KLFY, the local CBS affiliate and a card-carrying member of the mainstream media, broadcast an hour-long health care forum produced by a TV station in Shreveport. Indeed, it had all the trappings of a forum: a panel of politicians fielding questions from the public, with a handsome, honey-toned anchorman functioning as moderator. But the panel members — Louisiana congressmen John Fleming, Bill Cassidy and our own Charles Boustany — are all Republican physicians opposed to Obama’s health care reform plans. It was slow-pitch softball with a very shallow fence.
 
Local Dems knew this ahead of time because the forum aired the night before on the Shreveport station, and they were understandably piqued by the one-sided presentation. They sent a letter to KLFY demanding equal time. The station argued the forum was legitimately news-worthy and offered the donkeys 90 seconds to air their grievances immediately following the broadcast. The Democrats passed.
 
It’s a shame it went down like that, regardless of your position on health care reform — both camps generally agree reform is needed; it’s really a matter of how to do it. But KLFY has an obligation as a news station to present both sides of the story, although with the 1987 repeal of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which gave birth to the screaming baby that is talk radio as we know it today, it is apparently not legally obligated to do so. 
 
The forum was also broadcast in Lake Charles, yet there was not so much as a peep about fairness from Democrats outside of Lafayette; in fact, the Caddo Parish Democratic Executive Committee evidently no longer exists, and the latest news on the Calcasieu branch’s Web site is a June release titled, “STAND WITH SOTOMAYOR.” That they are still standing with Sotomayor is a tribute to tenacity. 
 
Rep. Fleming, it’s worth noting, is also CEO of the Fleming Group, which owns Subway restaurant franchises in several states. The 20 percent of his employees who qualify for company-provided health insurance are offered health savings accounts, which the company switched to from a traditional health insurance plan several years ago due to rising premiums. Fleming himself was on the company plan until he became a U.S. representative, at which time he joined the government-run plan offered to members of Congress. The Fleming Group contributes $850 annually to each employee’s health savings account. The annual deductible is $3,300. Do not slip on that hunk of sweet onion teriyaki.

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