Atlantic City —
Journalist Charles Gibson shared his insights on American politics, health care and the current state of the media at the 23rd annual Stainton Society Brunch on May 6 at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Before Gibson delivered his address, Ronald Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Shore Medical Center, thanked the members of the Stainton Society, an organization which supports Shore through donations. The society, named after Ocean City businessman and philanthropist Howard Stainton, has more than 600 members and has contributed more than $11 million for various projects and programs for the hospital.
Johnson said this year’s brunch was to thank society members who donated $125 million for a Campus Expansion, which include a 138,000-square foot Surgical Pavilion, which opened in September 2011. The Surgical Pavilion includes a four-level, 640-space parking garage and a 27,000-square foot Medical Office Building.
“We all take great pride in our accomplishments, but we’ve only just begun,” Johnson said. “In 2012 we continue to expand our services and continue to deliver the most advanced medical care and the highest quality care in our region.”
Gibson was born in Illinois and graduated from Princeton University, where he was news director for the university’s radio station. He worked as a general assignment reporter in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s and 1980s. Gibson hosted “Good Morning America” from 1987 to 1998 and anchored the evening “World News with Charles Gibson” from 2006 to 2009, when he retired.
Health care from a
On the subject of health care, Gibson said the country is equally divided on the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with 42 percent approving and 43 percent disapproving. He said 7 out of 10 people oppose the law’s individual mandate that requires everyone to have health insurance.
“We can debate how to accomplish universal health care, but there should be no debate about whether we have an obligation as a nation to do it. We have to change the way we deliver health care in this country and get rid of the fee for service model, which only drives up costs,” Gibson said.
Gibson said changing health care would require basing medical reimbursement on patient outcome rather than fee for service.
He said the United States spends more than twice as much per person on health care costs as the average in all industrialized nations, but the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide health insurance for all of its citizens. He said 49 million Americans are uninsured, and the United States spends an average of $8,000 per person for health care.
“I don’t favor either party in this debate. I try to look at it in a moral and practical standpoint,” he said, adding over 45,000 people in America die prematurely each year because they lack insurance.
Health care in the United States is $2.6 trillion business, or about 16 percent of the gross national product, according to Gibson. He said the Kaiser Family Foundation published studies estimating 30 percent of that $2.6 trillion, or $780 billion, is spent on procedures that are unnecessary.
Noting the $780 billion in waste, he said it would take less than half that, or $300 billion, to fully insure those in the country who are uninsured.
Politics: Gibson predicts
election, reserves right
to change his mind
On the subject of politics, Gibson said it was “downright nuts” for anyone to predict the outcome of this year’s presidential race, but did it anyway. He said President Barack Obama would be reelected based on changes in the electoral map, despite his 48 percent approval rating and an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
“He (Obama) is blessed with an opponent (Mitt Romney) who had to go so far to the right ideologically in the primaries, particularly on what would be two critical issues in this campaign – women’s issues and immigration,” Gibson said. “He (Obama) has the advantage of an electoral map that looking at it right now gives him a considerable edge.”
Gibson said the percentage of the minority vote, including African-Americans, Hispanics and women is likely to be greater for Obama this year.
Congress “a disgrace”
Gibson said the U.S. Congress is “essentially nonfunctional.”
“I think it is no understatement to say that the United States Congress is an absolute disgrace,” Gibson said.
According to Gibson, polarization pervades the Congress, with divisions undermining cooperation between the parties.
“Members of the House and Senate consider themselves politicians first and legislators second,” he said. “Political scientists say the two parties are more polarized now in Washington than any time since Reconstruction.”
Gibson attributed some of the political polarization to gerrymandering legislative districts, which require Democrats to run to the left in Democratic districts and Republican to run to the right in Republican districts.
“There is no incentive right now to be a centrist or one who is going to compromise. Voter turnout in congressional primaries in generally quite low, leaving extreme partisans the ones who are most likely to vote,” Gibson said.
He said very few members of Congress live in Washington, and stay from Tuesday to Thursday, returning to their districts raising money for their next election.
Gibson said Democratic and Republican representatives don’t interact with each other socially.
“They don’t see political opponents in the sidelines of their kid’s soccer game. They don’t socialize over dinner with someone. It’s a lot harder to vilify somebody in debates if you like them,” Gibson said.
Gibson proposed changing Congress’ work schedule, and require representatives to work from Mondays to Fridays, for 15 days a month. He suggested a housing allowance for representatives to buy or rent property in Washington, and for Republican and Democratic representatives to travel together on foreign trips.
Gibson said eliminating the center aisle in the chambers of the House and Senate would have Democrats and Republicans seated together, and eliminating the weekly party caucuses would stop incendiary partisan rhetoric.
He suggested the top two vote-getters in party primaries should run in November, giving the voters a choice between two Democrats and two Republicans. Gibson said doing this would create more moderate candidates.
Another whimsical idea Gibson had for improving Congress was installing pubs in the Capitol, where representatives could drink together and mingle.
“Right now the critical part of our government, the part that makes the laws does not work and a whole host of national problems go unaddressed,” Gibson said. “I think fixing this problem frankly is far more important than who wins the White House in November, for whoever takes the oath of office in January is going to face an uncooperative, bitterly partisan, divided Congress and the country’s real problem is going to continue to fester.”
Gibson said the media has also fallen by the wayside in its obligation to inform citizens.
“I’m not crazy about what’s happening in the media which I think is not doing much to make this country a better place. The media right now panders too much to public appetites and ignores their real responsibility,” Gibson said.
He said the media has lurched into the realm of infotainment and espouses blatant political leanings to satiate the political appetites of its consumers.
“There’s a difference in my mind between reporting what the public needs to know and what the public wants to know and right now there’s too much of the latter,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he enjoyed hosting “Good Morning America” and anchoring the evening “World News with Charles Gibson.” He recalled some memorable moments, including covering Hurricane Katrina, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and interviewing various presidents.
According to Gibson, the two watershed moments of his career include election night 2008 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He said competition from cable news and Internet news sites are turning many young people away from traditional news sources, namely newspapers and network news programs.
“The Internet lets you craft your own news. You can go to what you want to learn about. That’s the way people form their news now,” Gibson said. “We need good journalism more than ever right now.”