Jonathan Oberlander also had something to say about cost containment. Along with Yale professor emeritus Theordore Marmor, and Case Western University professor Joe White, he wrote an article for the Annals of Internal Medicine detailing other options for cost containment, and describing approaches such as health IT and comparative effectiveness research that probably wouldn’t save much money. The authors drew little attention from the media. In a second article, appearing in The New York Review of Books, Oberlander and Marmor talked about the potential for a public plan to control costs, a hot topic for most of the year. They got notes from friends and acquaintances, especially from London, Marmor told me. From the U.S. press, he said, only Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times had called.

In the last few weeks, as Gruber made the media rounds talking about the excise tax, came revelations that he had a sole source government contract, worth nearly $400,000, to analyze health reform proposals for the Department of Health and Human Services. The administration has recently embraced the excise tax. Gruber told Fox News:

NONE of the work I have done in public, or any public declarations I [have] made, has been in any way funded by the administration. That funding was strictly for internal work that I did for the administration and, via the administration, for Congress. All externally visible work and comments, such as my editorials or public reports, have been done on my own time.

Paul Krugman rushed to defend him, writing:

Gruber is a real authority, and the obvious person to fill a needed role. He should have taken more pains to reveal that role. But there was nothing corrupt about the arrangement.

News outlets hastened to offer full disclosure. Gwen Ifill on PBS identified him as a “paid consultant to the Obama administration.” Times public editor Clark Hoyt noted in his column that, in addition to the July op-ed, Gruber had been mentioned on at least twelve other occasions in the Times after he began consulting for the administration. Op-ed writers for the Times must sign a contract obligating them to tell editors about such relationships, and Gruber had signed one. At the end of the online version of the op-ed, it now says had the paper known about his consulting job it may have rejected the piece—or, if the editors had known, insisted on disclosure.

Full disclosure of conflicts of interest, real or perceived, is important. But simply saying Gruber is a paid consultant to the White House is not the crucial take-away from l’affaire Gruber. It’s that the media has been unimaginative or unwilling to find a broader range of sources for their stories. Maybe they wanted to promote Gruber’s line, or maybe they have just been lazy. Either way, the public loses without a fuller picture of the topic at hand.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.