The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform

Earlier today Steve Benen noted that the Republicans faced what would seem an impossible task in defending the status quo in health care, concluding:

They’ve pulled it off, so far, by telling almost comically-ridiculous lies, and managing to get scared, gullible people to believe them. It’s no small feat. Indeed, it’s almost impressive. Conservatives have managed to create a debate out of nothing but partisanship, paranoia, and greed.

A little later, even if this wasn’t his intent, he provided one answer as to how they are pulling this off by quoting the ombudsman from The Washington Post:

The Post publishes health-care reform stories almost every day as it tracks the twists and turns of the epic debate. So it’s surprising to hear from so many readers who ask: Why hasn’t The Post explained what this is all about?

“Your paper’s coverage continues in the ‘horse race’ mode,” complained Bill Byrd of Falls Church. “Who’s up, who’s down . . . political spin, personal political attacks…

However, readers say that too many other stories have been about process or politics. That’s coverage The Post must own, of course. Washington is filled with policy wonks and decision-makers.

But readers seem to be saying: What about the rest of us? Over the past month, dozens have called or e-mailed to urge more explanatory journalism.

Many have said that Post stories routinely assume a foundation of knowledge that they simply don’t have. Some said that they don’t understand basic terms like “public option” or “single payer.” They want primers, not prognostications. And they’re craving stories on what it means for ordinary folks and their families.

In my examination of roughly 80 A-section stories on health-care reform since July 1, all but about a dozen focused on political maneuvering or protests. The Pew Foundation’s Project for Excellence in Journalism had a similar finding. Its recent month-long review of Post front pages found 72 percent of health-care stories were about politics, process or protests.

“The politics has been covered, but all of this is flying totally over the heads of people,” said Trudy Lieberman, a contributing editor to Columbia Journalism Review, who has been tracking coverage by The Post and other news organizations. “They have not known from Day One what this was about.”

When people do not understand the basic terminology used in discussing health care reform, and are unclear as to what is in the actual legislation, it makes it far easier for right wingers to spread their distortions. Instead of reading about the details of the legislation in the newspapers, they are hearing lies from a crazy lady writing on Facebook in Alaska and other right wingers.

Matthew Yglesias added:

This is, of course, the media’s characteristic flaw. The bulk of reporters and editors at major political media institutions have almost no understanding of substantive public policy issues. And they conjoin to their ignorance a kind of contempt for people who do understand them. Consequently, people who are interested in such matters tend to be driven out of the institutions in questions. Instead, you get a self-replicating cadre of self-congratulatory and shallow people who enjoy doing this kind of coverage while sneering at people who care about substance.

The bias toward process stories is not ideological in its intent, but it’s strongly ideological in its impact. Creating public confusion and ignorance while obscuring what’s really happening tends to favor elites versus people of modest means, it favors the status quo over change, it favors insiders over outsiders, and it favors narrow interests over the public interest.

This isn’t to say that there is no coverage of the facts of health care reform in the media. It is there if you look for it, and the actual legislation can be read on line. Unfortunately the facts are getting drowned out by the right wing noise machine. Perhaps if a larger percentage of news stories dealt with the facts of health care reform as opposed to process stories, often spending much of the time reporting without comment on the false claims of the right, newspaper readers would  be better informed as to the actual facts.

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  1. 1
    Rachel Paul says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values

  2. 2
    jacksmith says:

    NO CO-OP’S! A Little History Lesson

    Young People. America needs your help.

    More than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 77% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (86% of democrats, 75% of independents, and 72% of republicans). Basically everyone.   

    According to a new AARP POLL: 86 percent of seniors want universal healthcare security for All, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. And 79% of seniors support creating a new strong Government-run public option plan, available immediately. Including 89% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, STUNNING!! Senator Max Baucus, You better come out of committee with a strong government-run public option available on day one.

    The History:

    Our last great economic catastrophe was called the Great Depression. Then as now it was caused by a reckless, and corrupt Republican administration and republican congress. FDR a Democrat, was then elected to save the nation and the American people from the unbridled GREED and profiteering, of the unregulated predatory self-interest of the banking industry and Wallstreet. Just like now.

    FDR proposed a Government-run health insurance plan to go with Social Security. To assure all Americans high quality, easily accessible, affordable, National Healthcare security. Regardless of where you lived, worked, or your ability to pay. But the AMA riled against it. Using all manor of scare tactics, like Calling it SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!! :-0

    So FDR established thousands of co-op’s around the country in rural America. And all of them failed. The biggest of these co-op organizations would become the grandfather of the predatory monster that all of you know today as the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT health insurance industry. And the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT healthcare industry.

    This former co-op would grow so powerful that it would corrupt every aspect of healthcare delivery in America. Even corrupting the Government of the United States.

    This former co-op’s name is BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD.

    Do you see now why even the suggestion of co-op’s is ridiculous. It makes me so ANGRY! Co-op’s are not a substitute for a government-run public option.

    They are trying to pull the wool over our eye’s again. Senators, if you don’t have the votes now, GET THEM! Or turn them over to us. WE WILL! DEAL WITH THEM. Why do you think we gave your party Control of the House, Control of the Senate, Control of the Whitehouse. The only option on the table that has any chance of fixing our healthcare crisis is a STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION.

    An insurance mandate and subsidies without a strong government-run public option choice available on day one, would be worse than the healthcare catastrophe we have now. The insurance, and healthcare industry have been very successful at exploiting the good hearts of the American people. But Congress and the president must not let that happen this time. House Progressives and members of the Tri-caucus must continue to hold firm on their demand for a strong Government-run public option.

    A healthcare reform bill with mandates and subsidies but without a STRONG government-run public option choice on day one, would be much worse than NO healthcare reform at all. So you must be strong and KILL IT! if you have too. And let the chips fall where they may. You can do insurance reform without mandates, subsidies, or taxpayer expense.

    Actually, no tax payer funds should be use to subsidize any private for profit insurance plans. So, NO TAX PAYER SUBSIDIES TO PRIVATE FOR PROFIT PLANS. Tax payer funds should only be used to subsidize the public plans. Healthcare reform should be 100% for the American people. Not another taxpayer bailout of the private for profit insurance industry, disguised as healthcare reform for the people.

    God Bless You

    Jacksmith — Working Class

    Twitter search #welovetheNHS #NHS Check it out


    Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (

    American HEROES!!  🙂 Click replay to play


  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The sad fact is that newspapers know that if they were to carry the hard facts of health care reform they would be attacked relentless by Republicans as ‘the liberal media’ and feed the criticism of professional journalism offered by ‘victims of media bias’ like Sarah Palin. So they don’t print the facts of the legislation so as not to be accused of Democratic, pro-reform bias by the GOP.
    I’ve mentioned this before in comments on several blogs and keep intending to write about it on my own: The big problem with mainstream political journalism is that it gutless. It is unwilling to commit to objective facts because the objective facts might bring one party to accuse the news media of bias. So one covers both side’s claims with a neutral disinterest that promotes the assumption that both sets of contradictory ‘facts’ are equally valid.
    The appearance of bias is such a severe threat that the substance of journalism is forgotten.

  4. 4
    USHealthcareIT says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values: The Post publishes health-care reform stori..

  5. 5
    Fritz says:

    Gosh — the AARP leadership generates a poll that finds overwhelming support for what the AARP leadership wants.  How… amazing.  Any poll that finds 86% agreement on a position I automatically put with Internet polls.  I would need to see the methodology and exact wording of the poll before considering it anything but junk.
    Just poked around their site…  AARP has a self-renewing BoD.  None of that tedious “voting” for its members.  One of the reasons my wife and I are not members.
    Fritz — Typing Class

  6. 6
    Rachel Paul says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values

  7. 7
    Duncan Paisley says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values

  8. 8
    USHealthcareIT says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values: The Post publishes health-care reform stori..

  9. 9
    Duncan Paisley says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values

  10. 10
    Bill Hardin says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values: Perhaps if a larger percentage of news stor..

  11. 11
    Gail says:

    These are all the same words, same speeches given back when the government invented HMOs to give competition and reduce insurance rates. All that the HMOs did was drive other insurance options out and force people in those areas into HMOs. HMOs rewarded doctors for withholding care and the president mentioned withholding care in his speech. Same reasoning, same bad plan.  It ended with people dying from long waits and from care being withheld.
    The fact that even if a public option is passed it will not go into effect until 2013, safely past the next election, tells the truth about everyone in D.C. knowing that the people will hate it and be furious as soon as they see it is the bad old HMO scheme but even worse.
    There is a lot through passing laws the government can do to help, but they need to stay out of running health insurance or health care. A few more years won’t bring a revelation on how to revive a dead horse back to life and it won’t bring one for how to make a national HMO work that angry and unhappy people are forced into.

  12. 12
    Bill Hardin says:

    » The Media and Misinformation on Health Care Reform Liberal Values: Perhaps if a larger percentage of news stor..

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:


    You sure have things twisted here. It is the insurance industry, not government, which turned to HMO’s and used them to increase profits, often by withholding care.

    One of the points of health care reform is to do something about insurance companies which withhold necessary care. The withholding of care by insurance companies is the reason that government needs to be involved to prevent this from happening.

    It takes several years to phase in new insurance regulations and plans. This is not due to it being past the next election.

    The public plan is being suggested as a choice for those who choose it. Most people will remain with private insurance. There is no “national HMO” being developed.

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