Pew Research on Health Care Reform Coverage Validates Need for Media Reform
by Trish Nelson Tracy Kurowski is at a labor conference. Her Labor Update will return next Monday.
Meanwhile, I would like to take this opportunity to write again about the dysfunctional media. Last week, I wrote about the absurd preponderance on Iowa's radio airwaves of conservative talk. Many people mistakenly believe right-wing talk shows do no harm. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pew Research released results to a study last week validating that poor media coverage affects public policy. One of their findings is that the media coverage of health care reform actually worsened people's understanding of the issues.
Pew called the media “a third major player in the health care debate…Much of the battle over health care reform, and much of what the public knew or thought about it, played out through a changing media system.”
Read “changing” as “increasingly chaotic and dysfunctional.” Pew was just being polite.
More from Pew:
“A solid majority of Americans consistently said the health care debate was hard to understand — a number that increased from 63% in July 2009 to 69% in December 2009…”
Guess where most of the coverage was coming from?
“In the talk show sector, the subject was more than twice as big as it was in the media overall, filling 31% of the airtime from June 2009 through March 2010 versus 14% generally.”
According to Pew, progressive talkers generally spent more time (44%) on the issue than did the conservative talkers (26%). Pew explains this a couple of ways. They point out that the “liberal” shows had to spend coverage time criticizing both sides (heartless, conniving GOP and the wimpy Dems), while the conservative talkers only had to focus on one side of the debate, the anti- side. But the number of liberal talk show programs is a tiny fraction of the number of conservative shows overall. So even if the progressives were devoting all of their time to substance, I believe there's no way they could be heard over the din of the right-wing propaganda machine.
If you are mad at the Democrats for the watered down health care bill or anything else they haven't done to your satisfaction, realize this: The fact that it was even being considered, much less that bills were actually passing both houses and they actually did end up making some changes, is totally, 100% due to Democrats. Only because we have a Democratic president and a Democratic congress are we even talking about health care reform at all. In eight years of Bush, the GOP had not the slightest interest in health care reform and they still do not and never will.
Prior to this year, (probably since the Clintons brought it up back in the 90's) there has been virtually no media coverage about our broken health care system, i.e., no information accessible to people through the mass media about the problems in our health system, according to Pew's findings.
“Though the system affects virtually every American and represents about one-sixth of the U.S. economy, it accounted for less than 1% of the overall media coverage in 2007 and 2008 according to data from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.”
Once Obama was elected and began the health care reform conversation, media coverage in 2009 increased, but it was so poor it seems that it actually made things worse.
“Opponents of health care legislation won the message war. A Nexis search of key terms in the health care debate finds that opponents' terms appeared almost twice as often (about 18,000 times) as supporters' top terms (about 11,000).”
Well, this was obvious at the time, but it's still shocking to see the numbers. There's more:
“The three most resonant ideas opposing the Democrats’ legislation were that it was the first step in a government run takeover of the health system; that it would lead to increased taxes; and the likelihood of rationed health care.
Of these three, the terms “government run” health care or a “government takeover” of health care or health care and “government bureaucrats” appeared most often, about 8,800 times in the search results during the 10 months studied. Then came the phrases “tax increases” or “new taxes,” which showed up about 6,700 times. Finally, the idea that health care would need to “rationed” appeared approximately 2,600 times.
And for the supporters' talking points?
“..a series of terms—including “insurance company abuses,” “insurance lobbyists” and “unfair insurance industry practices”—showed up only about 560 times in the Nexis search.
But the following is the most telling of all the stats:
“The debate centered more on politics than the workings of the health care system. Fully 41% of health care coverage focused on the tactics and strategy of the debate while various reform proposals filled another 23%. But only 9% of the coverage focused on a core issue — how our health care system currently functions, what works and what doesn't.” [bold and italics BFIA's]
How could we possibly get a decent bill passed when, not only was the coverage of the facts scant, but the sideshow was drowning out anything of substance and replacing it with “death panel” talking points?
But here's a good news/bad news finding.
“The only sector to really devote significant coverage to the workings of our current health care system was newspapers, which devoted 18% of its front-page coverage to that theme.”
newspapers! So heads up, everybody! Support your local newspaper, write letters to the editor, quit blaming Obama
and the Democrats for the lame health care bill and everything else, and get to work on
For more information about how to take back the media from corporate control and infuse it with the voice of the people, click here