Cat Duffy

Author ››› Cat Duffy
  • This Is How Media Botched ACA Headlines Again

    Media Need To Stop Falling For The Trump Soundbite Trap

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    News outlets rushed to report on President Donald Trump’s executive order on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without knowing what exactly it entailed, resulting in botched headlines that uncritically repeated the false claims made by the Trump Administration.

    Late on Friday night, Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that Trump had signed his first executive order on the ACA claiming that it would “ease the burden of Obamacare as we transition from repeal and replace.” Even before the official text of the executive order was released, reporters rushed to file stories with wildly inaccurate headlines such as Politico’s “Trump signs sweeping order that could gut Obamacare” and The Washington Post’s “Trump signs executive order that could effectively gut Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.” Others just uncritically repeated Spicer’s framing, like NPR’s headline “Trump Signs Executive Order To 'Ease The Burdens Of Obamacare'.”

    In contrast to headlines suggesting an immediate, dramatic change to the ACA, the text of the executive order reveals that it amounts to a symbolic gesture indicating the dedication of the Trump Administration to dismantling the health care law -- a commitment already known, and one that Trump’s appointees could act on even without the order. These inaccurate headlines are the newest episode in a repeated pattern of news organizations failing to report the truth when covering Trump’s false and self-serving talking points.In the health care context, this pattern is particularly problematic given the massive impact of repealing the law and the degree to which Americans are uninformed about health care.

    These headlines falsely inflated the actual impact of the executive order even as the substance of many of these articles emphasized that the vague wording of the action cast doubt on its actual effects. For example, that same NPR article noted “it's not clear what kind of relief the executive order envisions.” The flawed Politico article emphasized “the order changes nothing immediately and doesn't spell out exactly what Trump would like his government to do,” an important piece of information that was left out of the article's headline.

    Numerous health care policy experts called out the news outlets for their flawed analyses, and underscored that this executive order caused no immediate policy changes and instead reflected “recycled campaign talking points” that amounted to a symbolic gesture until further action is taken. For example, Larry Levitt, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said “this order doesn’t in and of itself do anything tangible” but it sends “a signal that the Trump Administration is not waiting for Congress” on dismantling the ACA. Tim Jost, health law expert and law professor at Washington and Lee College, emphasized that law “doesn’t allow [Trump] to repeal the Affordable Care Act unilaterally” and noted that no action was likely “until the heads of HHS, Treasury, and probably Labor, as well as the CMS Administration and IRS Commissioner are in place.” Five Thirty Eight’s Anna Maria Barry-Jester explained that the executive action “does very little because it doesn’t grant the administration any powers that it didn’t already have” but that it did telegraph “that change is coming.”

    The flawed coverage of Trump’s first executive order is the latest in a trend of inadequate headlines in the coverage of the Republican Party’s moves on the ACA. During an interview with The Washington Post, Trump promised his ACA replacement will guarantee “insurance for everyone,” prompting a spate of headlines that uncritically repeated his vow, despite the fact that he has released no policy details, and all existing GOP replacement ideas would result in millions losing coverage. Similarly, when Trump’s nominee for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, declared that “nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody,” news outlets made the headline his “vow” to not take away health care coverage, when in reality, Price’s own health care policy proposals would gut coverage and seriously degrade the health care system.

    News organizations repeatedly publishing flawed headlines are doing a disservice to their audiences, even if underlying reporting in their articles may accurately contextualize the headlining statements. As The Washington Post reported, “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week,” and “that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are.”

    The gravity of repealing the ACA and the relative lack of public comprehension of health care policy highlights the need for news outlets to do a better job in crafting their ACA headlines. The repeal of the ACA will result in millions losing health care, allow the return of medical underwriting which discriminates against women for being women and against individuals with pre-existing conditions, and will disproportionately impact the marginalized and vulnerable. ACA repeal affects all Americans, regardless of whether or not they get their insurance through the exchanges.

    Additionally, Americans remain confused about what the ACA actually does, as polls show high approval ratings for many individual parts of the ACA while largely disapproving of the law as a whole. A recent NPR poll showed that while most people knew the ACA covered individuals with pre-existing conditions, more than half of the respondents “didn't know that the ACA reduced the number of people who are uninsured to a record low” -- one of the biggest accomplishments of the law. The combination of the enormous impact of repeal combined with the confusion that pervades the health law means that news outlets must be more diligent in crafting headlines for ACA stories, since often that headline will be the only thing the general public reads.

  • CNN Paul Ryan Town Hall Illustrates Need For Aggressive Fact-Checking On Obamacare

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    During CNN’s town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Jake Tapper showed the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation on health care policy -- even in a conversational setting -- by providing strong pushback about funding for Planned Parenthood. But there were several other moments during the event when Ryan pushed false information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Tapper could have fact-checked. Going forward, more media outlets should adopt an aggressive approach to addressing conservative misinformation on health care policy, given the severe consequences of ACA repeal.

    During the town hall discussion of the fight over the ACA, the final question on health care came from an audience member asking where the millions of women who use Planned Parenthood to access women’s health care services will go if the Republican Congress defunds the network. When Ryan falsely tried to claim that providing federal funds to Planned Parenthood “commit[s] people’s taxpayer dollars to fund” abortion, Tapper correctly noted that the Hyde Amendment bans taxpayer money from funding abortions.

    Tapper also noted the hypocrisy in Ryan’s earlier statements emphasizing the necessity of choice in health care policies, asking, “You believe in providing more choice for people when it comes to health insurance, except for Planned Parenthood?”

    But there were also many other opportunities for Tapper to fact-check Ryan as he used the town hall to reiterate stock talking points and push false narratives about the ACA. When asked whether “the government should guarantee health care” for Americans, Ryan falsely claimed that the ACA is failing and that premium spikes were proof that “the law is collapsing.” In reality, during the most recent open enrollment period, more people signed up on the ACA insurance marketplaces than during the previous year, contradicting the conservative claim that people are fleeing the market. Ryan’s claims about premium hikes omit the crucial context that subsidies rise in proportion to premium hikes, mitigating the impact for the majority of enrollees. While the ACA clearly has problems, claims that the law is “collapsing” or in a “death spiral” are clearly false and should be rebutted as such.

    When an audience member who survived cancer asked Ryan how the GOP’s plans would impact individuals with pre-existing conditions, Ryan claimed that “state high-risk pools are a smarter way of guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” While high-risk pools sound like a good idea in theory, they have a long history of problems, as they are typically chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. Similarly, Ryan’s claims about the benefits of refundable tax credits and health savings accounts should prompt substantive follow-up questions, as legitimate critiques raise questions about their effectiveness in reducing costs and maintaining coverage.

    While Tapper illustrated the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation during the discussion on Planned Parenthood, he ought to have also provided substantive follow-up questions and pushback on some of Ryan’s policy claims. Going forward, media outlets should use any interview, in any format, to hold conservative politicians’ feet to the fire on the issue of the ACA -- to prevent the further spread of false narratives and to investigate the efficacy of proposed GOP policies. The lack of consensus on what a replacement plan might look like, combined with the massive impact repeal will have on the millions who have obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, makes it especially vital for the media to ask substantive questions about conservative claims on health care policy.

  • Miami Herald Outshines Other Major Florida Newspapers On ACA Coverage (But The Bar Is Low) 

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Republicans are pushing forward with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Florida is one of the states that stands to lose the most if health care reform is rolled back. Yet over the past two months, the top Florida newspapers -- the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Times, and the Orlando Sentinel -- have largely failed to convey the impact of repeal on many of the state’s vulnerable residents. While there were coverage flaws across the board, the Miami Herald outshone the other major newspapers.

  • Trump's Press Conference Shows Media Must Scrutinize HHS Nominee Tom Price

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    President-elect Donald Trump dodged a question during his January 11 press conference about how he plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and whether or not the replacement plan would insure as many people, but he did indicate the attack on health care reform will be led by his nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). In light of Trump’s delegation to Price, the media must do a better job of scrutinizing the devastating consequences of Price’s proposals than they have in the past

    A Media Matters study of pre-election coverage found that prime-time cable and broadcast news failed to ask substantive questions about what Trump’s replacement for the ACA would look like. This cannot be the standard going forward.

    On January 11, Trump held his first press conference in nearly six months and took questions on a variety of issues. A reporter asked Trump a two-part question about the future of Obamacare, first, asking for specifics on the timeline for the repeal and replacement of the ACA, and second, questioning whether or not Trump’s replacement would “guarantee coverage” for those who gained insurance under health care reform. During his three-minute answer, Trump provided no specifics on what policies the replacement package might include and dodged the question of whether or not it would maintain current levels of insurance coverage, instead insisting:

    DONALD TRUMP: We're going to be submitting as soon as our secretary is approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan. It‘ll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously.

    Trump’s answer, while not containing any policy specifics, did reveal two key things about the upcoming ACA fight.

    First, Trump’s reluctance to answer whether or not his replacement will cover as many individuals as the ACA does is a trend, not an anomaly. As Vox senior editor Sarah Kliff and other reporters have noted, Republicans continue to dodge and obfuscate when pressed for details on how their ACA replacement will maintain the coverage expansions achieved since 2010. According to a December 15 article in The New York Times, a Republican congressional aide promised that the GOP plans would guarantee “universal access” of health care and coverage but provided no details about how this would improve on existing law.

    Second, Trump’s claim that his administration would submit a plan “as soon as [his] secretary is approved,” seems to indicate that his replacement package would closely resemble the legislation authored by his HHS nominee, Tom Price. Price’s bill, the “Empowering Patients First Act,” is the most developed health care replacement of all the Republican plans. (After dozens of symbolic votes to repeal the ACA and six years of campaigning against the law, Price is the only congressional Republican to actually put a replacement plan together in legislative language.)

    Price’s plan would gut access to health insurance in the U.S. and eliminate the essential health benefits package -- allowing insurers to determine whether or not things like maternity care should be covered. This dismantling of health care reform would benefit younger, healthier individuals while sending costs skyrocketing for older or sicker individuals. The plan would reinstate high-risk pools, endangering health care access for individuals with pre-existing conditions an ACA provision conservatives claim to want to preserve. Price’s bill would also rescind the ACA’s Medicaid expansion entirely and convert the program to a block grant, blocking access to care for many low-income communities. Additionally, as the HHS secretary, Price could unilaterally reverse the contraception mandate, a benefit he has dismissed because he claims he has yet to meet “one woman” who had trouble accessing birth control before the ACA. If enacted, Price’s “Empowering Patients First Act” would roll back the gains the Affordable Care Act has achieved, leaving millions more Americans uninsured -- as would most of the variants of “Trumpcare.”

    Given that the incoming president suggested during his press conference that he will leave stewardship of repealing and replacing the ACA to his HHS secretary, journalists need to actively scrutinize Price’s record and his proposals for the future of American health care.

    During the January 11 press conference, reporters asked just one question about the ACA, with zero attempts at a follow up, despite the fact that Trump functionally avoided the original question. The initial reporting on Price’s nomination whitewashed his history of opposition to reproductive health care, and largely failed to contextualize the potential impact of his proposed policies on the American health care system. Since Trump hinted at the major role Price might play in the upcoming ACA fight, it is incumbent on reporters to step up beyond their pre-election coverage and take the current job of vetting Price seriously, making clear the disastrous effects his proposals could have on the American health care system.

  • STUDY: Major Wisconsin Newspapers Failed To Contextualize The Impact Of ACA Repeal

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Republicans are pushing forward with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the charge. The top Wisconsin newspapers have largely failed to convey the impact of repeal on Wisconsin residents on a variety of crucial metrics, with little to no mention of the impact on women and minority communities and insufficient contextualization of the potentially devastating changes to Medicare and Medicaid. 

  • 10 Facts Reporters Should Include In Stories About Efforts To Repeal Obamacare

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    The press failed to accurately convey the implications of a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the lead-up to the election. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, media must improve their health care coverage by contextualizing their stories about a potential ACA repeal and explaining the impact it would have on millions of Americans and the health care system as a whole.

    A recent Media Matters study found that in the weeks leading up to the election, television journalists overwhelmingly failed to ask any substantive questions about Trump’s health care policies or the consequences of repealing the ACA. In the two weeks before Election Day, there were only four instances of broadcast or cable news hosts or reporters bringing up a substantive question about Trump’s supposed Obamacare replacement amid 77 segments ostensibly focused on health care. This was not the first time media failed to inform the public about the Republican Party’s extremist health care policy agenda. Another Media Matters study found that evening news shows virtually ignored Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s resurrection of his Medicare privatization scheme, a proposal that could have dangerous consequences for a program relied on by more than 55 million Americans.

    During the campaign, media outlets also lauded Trump for giving a so-called “policy” speech on health care, ignoring that the actual speech contained little to no policy specifics. This lack of attention to detail reflects a broader theme in election coverage, as studies found media overwhelmingly avoided substantive discussion of policy, focusing instead on “scandals” plaguing the Republican and Democratic nominees.

    While cable and broadcast news tended to avoid robust discussions of the impact of health care policy, right-wing media filled the void with rampant misinformation. Since the ACA passed in 2010, conservative news outlets have consistently attacked the health law with complete fictions, claiming it will explode the budget, create death panels, bankrupt Medicare, end in adeath spiral,” and facilitate a government takeover of the health care system.

    Today, media outlets regularly provide Trump surrogates with free airtime to push misinformation and avoid substantive discussion. In a series of January 3 interviews, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was given a free pass on health care policy by ABC’s Good Morning America, which neglected to even bring up the looming repeal of Obamacare. NBC’s Today and CNBC’s Squawk Box failed to push Conway with follow-up questions about how exactly the incoming administration plans to maintain popular health care reforms while repealing the law that created them. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Conway was allowed to push vague proposals for creating health savings accounts and allowing insurers to sell across state lines (both proposals have been highly criticized). When asked if the replacement plan is “ready to go,” Conway deflected by suggesting that planning could not start until Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is confirmed. The Morning Joe hosts failed to raise questions about the potential impact of the policies she promoted and allowed her to deflect from questions about the replacement plan to the irrelevant question of cabinet nominations.

    Trump and congressional Republicans pledged to make repeal of the ACA one of their top priorities, which means the press must immediately rethink its strategy when covering health care policy and focus on specifics. Media outlets must contextualize the impact of repealing Obamacare in terms of the gains that have already been achieved and how those improvements will be affected or reversed by Republican policies. Health care policy is inherently complex and confusing -- it’s the media’s job to break down the complexity and explain how repealing Obamacare will impact the lives of every American.

    1. Passage Of The ACA Has Resulted In The Lowest Uninsured Rate In Recent History

    The implementation of the ACA resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- 8.6 percent in September 2016, down from 16 percent in 2010. According to estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage as a result of the law.

    These gains would be reversed and the uninsured rate would surpass 2010 levels if the ACA is repealed.

    2. The ACA Medicaid Expansion Provided Health Care Access For Millions Of The Most Vulnerable Americans

    The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid extended health care coverage to more than 14 million low-income Americans. Studies of the expansion showed that it helped to combat income- and race-based coverage disparities in the insurance market, improved access to coverage for people with disabilities, and significantly improved state budgets in states that accepted federal funds for the expansion.

    Conversely, proposals to repeal the expansion or reform Medicaid into block grants would gut coverage for at-risk populations and strip insurance coverage from millions of Americans.

    3. The ACA Tangibly Improved Women’s Health Care Coverage

    The implementation of the ACA significantly improved the condition of women’s health care coverage in the U.S. The ACA’s preventive services provision greatly improved access to birth control by eliminating copays -- expanding coverage to millions of women and dramatically reducing out-of-pocket costs. The ACA banned sex discrimination in health care, and put a stop to the widespread practice of “gender rating” in which health insurance companies charged women higher rates for comparable plans made available to men. The law also improved access to maternity care by classifying it as an essential service.

    Repeal of the ACA would permit the return of discriminatory practices like gender rating, reducing overall access to health care and significantly increasing out-of-pocket health care costs for women.

    4. The ACA Helped America Take Huge Steps Toward LGBTQ Equality

    The ACA helped the fight in achieving LGBTQ equality by dramatically improving access to health care for LGBTQ patients often targeted by discriminatory practices (like dropping individuals with pre-existing conditions), prohibiting sex discrimination, and guaranteeing protections to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they reside. Studies have shown that the ACA has reduced the number of uninsured LGBTQ people and decreased health disparities in the LGBTQ community. The law provided marketplace insurance subsidies to nearly 732,000 individuals, and its expansion of Medicaid was particularly beneficial to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and homelessness.

    Repeal of the ACA would allow insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of gender, strip coverage for transgender people and transition-related care, and increase the number of uninsured people by repealing the marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion.

    5. Contrary To Popular Belief, The ACA Extended The Solvency Of Medicare By Over 10 Years

    The ACA has extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, despite false claims to the contrary from right-wing opponents of the program. Discussions of Medicare’s budget outlook typically refer to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance program -- which covers hospital visits, nursing care, and other medical costs. Studies have shown that the ACA has extended the full budgetary solvency of the Hospital Insurance program through 2028, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.” In addition to enhancing Medicare’s budget outlook, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription costs and extending coverage to key services.

    Medicare spending will increase by $350 billion over the next decade if Congress repeals the ACA, accelerating the program’s insolvency. Potential plans to privatize Medicare will gut access to care and cause skyrocketing health care costs for the elderly.

    6. The ACA Reduced The Budget Deficit, Reined In Medical Costs, And Reduced Economic Inequality

    Implementation of the ACA has reduced the budget deficit even more than was originally predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. Studies have shown that since the implementation of the ACA, while premiums have increased steadily, the number of individuals struggling to pay medical bills has steadily declined. While costs overall increase, they have increased by a much smaller margin than they would have if the ACA had not been enacted. Additionally, the ACA helps to combat economic inequality in the U.S., as it increases incomes in low-income households by reducing health care costs through mechanisms like the Medicaid expansion.

    Repeal of the ACA will remove vital checks on health care costs and explode the budget, adding billions of dollars to the national debt over the next 10 years.

    7. The ACA Improved Health Care Access For Minority Communities.

    The ACA helps to fight the significant health disparities among Americans, expanding minority access to free preventive care, improving the overall quality of care in minority communities, and reducing the number of uninsured persons of color. The ACA invested in community health centers, whose patients are primarily minorities. The ACA provided the foundation for other efforts to combat inequities in the health care system for communities of color, including the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

    Repeal of the ACA would significantly increase the number of uninsured people in minority communities and undo the gains made in reducing health disparities thus far.

    8. The ACA Banned Discrimination Against Those With Pre-Existing Conditions

    The ACA banned health insurance companies from engaging in medical underwriting, most commonly known as discriminating against individuals for pre-existing conditions. If the ACA were repealed, an estimated 50 to 129 million individuals -- or between 19 and 50 percent of non-elderly Americans -- could be denied access to affordable health care coverage for a pre-existing condition. This fundamental reform protects millions of Americans from being needlessly priced out of the insurance market or denied coverage for common conditions like acne or cataracts.

    Despite some claims that a Republican-sponsored replacement package could maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, existing potential plans significantly weaken consumer protections and fail to maintain the same level of coverage provided by the ACA.

    9. The ACA Provided Crucial Insurance To Young Adults

    The ACA substantially increased the number of insured young adults -- by 5.5 million individuals -- by allowing them to remain on their parent’s health insurance plan until the age of 26. Given the high unemployment rate for people ages 18-29, this provision provides a crucial lifeline to that demographic.

    While this rule is one of the most popular parts of the ACA, proponents of repeal have yet to explain how they could keep this provision while getting rid of the other parts (like the insurance mandate) that help pay for it.

    10. The ACA Resulted In The Biggest Expansion Of Mental Health Care Services In Decades

    The ACA greatly expanded coverage of mental health care services by requiring that most plans -- including all plans sold in the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplaces -- cover mental health services, classifying them as essential services. By eliminating medical underwriting and requiring parity between mental and physical health services, the ACA extended coverage to those who were previously refused on the basis of their mental health issues.

    While the mental health coverage in the ACA is far from perfect, repeal will undercut the law’s achievements, gut coverage for tens of millions of people with mental illnesses, and roll back other positive gains in related mental health legislation.

  • Reporters: Make “What Is Trump’s Replacement Plan” Your First Health Care Question Because It Wasn’t Asked During The Election

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    In the lead-up to the election, prime-time news shows functionally abdicated any role in questioning what President-elect Donald Trump will offer in place of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it might affect the millions of Americans who gained insurance coverage as a result of the landmark law. Instead of asking pointed questions about Trump’s piecemeal policy proposals, TV personalities focused on negative stories like the 2017 premium hikes and conservative fearmongering about the potential of a so-called “death spiral.” Going forward, media figures must make “What is Trump’s replacement plan?” their first question in any discussion of health care policy and ask necessary follow-ups to pin guests to substantive proposals.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable evening news coverage from October 24 to November 7, TV personalities asked questions about Trump’s potential ACA replacement plans only four times amid 77 total discussions of health care. In total, TV personalities, panelists, and reporters mentioned Trump’s health care plans 13 times, and these mentions occurred exclusively on cable shows, revealing a serious deficit in broadcast coverage of health care in the last weeks of the election. Compounding the problem, nine of the 13 mentions came from either Fox News or a Trump surrogate (like Corey Lewandowski or Kellyanne Conway) on CNN, meaning right-wing media spin dominated the limited substantive discussions of Trump’s plans.

    Media figures’ failure to probe politicians and surrogates on Trump’s plans kept important context out of the health care discussion. For example, during a panel segment on CNN Tonight, correspondent Corey Lewandowski insisted that “Trump has laid out a plan” to let individuals “buy health insurance across state lines,” calling it a “simple solution.” CNN host Don Lemon asked no follow-up questions -- problematic given the numerous critiques of the “state lines” proposal -- and instead changed the subject. Hosts must be prepared with the facts on proposed policies and hold guests accountable for explaining the impact of those policies. Permitting conservative talking points to stand unchallenged allows conservative misinformation to fill the void in a confusing policy arena that is poorly understood by the American public.

    Coverage of health care in the last two weeks of the election largely focused on the news of double-digit premium increases next year on average for insurance plans sold on Obamacare’s online marketplace at Healthcare.gov. As Trump used this news to make his pledge to “repeal and replace” a focus of his closing campaign, news coverage failed to ask important questions about his idea to keep the popular parts of the ACA -- like prohibiting insurers from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions -- while getting rid of other provisions. Instead, TV personalities focused on the premium hikes and fearmongering about the potential for a “death spiral.” The focus on negative news like premium hikes makes sense -- it was an important story that deserved coverage. But that coverage completely eclipsed almost any substantial discussion of what Trump’s replacement plan might include -- a trend reflected in the broader failure to engage in much of any policy discussion throughout the election.

    The overall lack of coverage about the specifics of Trump’s replacement plan represents a fundamental problem in media’s treatment of health care policy and must quickly change now that Trump is the president-elect. A recent study from the Urban Institute showed that 24 million people will lose health care coverage by 2021 if Congress repeals the ACA. Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a known foe of the law’s birth control mandate, a regulation that has dramatically reduced out-of-pocket health care costs for women and massively expanded contraceptive coverage. Repeal could also roll back the gains made in reducing the budget deficit, extending the life of Medicare, and lowering health care costs that resulted from the implementation of the ACA.

    While no concrete plan for a replacement currently exists -- due to Republican infighting -- repealing Obamacare remains a top priority for the incoming Trump administration. Journalists must start asking questions about what a replacement plan will look like, how it will affect millions of Americans who gained coverage under the ACA, and what its true goals are. Every interview or panel segment about health care must begin with the question, “What is Trump’s replacement plan?” and include aggressive follow-ups about how it would function in order to hold the Trump administration accountable and educate the American public on the future of health care in the United States.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday network broadcast evening news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and weekday prime-time news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from October 24, 2016 (the day the Obama administration announced the premium hikes), through November 7, 2016. We identified and reviewed three types of segments -- news reports, panel segments, and interviews. We searched for “Obamacare” or “Affordable Care Act” or “health care” and identified and reviewed all segments in which health care/ACA/Obamacare was the stated topic of discussion, or health care/ACA/Obamacare was discussed by at least two speakers in the segment (e.g., a host asking a single question about the ACA to a guest and the guest responding during a multitopic interview would count).

  • Nightly News Fails, Samantha Bee Shines On Abortion Coverage In 2016

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & CAT DUFFY


    TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee drastically outshined nightly broadcast news shows in its coverage of abortion and reproductive rights during the first 11 months of 2016. The weekly comedy program, in just 31 episodes, spent more than twice as much time as any single nightly news show discussing abortion throughout the whole year, and host Samantha Bee’s coverage both delved into policy and debunked abortion myths, unlike the bulk of broadcast coverage. Broadcast news’ lacking coverage of reproductive rights, particularly in a year marked by several newsworthy events around abortion and abortion access, reflected the media’s larger failure to discuss substantive policy issues and left a gap that allowed conservative misinformation to dominate the national dialogue that did take place.

    A Media Matters study found that ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News spent a combined total of 46 minutes and 11 seconds discussing abortion and reproductive rights from January 1 to November 30. NBC led the broadcast networks in the time spent covering abortion, with 16 minutes and 23 seconds, while ABC and CBS spent 15 minutes and 52 seconds, and 13 minutes and 56 seconds, respectively, covering issues related to reproductive rights. By contrast, TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee spent a total of 39 minutes and 43 seconds discussing abortion from when the program premiered in February through November, meaning the weekly comedy program offered more than double the amount of time any one network dedicated to the issue.

    Throwing the disparity into even sharper relief, Full Frontal’s almost 40 minutes of abortion coverage took place over the course of 15 segments in just 31 episodes, while the nightly newscasts’ 46 minutes total took place over 37 segments in roughly 1,000 editions combined.

    Undercoverage Came Despite The Year’s Many Newsworthy Abortion Stories, And Despite Polling Showing Abortion Was One Of The Policy Topics Voters Cared About Most

    The lack of coverage about abortion on nightly broadcast news shows was totally at odds with the number and scope of major abortion stories in 2016. And a Pew Research Center report on important issues in the 2016 election found that 45 percent of respondents ranked abortion as “very important” in deciding their vote, placing abortion in the top 15 issues of the election cycle. There was no shortage of topics related to abortion and reproductive rights for the newscasts to focus on this year:

    • States Continued To Gut Abortion Access In New And Inventive Ways. States around the country passed a series of laws aimed at limiting access to abortion. In the first half of 2016, “17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. These regulations included a requirement to hold a burial or cremation for any fetal remains (including those from miscarriages), misguided anesthesia requirements for abortions at 20 weeks or later, and even attempts to completely ban abortion.

    • Whole Woman’s Health Struck Down Unconstitutional Barriers For Abortion Access. The Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt dramatically reshaped the legal landscape of abortion rights by clarifying the “undue burden” standard, which limited the ability of states to regulate (and restrict) a woman’s access to abortion. The decision struck down the Texas anti-choice law HB-2, rejecting the “barely plausible” claims that it increased patient safety, thus issuing a strong rebuke to the “woman-protective anti-abortion” rhetoric that permeated the discussion of HB-2 and other Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, of which numerous other states also have versions. 

    • Trump’s Anti-Abortion Campaign Rhetoric And His Election Energized Anti-Choice Lawmakers And Anti-Abortion Activists. President-elect Donald Trump’s attacks on reproductive rights throughout the campaign included pledging to overturn Roe v. Wade, calling for women who have abortions to be punished, and pushing anti-choice myths like that of “partial-birth abortion.” Anti-choice lawmakers and activists, energized by Trump’s election, have continued plotting their assault on women’s health. As Politico reported, “Congressional Republicans are aiming to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood early next year,” in what would be “the single biggest victory for anti-abortion groups in years.”

    • The Supreme Court Punted In Zubik v. Burwell, Leaving Contraception Access In Limbo For Many Women. The Supreme Court in June sent Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidated case brought by religious nonprofits challenging the opt-out process of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, back to the lower courts in a deadlocked 4-4 decision, urging an appeals court to forge a compromise between the two parties and leaving millions of women without contraception access. As SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explained, the nondecision created issues around “how soon the government can work out technical arrangements to provide actual access to the contraceptive benefits.”

    • Congressional Republicans Attempted, But Failed, To Defund Planned Parenthood. Congressional Republicans voted in January to strip $450 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood, marking “the first time a bill defunding Planned Parenthood has made it to the president's desk in more than 40 years,” according to Mother Jones. President Obama ultimately vetoed the legislation.

    • Republican Congressional “Witch Hunt” Targeted Women’s Health Care Providers. The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives continued its “witch hunt” against women’s health care providers in 2016, which has been based almost solely on misinformation and has put abortion providers, researchers, and patients at risk of violence. In their report, Republicans on the panel referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to the Texas attorney general’s office, claiming that the group illegally profited from fetal tissue donations. Congressional Democrats on the panel accused the Republicans of using “McCarthy-era tactics” and abusing their power.

    • A New Report Discovered A Sharp Uptick In Anti-Choice Violence. A report released in April from the National Abortion Federation found “a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” related to abortion. The report called the trend “alarming.”

    The lack of reproductive rights coverage on broadcast news reflected the broader pattern of policy discussions being omitted from election coverage. An October study by Tyndall Report found that evening newscasts dedicated a mere 32 minutes to substantive policy coverage throughout the whole year. Another study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center found that only 10 percent of news coverage during the election focused on the candidates’ policy stances. By contrast, 42 percent of news reports focused on polling and horserace coverage.

    Samantha Bee Artfully Debunked Conservative Misinformation, Which News Media Allowed To Flourish With Its Lack Of Coverage

    The lack of nightly broadcast news coverage on abortion and reproductive rights allowed misinformation about abortion to gain traction in the media and in politics. For example, in the third general election presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace framed a question about abortion around the myth of partial-birth abortion. Trump echoed the partial-birth abortion myth in his answer, outrageously stating that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month [of pregnancy].” Vice President-elect Mike Pence also invoked the concept of “partial-birth abortion” to attack Clinton during the only vice presidential debate. These mentions marked the only two times abortion was discussed in the general election debates.

    While nightly news programs were failing to adequately cover abortion -- and allowing the partial-birth abortion myth to fester -- on Full Frontal, Bee explicitly called out the concept as a myth, exclaiming into a bullhorn, “Partial-birth abortions aren’t a thing.”

    Bee emphasized the “nonmedical” term’s origin as a "right-wing construct” made up by the National Right to Life Committee in the 1990s, and she explicitly called out Chris Wallace for “conflat[ing] partial-birth abortion -- which doesn't exist -- with late term abortion, which does, rarely.” Bee also mocked Trump for his comment about babies being ripped from the womb at nine months, pointing out that “removing a baby from a woman's womb in the ninth month isn't an abortion -- it's a birth.” Bee’s coverage of the third presidential debate set a model for media to call out other media figures and politicians who adopt right-wing media fictions, like “partial-birth abortion,” to attack and demonize reproductive rights and the people who support them.

    Bee also directly refused false claims that politicians and conservative media pushed in defense of HB-2, which the Supreme Court overturned in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. In oral arguments in the case, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller falsely claimed that the regulations the law put in place, which included requirements that facilities where women get abortions meet the same standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, were medically necessary. Keller also asserted that the law wouldn’t reduce access to abortion services because “the six most populous areas of Texas” would be able to perform “over 9,000 abortions annually.” A report for the University of Texas in January found that the law had already “delayed and in some cases prevented” abortions altogether.

    Bee interviewed Texas Republican state Rep. Dan Flynn -- one of the authors of HB-2 -- and exposed the flawed logic behind the arguments that HB-2 supports women’s health care. Bee pointedly asked, “How does removing access to health care increase health care?” and she corrected Flynn when he asserted that abortion involves “cutting on people’s bodies,” noting that “you don’t cut a woman in an abortion, though.” And Bee debunked Flynn’s claims of increased safety and clinic access, asking, “Have you thought about regulating the safety of back alleys? Because that’s where a lot of women will be having their abortions now.”

    Crucially, Bee also spotlighted Americans United for Life (AUL), “an anti-choice group that creates boilerplate bills for lawmakers around the U.S.” that restrict abortion rights. Bee called out Flynn’s lack of knowledge about reproductive health, saying, “you don’t seem to know anything specifically about abortion, really at all,” and explaining -- in a way most news media fail to do -- the process through which AUL’s restrictive anti-choice model legislation is passed in state legislatures.

    Full Frontal offered a clinic in how to properly debunk conservative misinformation on abortion. From her deep dive investigations into long-standing myths to her monologues responding to contemporary events, Samantha Bee set the bar for news coverage of abortion issues.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ media for mentions of “abortion,” “Planned Parenthood,” “women’s health,” “reproductive rights,” “Center for Medical Progress,” “Roe v. Wade,” and “Whole Woman’s Health” in editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and TBS’ Full Frontal that aired between January 1 and November 30. For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of discussion was abortion or where the discussion contained "substantial discussion" about abortion (defined as a discussion in which two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on abortion). We identified four types of segments: a host monologue, a news package or news report, a panel discussion, or an interview. We did not include teasers for upcoming segments. Segments identified were timed using iQ media.

    Sarah Wasko contributed graphics to this piece

  • Trump Admitted He Tweets To Avoid Reporters -- Media Shouldn’t Let Him Get Away With It

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On NBC’s Today, President-elect Donald Trump admitted he uses Twitter to bypass reporters, claiming it allows him to get his messages out “much more honestly.” Trump’s Twitter account is riddled with false claims, vague statements, and fake news stories, but media outlets have nevertheless treated it as a source of credible information, allowing his tweets to drive the news cycle.

    During an interview on NBC’s morning show, Today, host Matt Lauer asked Trump about his continued use of Twitter after the election, despite his promise to “be much more restrained as the president.” Trump conceded that he uses Twitter as a mechanism for bypassing the press, claiming it’s a “modern-day form of communication” that allows him to communicate his messages to the public “much faster” and “much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters, because so many reporters are dishonest.”

    Trump has successfully used his Twitter account to inject favorable stories into the media, such as announcing a deal he made with Carrier Corp. to keep 700 jobs from moving to Mexico. But the Carrier deal included giving $7 million in tax breaks to the private company and doesn’t prevent 1,300 other Carrier jobs from offshoring, which Trump did not discuss in his Twitter announcement. By tweeting the deal, Trump avoided follow-up questions from reporters and was not forced to address the details of the deal or how it was made -- but he did successfully drive the news cycle. CNN ran an on-screen graphic that read “Trump delivers on vow to save Carrier jobs” for part of the day.

    Similarly, Trump proposed canceling a deal with Boeing to build a new Air Force One plane for future presidents, claiming that “costs are out of control.” Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler broke down the tweet, noting that “Trump is not a stickler for accuracy, but there are number of inaccuracies in his tweet.” Trump has also tweeted fake news stories, including that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” That claim was based on an evidence-free claim from a Twitter user that was picked up by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

    Trump has sought to turn his Twitter feed into one of only a few sources of information for the media on him and his transition. His war on the press began during his campaign and has continued into his transition to the presidency. He has not held a press conference since July (he announced a news conference scheduled for December 15, but has not said whether he will take questions from reporters); has continued to harangue the media at campaign-style rallies during his “victory tour”; and has on more than one occasion ditched his protective pool, which is supposed to follow him in order to, among other functions, be on the scene to report in case of major events. At the same time, he and his team have repeatedly refused to answer questions about his and his family’s questionable international business dealings and interactions with foreign leaders, forcing the American press to rely on foreign media for details surrounding Trump’s meetings and calls with foreign leaders.

    He recently responded to criticism of his antagonistic attitude toward the media on Twitter, claiming that “if the press would cover me accurately [and] honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’” But some media experts have suggested Trump’s attacks on the media are not actually driven by a desire to spread honest information, but rather are a concerted effort to discredit the media in order to “inoculate” himself from reporting that could be damaging. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued that Trump used “demagogic techniques” that “smack of authoritarianism” during the campaign because “the media poses a real threat to him”:

    JOHN HUEY: Well, I've seen a continuation of what he's been doing since the very beginning. And the last time I spoke to you, I was stressing the concept of a demagogue and the classic techniques of a demagogue. And one of those is, you have to have a scapegoat, you have to create the idea that someone out there is the enemy. And he started out with Mexicans, he moved on to Muslims, and sometime in the middle of the summer, he really started to focus on the media. And you were one of the first people to pick up on that, and also the election rigging. The media was part of the election rigging. So, these are demagogic techniques, and you can look at them very seriously because they do smack of authoritarianism.

    […]

    One other point, quickly, the reason he has settled on the media over the Mexicans and the Muslims is, the media poses a real threat to him. The media are the people who investigate his charitable giving. They're the ones who look at what we can learn about his tax returns. They're the people who cover the fraud trial of Trump University. So it's very much in his interest to discredit the messenger for those messages.

    Trump’s admission that he uses Twitter to bypass reporters and the media should indicate to the press that they cannot simply report on his tweets without providing proper context or fact-checking. The current compulsion to do so often results in the wholesale repetition of his claims, even when they are inaccurate. 

  • Trump Picks Former Fox News Contributor Ben Carson To Serve As Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development

    Carson Has Repeatedly Expressed Opposition To Government Aid For Poor Americans

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CAT DUFFY

    President-elect Donald Trump has selected Dr. Ben Carson to serve as his secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a former Fox News contributor, has repeatedly said he opposes government efforts to eradicate poverty, and he has a long history of making off-color and offensive remarks during his stint with the network.