The Century Foundation's Niko Karvounis has a must-read piece warning that the news media could "derail health care reform":
Policy can get pretty complicated; so the public will rely on the media to help it navigate the ins and outs of the issue.
Unfortunately, reporters aren't health care policy experts. In fact, they rarely ever talk about the issue. In a December report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, out of 3,513 health news stories in newspapers, on TV and radio, and online between January 2007 and June 2008, health care policy made up less than 1 percent of news stories and just 27.4 percent of health-focused stories.
history shows that when health care reform efforts are actually under way, the media ignore policy in favor of more sensational stories.
During President Bill Clinton's efforts at health care reform in the 1990s, for example, media reports disproportionately focused on politics rather than policy. In their 1998 book Politics, Power, and Policymaking: The Case of Health Care Reform in the 1990s, Missouri State University professors Mark Rushefsky and Kant Patel found that that in 1993 and 1994 -- the height of public debate over Clinton's plan -- the New York Times reported just 257 stories about policy considerations (proposed reforms and solutions, analyses of options) and a whopping 549 on politics (personalities, disagreement, partisanship). When the nation's health care system was at stake, spats received more coverage than substance.
Sean Hannity falsely asserted that Sen. Barack Obama promises "to nationalize our health care," and said his is a "false promise." In fact, Obama has not proposed, much less promised, to nationalize health care.
The Washington Post, The Washington Times, the Associated Press, and The Hill reported Sen. John McCain's claims that Sen. Barack Obama is "offering government-run health care" and "an energy plan guaranteed to work without drilling," without noting that both claims are false. Obama has not proposed "government-run health care" and Obama's energy plan calls domestic oil and natural gas production "critical to prevent global energy prices from climbing even higher."
The Boston Globe uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's false claim that Sen. Barack Obama proposes to "fine" small businesses that do not provide employee health insurance. While Obama has proposed requiring large businesses that do not provide employer-sponsored health coverage to pay a percentage of their payroll into a National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans purchase private health insurance, small businesses would be exempt.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sen. John McCain's assertion that Sen. Barack Obama's health-care plan "will force them into a new huge government-run health care program" without also reporting that the claim is false.
Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee falsely claimed that, under Sen. Barack Obama's health-care plan, "the government will be in control," and that "we're going to be rationing it." In fact, Obama has not proposed government-run health care. Indeed, Obama's website specifically states that, under his proposal, individuals "will not have to change plans."
CNN.com's Political Ticker blog uncritically repeated the false claim by Sen. John McCain that Sen. Barack Obama favors "hav[ing] the government take over the health care system in America." In fact, Obama has called for individuals to choose their own insurance and has not proposed that the "government take over the health care system in America." CNN has repeatedly uncritically aired -- or repeated -- similar attacks by McCain.
The New York Times' John Harwood wrote that Sen. John McCain "prevailed over a field of Republicans who almost unanimously shared his support for the Iraq war, embrace of President Bush's tax cuts, skepticism toward government-run health care and opposition to abortion rights," while Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton "both staked out opposite ground from Mr. McCain." But neither Obama nor Clinton has proposed "government-run health care"; the Times has previously pointed out that McCain has "inaccurately described Obama's and Clinton's health care proposals" by likening them to "government-run health care systems."
The Associated Press' Liz Sidoti reported without challenge several attacks Sen. John McCain recently made against Sen. Barack Obama, including what Sidoti referred to as his "ready response" that a "significant difference between myself and Senator Obama" is that "I am not going to dictate that the government decide what your health care is going to be." In fact, Obama's plan does not allow for government control of health care; rather, it calls for individuals to choose their own insurance.
On The Situation Room, Dana Bash uncritically aired a clip of Sen. John McCain saying of health care plans put forward by Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama: "This will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly." In fact, neither Clinton nor Obama has proposed a "government monopoly" on insurance coverage; rather, both have called for individuals to choose their own insurance.
The New York Post's Charles Hurt wrote that when Sen. Hillary Clinton proposed national health-care reform as first lady, "Americans revolted over her proposals," adding that "she still doesn't understand that most people believe the federal government is the only thing that could actually make health care worse." In fact, recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans support health-care reform proposals that expand the government's role.
On Fox News, Sean Hannity said to Sen. John McCain, "You've said three times in the last week or week and a half that you promised no new taxes. You mean none." In response, McCain said, "None." However, in a Wall Street Journal interview, McCain did not rule out raising taxes. Later in the Fox News interview, Hannity suggested that Sen. Hillary Clinton's health care proposal would "nationalize health care," and McCain replied, "We tried this. We've seen this movie before back in 1993, OK? And it is a government takeover." In fact, Clinton's proposal would not "nationalize health care" or seek a "government takeover" of it.
On Morning Joe, Chris Matthews asserted that "if a Democrat were smart, who gets elected president, they wouldn't go back to the old Canadian model ... single-payer model." In fact, neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. Hillary Clinton has proposed a health-care plan that resembles the Canadian health-care system or a "single-payer model." Matthews also suggested that the Democratic candidates should "take something that looks practical out of Massachusetts with Mitt Romney... and put [their] name on it" and "try some kind of mandated benefit." However, Obama's and Clinton's health-care proposals both include "mandated benefit[s]," and Clinton's plan has drawn comparisons to the plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts.
On The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly aired a portion of a speech in which Sen. Barack Obama said in part, "[T]here's never been anything false about hope." O'Reilly then stated: "Got it. Faith and charity are good, too. We love hope, faith, charity, all that. But that doesn't wipe out the Taliban inside Pakistan or pay for a trillion-dollar entitlement, universal health care." But contrary to O'Reilly's suggestion, Obama has outlined a strategy to combat terrorism in Pakistan and laid out how he plans to pay for his health-care proposal.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote that Sen. Barack Obama's "signature legislation as a state senator, the Health Care Justice Act, merely set up a panel to craft a plan," not, as Obama claimed, "expanded health care in Illinois by bringing Democrats and Republicans together, by taking on the insurance industry." In fact, Obama sponsored a bill that expanded health insurance programs for low-income families in Illinois. Following that bill's passage, more than 150,000 additional people reportedly received health insurance through the programs.