Louisville Courier-Journal

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  • This Kentucky Paper Shows How To Cover Draconian Medicaid Changes Across The U.S.

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Kentucky’s Courier-Journal led the way in reporting on Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s push to fundamentally change the state’s Medicaid program through a waiver request that would implement draconian policies to cut coverage and hurt vulnerable communities. The Courier-Journal’s coverage of the Medicaid waiver highlights some best practices -- such as discussing specific policy impacts and citing local experts and people affected by the proposal -- thus providing a model newspapers in other states with similar proposed changes to Medicaid should emulate.

    In June 2016, Bevin released a Medicaid waiver proposal called Kentucky HEALTH, which included a series of draconian policies that would gut the state’s existing Medicaid program. Bevin’s waiver has been soundly criticized by experts who emphasize that it would create barriers to obtaining coverage, decrease the use of key preventive services, and harm the overall health of Kentucky’s Medicaid population. Work requirements in particular have been criticized as poor-shaming, since the majority of Medicaid recipients come from working homes and such a policy has never been approved in the entire history of the program.

    However, the election of President Donald Trump and the installation of new leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services mean a new openness to previously rejected policies like work requirements. This shift has spurred a couple other Republican-led states -- Wisconsin and Florida -- to explore the possibility of obtaining waivers so they can include policies like mandatory drug testing and work requirements, a trend that could negatively impact Medicaid beneficiaries across the country.

    The Courier-Journal’s coverage of Bevin’s proposal models the best practices for state-level reporting on attempts to impose cruel restrictions on Medicaid programs -- a model that other outlets should adopt as more state legislatures attempt to enact radical reforms. Here’s what The Courier-Journal did correctly, and the one thing the paper could have improved on:

    1. Discuss Specific Policies Within Medicaid Waiver Proposals And Outline Their Impact On Local Public Health Issues

    The Courier-Journal consistently reported on the specific policies Bevin included in his Kentucky HEALTH proposal, not just generalities about the waiver, and highlighted the impact these changes would have on the citizens of Kentucky. A Media Matters study of the paper’s coverage showed that the majority of its reporting clearly outlined the major policies included in Kentucky HEALTH such as the requirement that “most ‘able-bodied working age’ adults … put in up to 20 hours a week working” or volunteering, the provision to “charge premiums for coverage that is now largely free,” and the elimination of “dental and vision benefits from basic Medicaid coverage.”

    Additionally, The Courier-Journal analyzed how the specific policies would impact Kentucky’s Medicaid beneficiaries. Reporting highlighted the impact the waiver would have on the detection of diabetes -- a huge public health issue in Kentucky -- and the negative impacts on public health of eliminating dental and vision benefits.

    2. Include Information On Public Hearings And Information Sessions -- Opportunities For Citizens To Make Their Voice Heard On Medicaid Proposals

    The Courier-Journal consistently included information on the timing and location of public hearings and other opportunities for citizens to express their views. After Bevin revealed his Kentucky HEALTH proposal, there was a public comment process, in which Kentucky’s Department for Medicaid Services held a series of public hearings and accepted comments from residents. The Courier-Journal outlined how to get more information on the proposal and public hearings, including the dates, times, and locations. As the backlash over the GOP’s American Health Care Act illustrated, when people show up it forces politicians to listen.

    3. Seek Out Testimony From Local Experts And Individuals Impacted By The Medicaid Proposals

    The Courier-Journal bolstered its comprehensive reporting by citing local experts and interviewing individuals who would be impacted by Bevin’s proposal. The Courier-Journal received comments from health care experts like Bill Wagner, the executive director of Family Health Centers, and public health advocates like Sheila Schuster and Emily Beauregard of Kentucky Voices for Health. Articles cited feedback from Kentucky doctors and health care organizations that identified the grave public health problems posed by Bevin’s proposed changes.

    The newspaper also contextualized its reporting by including testimony from individuals who had personal experience with Kentucky’s Medicaid program or would be impacted by the proposal. This type of reporting humanizes public policy debates and provides concrete examples of the consequences of such drastic changes.

    4. Contextualize Proposed Changes To The State’s Existing Medicaid Program

    The Courier-Journal consistently included information on the massive gains in health care coverage achieved by the ACA-facilitated Kentucky Medicaid expansion in its reporting on Bevin’s proposal, which is essential to properly contextualize the policy discussion. Medicaid expansion in Kentucky dramatically increased access to health care for vulnerable communities, aided in the fight against the opioid epidemic, and improved public health through increased use of preventive services. It is important for newspapers to ground their reporting on potential changes to Medicaid in the context of how Medicaid expansion affected public health -- particularly given the false claims propagated by Bevin and his officials about Medicaid’s stability.

    But There’s Still Room For Improvement -- Outlets Must Clarify When Proposals Address Nonexistent Problems

    The Courier-Journal set the gold standard for reporting on state-based attempts to gut Medicaid programs in Kentucky, but there is still room for improvement. The paper largely failed to note that Bevin’s proposed work requirement is a solution in search of a problem. Work requirements operate under the false assumption that programs like Medicaid undermine individual work ethic when in reality, the majority of Kentuckians who gained insurance under the Medicaid expansion were low-wage workers. The Kaiser Family Foundation noted that, nationwide, “nearly 8 in 10” Medicaid-enrolled adults “live in working families, and a majority are working themselves.” Only two of the newspaper’s articles mentioned that the majority of the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries have jobs.

    Right-wing media and politicians like Bevin often demonize Medicaid and push work requirements as a mechanism for fostering personal responsibility and forcing people to have “skin in the game.” Similarly, Wisconsin just released a waiver proposal that would institute mandatory drug testing for Medicaid beneficiaries, which reinforces stigmatizing stereotypes rather than helping actual substance abusers. It is incumbent on news outlets to contextualize proposals to change Medicaid by identifying the actual problems they purport to solve -- and noting when they’re merely right-wing fictions.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko. 

  • Top Kentucky Newspapers Consistently Reported On The Substance And Impact Of Kentucky's Medicaid Waiver

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    A Media Matters analysis of the top two Kentucky newspapers’ coverage of an effort to radically alter the state's Medicaid program found that while both substantively covered the changes and impacts, The Courier-Journal led the way in in-depth reporting on the impacts of a Medicaid waiver on the state. The waiver request submitted by Gov. Matt Bevin included instituting draconian policies like a work requirement and mandated monthly premiums.

  • Newspaper Chooses To Focus On "Troubled Past" Of The Passenger Who Was Violently Dragged Off A United Flight

    Update: Journalism Experts Call Out The "Irrelevance" Of The Information

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL & JOE STRUPP

    This post has been updated with comments from journalism experts. 

    Days after United Airlines passenger David Dao was violently removed by security officials from an overbooked flight, his local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, published a report detailing the man’s completely unrelated “troubled past” and printed photos of his home and office. This the latest in an irresponsible pattern in which media attempt to recast nonwhite victims as criminals rather than interrogating the institutional structures motivating instances of violence.

    On Sunday, videos emerged online of three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers violently dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY. The videos, taken by fellow passengers from several different angles, show three officers physically removing the passenger, Dr. David Dao, from his seat, pulling him to the ground and injuring his face in the process, then dragging his limp body off the plane. In contrast to the raw violence captured in the videos, United Airlines’ “lukewarm” response has so far been riddled with euphemisms, and a letter to United employees disparaged Dao as “disruptive and belligerent.”

    By Tuesday morning, the passenger’s hometown Louisville newspaper, The Courier-Journal, had published a report detailing Dao’s completely unrelated criminal record from over a decade ago. The report also included photos of his house and office (the photo of his house appears to have since been removed from the post). This reporting was not a matter of public interest, nor was it relevant to the incident in any way -- instead, it acted as an attempt to redirect public conversation from corporate power, institutional violence, and potential racism to a singular focus on an individual’s past actions.

    Quality journalism holds power to account. But we’ve seen journalists focusing instead on  investigating individuals who have been subject to institutional violence before -- and writers are highlighting the ethical implications of this continuing practice, even as the paper defends its piece and others gear up to engage in the same character assassination:

    UPDATE:

    In comments to Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp, journalism experts and reporters were critical of the Courier-Journal’s decision to publish Dao’s history.

    Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, said he was “appalled that the Courier-Journal would dredge up this passenger’s personal history, which is not only irrelevant to the incident but is tied to a crime that occurred 13 years ago and has been fully adjudicated. The effect of this article is to further victimize the victim.”

    Former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard said the article was “such an overreach.” She added, “His personal life, troubles, work history is of absolutely no news value. That is one of the clearest invasions of privacy I've heard about in a long time. The Louisville Courier-Journal should be ashamed of itself. I'd love to hear their justification. They and United's treatment are newsworthy because each treated Mr. Dao and his family without any empathy or humanity.”

    "If they took advantage of things in his personal background to make a story, the information would have to be very important for the public to know," according to Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "Otherwise it is, in effect, a commercial gimmick to capitalize on a public event to gather eyeballs." Kovach pointed out that the paper "could also have done a story on the personal background of the officer who was dragging him."

    John Ferré, a journalism professor at the University of Louisville, said Dao’s past conviction “had nothing to do with security staff dragging him off a United Airlines flight for which he had purchased a seat. Whether the report has harmed Dr. Dao is unclear, but the irrelevance of the information to this story seems certain.”

    Former Courier-Journal staffer and current University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross said, "There is a natural curiosity among the public about a person who would object to this kind of treatment and would be one of the four people bumped who would not cooperate." He added, "That being said, I wouldn’t make this the featured story on the home page. They seem to be overdoing it. I understand the desire to get readership on a story that has international implications. It is a local story, but one of the elements of journalism is proportional. In the age of hunger for audience, it's fairly common for a wide range of news media to make too much out of things.”*

    *Note: This story has been updated to make clear Cross was saying the paper may have been "overdoing it" with the promotion of the story, not the initial reporting.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Local Media Fail To Cover Climate Denial, ALEC Link

    ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    Starting in 2008 seven states -- Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas -- passed measures or promoted policies that would change the education curriculums in their states to begin teaching "different perspectives" in environmental science instruction. The major newspapers in each of these states gave varying coverage to the issue with some not even covering the issue at all. In addition a Media Matters investigation shows that, despite the appearance that these state proposals and model legislation by the conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), not once did these newspapers mention ALEC or their model legislation in their coverage.