Washington Post Misses the Healthcare Reporting Mark, Again

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CommonDreams.org

Washington Post Misses the Healthcare Reporting Mark, Again

The mainstream media has failed miserably in its coverage of the healthcare reform discussion in this nation.  There have been ample reports about that.  And it hasn't been until the presence of cameras and reporters could stir the pot of controversy in a ratings-readership-web traffic sort of way with minimal actual journalism work that most of the major media outlets have tried even minimally to provide comprehensive coverage from which Americans could learn facts about whatever reform plan was planned.

If you see and hear sensationalism now in the health reform discussion, look right to the profit margins for media for those cause-and-effect relationships.  I'll use the Washington Post as an example, but they are by no means alone in their unabashed bias and reporting aimed at prolonging the healthcare reform fight as a means to more business for themselves.

If it bleeds, it leads... and this nation's healthcare reform fight is gushing.

If Rush Limbaugh can dribble about swastikas and compare them to the Obama's team logo for healthcare reform and Sarah Palin can Twitter about "death panels" determining the future for her darling baby, that's one thing.  The fact that those comments get coverage that spans pages in major newspapers and hours of mainstream television coverage is a pandering to boosting controversy to boosting ratings and readership and to ultimately boosting ad revenues.  It's all about the money.

Remember, in 2008 the elections provided every form of media with huge ad buys and profits and this is an off-election year.  No Obama team with millions and millions of dollars for ads about changing America, and no Congressional smear campaigns.  So when a reform measure comes forward, the media needs -- it really needs -- to find a way to cash in.

Yes, we all know about all the advertising generated by the usual folks opposed to reform -- the health insurance companies and the big pharmaceuticals -- but those folks so far are loving the kind of reform we'll likely get. 

Else, why would they just flat lie to us about shutting out any particular type of reform from the discussion?  See the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting interchange with the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz below (taken from their web-chat of this morning, August 10, 2009):

Princeton, N.J.: This is from FAIR:

"Many experts see single-payer national health insurance as the most sensible solution to expand coverage to the uninsured and to reduce costs. This proposal polls well with the public, who preferred it two-to-one over a privatized system in a recent survey (New York Times/CBS, 1/11-15/09). It is also preferred by 59 percent of physicians, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (4/1/08).

Yet a recent study by FAIR found that of hundreds of stories about health care in major outlets earlier this year, only five stories included the views of advocates of single-payer -- none of which appeared on the television networks.

The insurance lobbies and many politicians may not want to talk about single-payer. But that makes it all the more important that the media do."

How would you rate the Post's coverage of single payer? D or F?

Howard Kurtz: I think the reality is, we are engaged in a titanic battle over health care reform, and a single-payer system is not part of the debate because Obama has gone in a different direction. Single-payer may or may not be a great idea, but the political reality is that it is not going to even come to a vote in Congress, let alone pass, and so the media are focusing their attention on the proposals that might actually pass.

Huh?  So the Washington Post has pre-determined that single-payer shall not be discussed because President Obama says so?  Not exactly an answer that would line up the health policy reporters for a Pulitzer.  Read what he says again.  Carefully.  "The media are focusing their attention on the proposals that might actually pass..."

One might wonder what other news is reported by the Washington Post after its reporters and editors have decided what might actually be the outcome.  That's just silly.  It sounds ridiculous and lazy because it is so.  And if we look at the rich and storied history of the Washington Post as a news organization, it is a tragedy to see such a flippant and inelegant response to the question posed about reporting on single-payer reform.  But it could just as easily have been any one of the major news outlets.

The founders of this nation envisioned a press as a vital part of the Democratic process.  Can you imagine if the early newspapers only covered those sides of the political struggle that they thought would win during, say, the Revolutionary War?  Well, perhaps we'd still be bowing to the king of England. And we'd certainly be without our government founded to be of, for and by the people.

So, we won't be getting our best news from our traditionally best news sources.  Because sadly, the Post stands with the other major news organizations in its ignorance on this subject -- and it's ignorance born of the same greed that has tainted the whole debate.  The American people might be expected to react in a volatile manner when all that is presented to them is ridiculous and outlandish comments from the Limbaugh's and the Palin's and the pictures are of people yelling in town hall meetings because they have been misled about the discussions.

Far better, Mr. Kurtz, to vet all the options before us, including the pending votes on single-payer measures that will take place on the floor of the House and the Senate in short order (I'm afraid that part of your response is just flat inaccurate) and then let the American people be heard.  That is what good journalism in a sound democracy is all about.

You, sir, missed the mark by a very long shot.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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