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Real Journalism: A Prerequisite for Real Debate on Healthcare

For coverage of our delivery of FAIR's ongoing petition demanding that the TV networks cover proposals for a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system to ABC News' NYC studio, you can tune into Democracy Now!--a media outlet that could teach the  networks a thing or two about how to contribute to, rather than interfere with, the public debate on healthcare reform.

If the public has managed to get any TV news at all about single-payer, or to hear the perspectives of the large numbers of physicians and citizens who support this proposal, it is thanks to outlets like DN! and shows like the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

Given that 59 percent of the public, and an equal percentage of physicians, support single-payer, according to recent polls, one would think that the inclusion of this proposal in the media debate would be a no-brainer for any self-respecting journalist.

After all, we hear so much about the soaring costs of U.S. healthcare and the tens of millions of uninsured Americans, and we know that single-payer systems have been successful in keeping healthcare costs down, while providing broad universal coverage, in other industrialized countries.

There is a word for what Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and PBS' Bill Moyers are doing when they interview some of the many prominent medical professionals who favor single-payer--people like doctors Quentin Young and David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Journalism is what many people would call it.

Yet the practice stands in marked contrast to what's been going on at ABC, where FAIR, Healthcare Now!, Physicians for a National Health Program, the Private Health Insurance Must Go coalition, and the Raging Grannnies delivered our petition on Tuesday, signed by over 12,500 people including filmmaker Michael Moore, former MSNBC host Phil Donohue, and actors Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

As we pointed out to the ABC representative sent to receive the petitions, ABC has not had one single-payer advocate on air all year.

I recently had the chance to ask ABC's Senior VP of Communications Jeffrey Schneider about why the network had disinvited Obama's longtime physician Dr. David Scheiner from its recent healthcare forum, where Dr. Scheiner was planning to ask the president a question about healthcare reform.


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(Watch FAIR's video in which Scheiner stated that he believed that he'd been disinvited from the forum because ABC was "afraid" he would ask a question that was more "challenging" than what ABC wanted here, and Democracy Now's interview with Scheiner here)

ABC's VP Schneider took offense at my question:  "To draw some kind of nefarious conclusion is simply ridiculous," he told me in a phone interview.

Of course, there is a far more accurate term than a "nefarious" plot to explain the systematic exclusion of a popular proposal that major insurance companies and the politicians they back would rather not talk about.

FAIR has always called it "corporate journalism"--the product of a media system in which much of our news is produced by powerful for-profit corporations, whose interests, through interlocking boards of directors and lucrative advertizing contracts, often closely overlap with those of other powerful corporations--including the insurance and pharmaceutical companies that have the most to gain from keeping single-payer off the table.

Now more than ever--as single-payer activists march in DC today to commemorate the anniversary of Medicare--it is essential that we oppose the corporate media's interference in the public debate that is so urgently needed if we are to really address America's broken healthcare system.

It is not too late to sign onto FAIR's petition, and help us spread the word about it, before we deliver it to the other TV networks, which a FAIR study found have a similarly dismal record when it comes to stonewalling discussion of single-payer.

Already, we've managed to create quite a buzz about the media's sick healthcare coverage, and yesterday, the LA Times wrote about out petition delivery, and acknowledged that single-payer represents a "gaping hole" in the media's healthcare coverage.

We now have over 13,000 signatures on the petition. Let's step up the pressure and see what can be acheived with 20,000 on board.

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Isabel Macdonald

Isabel Macdonald is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and the former communications director of the media watch group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). She can be reached at isabelmacdonald1 at Follow her on Twitter:

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