Media needs to inform on health care debate

Posted in Around The Nation, Commentary, Health Care, Insurance Reform, Media at 11:29 am by wcnews

In the health care/insurance reform debate thus far there’s one irrefutable fact - the media, by and large, has done a pathetic job of cutting through the muck and explaining what is being proposed. As this post, The Stupid Leading the Blind, explains, people are confused:

Two in three Americans call the health care reforms being debated by lawmakers confusing; only 31 percent said they have a clear understanding of the proposed changes. Sixty-seven percent of those questioned said the reform ideas were confusing.

The media it too focused on the “horse race” and not the facts or explaining the situation.

Many have said that Post stories routinely assume a foundation of knowledge that they simply don’t have. Some said that they don’t understand basic terms like “public option” or “single payer.” They want primers, not prognostications. And they’re craving stories on what it means for ordinary folks and their families. (Emphasis added).

In my examination of roughly 80 A-section stories on health-care reform since July 1, all but about a dozen focused on political maneuvering or protests. The Pew Foundation’s Project for Excellence in Journalism had a similar finding. Its recent month-long review of Post front pages found 72 percent of health-care stories were about politics, process or protests.

“The politics has been covered, but all of this is flying totally over the heads of people,” said Trudy Lieberman, a contributing editor to Columbia Journalism Review, who has been tracking coverage by The Post and other news organizations. “They have not known from Day One what this was about.”


Most readers who have contacted the ombudsman identify themselves as senior citizens and rely on the printed Post. The Kaiser survey found those older than 65 are the most confused by the issue.

I think they want more glossaries explaining basic terms, easily digestible Q&As, short sidebars that summarize complex concepts and graphics that decipher complicated data. And they want stories that say what health-care reform will mean to them.

Last Sunday’s Outlook section carried a piece by former Post reporter T.R. Reid titled “Myths About Health Care Around the World.” The writing was terse and anecdotal, without health-care gobbledygook. No he-said-she-said.

On the Post’s Web site, it was among the most viewed articles on Sunday and Monday. It was one of the week’s most e-mailed stories.

There’s a reason.

It’s key to understand that the readers, aka customers, of the WaPo are communicating to the paper what they want, and they’re being ignored. Let’s hope the WaPo, and any other media that’s ignoring their customers in this way, isn’t wondering why they’re losing customers.

And then there’s just the ignorant people that are on TV talking about this subject.

Of course Democrats in Congress and the President deserve much derision as well for not putting forth a succinct, coherent plan for their supporters to get behind and support. There’s a fairly simple strategy to turning this around. The President and Democrats have one more chance to try and get this right. Something like this.

If instead [Democrats] put their weight behind a good bill about which, whatever the precise details, could be summed up as “You want health care? We’ll give you all the […..] health care you want.” Support something which could be popular with, you know, people, instead of insurance company executives and really horrible Republican senators.

But the other reason this will be hard is because they will have to try and communicate a simple point - an American Plan for health care will make health care less expensive for everyone in America. And to try and get the sound bite oriented, detail challenged media in our country to explain something like this and this to the American people is asking a lot.

A robust public option saves money so, naturally, deficit-averse “centrist” Democrats don’t like the idea. And, naturally, the press never seems to point that out.

In other words the more cost effective a public option is, the less likely a Blue Dog/”conservative”/fiscal Democrat is to support it. The Democrats have to go against the insurance corporations and do what’s right for the people. In my opinion the President has been trying to please everyone and is pleasing no one, which is why his poll numbers are sliding. All he has to do is step up, fight for what he believes in, pass health care, with a robust public option and as Howard Dean said:

“So let’s get our bill on, let’s do what Franklin Roosevelt did, let’s pass the program, people are going to be very happy with it, and this will be forgotten, and we’ll pick up seats in the Fall of 2010 just like Franklin Roosevelt did.”

And remember, Yes we can!

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