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Health-Care Coverage "Unwittingly" Diverted?

By Andy Alexander

This week's ombudsman column will look at what readers want from The Post’s coverage of the health-care debate. In reporting it, I was struck by an observation by Drew Altman, the president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. During my interview with him, Altman wondered if the news media “unwittingly” have diverted attention from discussion of “core" health-care issues by focusing on controversies such as the rowdy town hall meetings where angry constituents confronted members of Congress.

Altman agrees that those meetings are news and deserve coverage. But he suggested that the coverage given to the emotionally-charged events has sidetracked discussion from what’s in the legislative proposals now being drafted.

Media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson made a similar point when she appeared recently on the PBS show “Bill Moyers Journal.” She said that the evocative images from the town hall meetings prompted pollsters to focus on public reaction to the protests, as opposed to asking Americans what they think about the substance of the health care proposals.

“Now polls have driven press coverage which says 'Obama On the Defensive. Obama Struggling to Explain. Obama Trying,' when, in fact, the dynamic under that has been created by a news structure that decided to cover this in a certain way, to do polling in a certain way. And those two things played into the process to make it more difficult for the discussion to actually happen about the substance of what's going on,” said Jamieson, a professor with the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Altman, appearing on the program with Jamieson, added: “So we have the protests, the media coverage, especially the 24-hour news cycle, (which) follows the protests and the town meetings. Then the polls poll about the media coverage of the protests. And we create almost an alternative reality about what is occurring out there.”

Altman said it’s easy to “feel bad for. . .the American people who, from the beginning, have just been trying to answer one question: Will this help me with my health care bills?”

This week's column will look at The Post’s unique challenge of how to report on the health care debate. It must produce coverage that caters to a range of very diffrerent audiences.

Washington is a policy-obsessed town, and The Post has done a good job of tracking the legislative maneuvering on Capitol Hill and the political fallout from the boisterous town hall protests. That's what policy wonks and political junkies demand.

But many average readers – those who are not high-level stakeholders in the debate – say they desperately need baseline knowledge and no-spin clarity.

More in the coming column. . .

By Andy Alexander  | August 28, 2009; 3:19 PM ET
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Next: Less "Horse-Race" Reporting on Health Care


Here's one suggestion for you: get a conservative to balance the far left Obama cheerleader, Ezra Klein. His columns are propaganda for the White House, not objective reporting.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 28, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I'd say health care coverage has been quite "wittingly" diverted... by the vested interests that have the most to lose by a comprehensive public option.

How about a story about the money behind the status quo?

Posted by: tobob | August 29, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

The opposition to fixing our too-expensive, too-ineffective, uncompetitive health care system is the opposite of "unwitting". It is intentional. The Post has chosen sides against our citizens.

Posted by: rowens1 | August 29, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

"This week's column will look at The Post’s unique challenge of how to report on the health care debate. It must produce coverage that caters to a range of very diffrerent audiences."

How about the facts... the truth... no spin... no slant. Now THAT would be unique for the WaPo.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | August 29, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Good luck on getting ANY no spin clarity when the "axis of evil", Fox News, Health Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats live up to their fundamental creed, "We Deceive. You Believe".

Posted by: NMRguy | August 29, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the media coverage of the screamers distracts from the issue. One suggestion - if you publish a story about someone screaming about death panels, add accurate information about the actual proposal - paying a doctor for the time spent in end of life counseling. If someone screams about rationing panels, point out that for-profit insurance companies already ration health care, and summarize the legislation that the screamer may be referring to. If the WaPo wants to report on the health care debate (which it isn't - it is a health care INSURANCE debate), it could print the facts in the same article or on the same page with the article about the dramatic screamers. But I won't hold my breath.

Posted by: vklip1 | August 29, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately it's all about money and politics. We are all going to end up using the health care system that we are "talking" about reforming - one way or another, unless we're killed instantly in some accident. I wish every one would take a moment to consider that thought for themselves and their families.

Posted by: KD11 | August 29, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

While most agree that some changes need to be made, most Americans were outraged when they had a chance to analyze this bill. It was being rammed through without discussion and no call for bipartisanship. When the American people feel as if they have been bypassed, you will see even more screaming. Just asked the AARP.

Posted by: d1carter | August 29, 2009 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Follow the money.

Posted by: protagoras | August 31, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

"WashingtonDame" wrote:

Here's one suggestion for you: get a conservative to balance the far left Obama cheerleader, Ezra Klein. His columns are propaganda for the White House, not objective reporting.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 28, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the laugh, this made my day.

You mean "a conservative" like George Will? Or Charles Krauthammer?

Perhaps Robert Kagan, or William Kristol? Samuelson?

Are these and the dozen or so other Neocons, extreme right wing ideologues, and other assorted ultra-conservative columnists at the Washington Post too liberal for you? Really? Michael Gerson, George W Bush's chief speech writer?

And those are just the most extreme, far right conservatives, there's also Kathleen Parker and a number of other conservative "moderates", whatever that may mean. They're certainly not liberal in any way.

It really amuses me to see this newspaper publish the most astonishingly right wing conservative parade of columnists, to the tune of probably 85%, and still have right wingers complain that it's "too liberal".

The lesson is clear: Conservatives will complain and scream "liberal media" no matter how conservative you are, so it's best to just stop listening to their insane complaints.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | August 31, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

For advice on how better to cover Obamacare you turn to The Kaiser Family Foundation, one of Obamacare's biggest cheerleaders. How...typical.

Posted by: tresangelas | August 31, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

If you want truly honest coverage of the health care reform issue how about you start demanding truth from your writers.

All your columns are talking about "The Bill". Since there are five bills none of your columns have been honest. And we all know that these bills are not even close to a final bill so yelling that the "Bill" contains this and that is false. Stating that the proposed reform is in a certain bill but not in another one is honest.

In your Opinion pages you support outright lies. I am not talking about policy differences. I am talking about a writer stating something as fact when there is no evidence to support that fact. The support is in allowing these lies to go to print. Too many people look to the media to be honest with them, and too help them understand facts. Try calling the liars what they are, liars (even if they are from your own journalists or contributors), and providing the truth. I thought that's what journalism was about, providing the truth instead of spreading the lies.

Posted by: alysheba_3 | August 31, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Still not regretting my decision to cancel the paper...

Posted by: Elkay1 | August 31, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

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