Health-Care Coverage "Unwittingly" Diverted?
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. . .
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