Don't think it doesn't matter
In their health care reform coverage, media have repeatedly given considerably more attention to perceived setbacks to progressive reform efforts than to events that signal progress for those efforts. A Media Matters for America analysis of transcripts available in the Nexis database has found that broadcast and cable news featured almost twice as many segments mentioning the American Medical Association's (AMA's) reported opposition to a public insurance plan as segments mentioning the AMA's recent announcement that it supported the House Democrats' health care reform bill, which includes a public plan.
That finding is consistent with an earlier Media Matters study showing that the number of cable news segments in Nexis mentioning an initial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of an incomplete version of a Senate health committee draft bill was far greater than the number of segments mentioning a later CBO analysis. That later analysis showed that an updated version of the bill would cover more people for less than the earlier scoring had suggested. Media Matters has also documented a pattern in which media suggest that President Obama's reform effort is in serious jeopardy, despite events -- including the AMA endorsement and revised CBO score -- that indicate reform efforts have made substantial progress.
Following the June 10 publication of a New York Times article reporting that the AMA "will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan," broadcast and cable news networks ran a total of 23 segments from June 11 through June 14 that mentioned or discussed the AMA's reported stance, according to a search of transcripts available in the Nexis database. By contrast, following the July 16 announcement by the AMA that it supported passage of the House Democrats' health care reform bill, the networks ran a total of 12 segments from July 16 through July 20 mentioning or discussing the AMA's endorsement
Americans always get nervous when their leaders are perceived to be losers. In fact, they hate it. And when the media skews toward failure unfairly, it has an effect on public opinion.
It's been clear to me for some time that much of the media (with some notable exceptions) was looking for failure on this one. They like conflict and they don't actually care about whether or not health care gets done. Mark Halperin said right out that we should bet against health reform because:
"Most journalists still have health insurance."
Now one can make the argument that this bias exists against whomever is in charge of the agenda. But you wouldn't have much evidence to support it:
Network newscasts, dominated by current and former U.S. officials, largely exclude Americans who are skeptical of or opposed to an invasion of Iraq, a new study by FAIR has found. of all
Among the major findings in a two-week study (1/30/03–2/12/03) of on-camera network news sources quoted on Iraq:
* Seventy-six percent of all sources were current or former officials, leaving little room for independent and grassroots views. Similarly, 75 percent of U.S. sources (199/267) were current or former officials.
* At a time when 61 percent of U.S. respondents were telling pollsters that more time was needed for diplomacy and inspections (2/6/03), only 6 percent of U.S. sources on the four networks were skeptics regarding the need for war.
* Sources affiliated with anti-war activism were nearly non-existent. On the four networks combined, just three of 393 sources were identified as being affiliated with anti-war activism--less than 1 percent. Just one of 267 U.S. sources was affiliated with anti-war activism--less than half a percent.
I suspect that there is a bit of mass psychology at work here, in which the media collectively understands that it's blamed for failing its responsibility under Bush and so feels that it needs to demonstrate its independence this time out. (It also knows that it was pretty gushy toward Obama during the campaign and now that he has come down to earth as a politician, they feel embarrassed.)
This happened with Clinton and Carter too. For a variety of reasons, the press holds Democrats to tougher standards, mostly because of their own failures during Republican presidencies. And because they overreact in Democratic administrations, they inevitably go easier on Republicans. How much of this is political bias is unknown, but it doesn't matter. The effect is the same.
The media remain a huge part of the problem and it's important that we not forget that in all of our holding of Democratic feet to the fire. Chuck Todd and the rest of the kewl kidz see it all as a big political game and they are both the umpires and the color men. And that actually makes them very powerful players.
Reforming government will never be enough.