Media Criticism

Hassan Accused of Being Confused

This from an AP report this morning: “Hasan faces a possible death sentence if convicted of the 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated.” I guess he tried to think about his murders beforehand but was largely unsuccessful.

Where art the copy editor?

Strong Support for Healthcare Reform

My headline is not one you’re likely to see in mainstream media headlines.  Not because it’s false; actually, it’s true. But the mainstream media wants a couple of things:

  1. Continued access to Republican sources; ergo,
  2. MSM will continue to report GOP talking points, even when they know they are not true.

A recent poll by The Washington Post and its reporting makes the case. Here’s the headline: More Americans oppose health-care law, but few want a total repeal.

More than what, you ask?  More than ever? More than the last poll? More than support it?

Actually, the simple answer is the third option. Simple, but incorrect, as interpreted by most people. And no where in the article does it explain what the headline means.

Republicans are forever saying that “the American people don’t support this healthcare bill,” or words to that effect.  They then say that’s why they want to repeal it.

As The Post reports, few really want repeal, but you will forever see the GOP make that false claim, false but duly noted by the press.

But to the question of support for the healthcare bill, The Post’s Jon Cohen buries the lede in the penultimate paragraph.

Another factor in the debate is that a quarter of those who oppose the health-care law say the legislation is faulty because it did not go far enough, not because it pushed change too far.

So if you add the number together from The Post’s poll, 45% support the bill, and about 13% of those who opposed it wish it went further, meaning 58%, a sizable majority (a landslide in electoral politics), either like the current healthcare overhaul or wish it would go further, and in all likelihood that means arguably not in the direction the GOP would take it.

Yesterday’s poll by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press confirms this interpretation.

The public continues to be divided over what it wants to see done with the health care law – 37% favor its repeal, while nearly as many (35%) want the law expanded, and 20% would leave it as it is.

Which again gives us 55% of Americans wanting the law as is or expanded.

Complicating my view are the results from two other polls this week.  A CNN poll doesn’t ask the question about whether opposition is because the law doesn’t go far enough, and its topline support/oppose is the same as the other polls, a slight plurality opposed.  But when forced to choose to either keep it all or repeal it all, 50% say repeal it all with 42% say keep it all.  One would think that if a majority liked the law or wanted it to go further, the “don’t repeal” group would be closer to 55%, not 42%.

But I think another question, asked in this week’s  CBS/New York Times poll, puts the entire debate into perspective. When asked if any of the provisions that have already taken effect (keep children on policy until age 26 or that children can not be rejected for insurance if they have a preexisting condition), apply to the respondent, we learn only 13% have benefited from the law yet. Once people start seeing the benefits to themselves, support could grow.

Another key issue is this from the CNN/NY Times poll:

Those who support repeal were asked whether they would continue to do so if it meant that insurance companies were no longer required to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions; 52% said they would, but 35% said in that case, the law should not be repealed.

Someone (the Press? the Dems? Both?) have not done a good job of explaining the bill.

A critical question is this” Should it be the media’s responsibility to explain the bill. That depends on what one think the media’s role should be. If it is to simply report what is happening or whether it is to find the truth. I believe it is the latter and cite the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, an organization to which, admittedly, not all journalists belong.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.

…Journalists should:

Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. [emphasis added]

Yet, throughout this debate one issue that confounds people in my business (communications consulting). Again, from the CBS?NY Times poll:

And finally, there may be some lingering confusion about the provisions of the bill. 56% of Americans say the bill’s impact on themselves and their families has not been explained well to them.

Given what’s at stake, which is not only the relentless false impressions of the bill duly stenographed by the media, maybe the best option is an advertising campaign. What would it cost to widely distribute this 30-sec. ad in an attempt to bypass the media:

The new federal health law means:

  1. Insurance companies can’t drop coverage when you get sick, and they can’t cap your coverage.
  2. They cannot deny you or your children coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
  3. You won’t lose your insurance when you change jobs.
  4. Reduced costs for drugs for seniors.
  5. Tax credits for small businesses offering health insurance
  6. A reduced federal deficit.

The new federal health law—do you want all these provisions repealed?

On TV, these bullet points should be on the screen as the narrator reads them to ensure that people who can’t hear the ad but see the TV can read them.

Will this ad overcome the misleading information disseminated by the MSM and the false information by Fox News and conservative talk radio. I’m not sure, but clearly proponents of healthcare reform are losing the messaging war.  This can’t hurt.

Note: An edited version of this post appears on News Commonsense, my media blog.

GOP Offers Advice It Wouldn’t Take

E.J. Dionne nails it.

In 2008, the largest number of voters in American history gave the Democrats their largest share of the presidential vote in 44 years and big majorities in the House and Senate.

How did Republicans react? They held their ideological ground, refused to give an inch to the new president and insisted that persistent opposition would eventually yield them victory. On Nov. 2, it did.

Yet now that Democrats have suffered a setback – in an election, it should be said, involving many fewer voters than the big battle two years ago – they are being counseled to do the opposite of what the Republicans did, especially by Republicans.

Democrats who stand up to say they were right to reform health care and stimulate a staggering economy are told they "don’t get it" and are "in denial." Liberals who refuse to let one election loss alter their commitments are dismissed as "doubling down" on a bad bet.

President Obama made the word "audacity" popular, but conservative Republicans practice it.

Mainstream commentary typically bends to the more audacious side. As a result, there was far less middle-of-the-road advice in 2008 urging Republicans to move to the center than there were warnings to Obama not to read too much into his victory. The United States, we were told, was still a "center-right" country. The actual election result didn’t seem to matter back then.

Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

Worse, Democrats tend to internalize the views of their opponents.

This is right in so many ways.  And it’s largely because progressives haven’t fought back against the mainstream media that tends to reward GOP puck by framing issues in the GOP parlance.

But there are other reason.  The principle difference between Republican and Democratic leaders is that Republicans have principles, can articulate them and defend them.  If Democrats have principles, they can’t identify them, and they certainly can’t put them in pithy phrases that pierce the media clutter.  And if they could, I’m not sure they would fight for them.

Who Decides Opt-Out?

With the Senate bill now up for discussion, one focus will be on how the public option is implemented.  The Senate allows states to “opt-out.”  Who’s the “state”? 

Can a governor unilaterally opt-out?  Must it be by a vote of the legislature?  Is there a gubernatorial veto possibility?  Must there be a referendum?

Maybe it’s in the 2,000+ page bill.  But as I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t read it in its entirety, I wonder if someone could please inform me, because they press sure hasn’t.

Is the Public Option A Sword to Fall On?

Steve Pearlstein says no.

One goal of health-care reform is to begin to address these market imperfections. But there’s no particular evidence that a government-run insurance plan will be any more successful than what we currently get from big private insurers — unless, of course, the government-run plan is so big or so powerful that it can dictate prices to providers, as Medicare now does. Proposing that, however, would immediately unite doctors, hospitals and drug companies in opposing reform.

You also hear the argument that government-run insurance would have lower costs because it wouldn’t have to generate a profit (that’s true) and would be more efficient than private insurers (that isn’t). The evidence of greater efficiency is Medicare, which spends about 2 to 3 percent of its budget on administration. But if a government-run plan had to spend its own money to collect premiums, market itself to customers, maintain a reserve, and manage care in a way that lowers costs and raises quality — none of which Medicare now does — then you can be sure its administrative costs would be nowhere near 2 or 3 percent.

Pearlstein, who will discuss this article at 11 a.m. on The Washington Post web site, makes some cogent arguments.  But what strikes me most about this article is that I must read an opinion piece to get good information on the debate.  Shouldn’t Post reporters be detailing the pros and cons of healthcare reform?  Instead of spending time covering town hall shoutfests, shouldn’t reporters look into the debate and collect expert opinion on how reform might work, what consequences and trade-offs are, and what other countries have done to address the issues we face?

Swift Boating Healthcare Reform

Indeed, it’s the same scenario.

But what has been perfectly consistent is the way the press has, again, fallen for a right-wing smear campaign and dressed it up as news. Just as with the Swifties, the press has turned over its summer coverage to a band of agitators spreading misinformation. Five summers ago, the Swift Boat Vets helped hijack the election. They lied about documents, they lied about eyewitness, and they lied about their partisan affiliations and connections. For several crucial weeks during the campaign, journalists turned away from the pile-up of Swift Boat falsehoods and contradictions, rarely daring to call the Swift Boat attack out for what it really was — a hoax. Too spooked by the GOP Noise Machine and its charge of liberal media bias, the press propped up the Vets as serious men and showered them with attention.

The key point here is that the right has had a decades long, disciplined campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  The MSM, with their thin skins, reacted by bending over backwards to be “fair,” which means they give prominence to the most outrageous charges from the right, afraid of the abuse they might get if they resist.

Why doesn’t the left do the same?

Media Incompetence

Another voice calling for calling a lie a lie.  Obama’s hope for a new kind of politics because of media’s incompetence.

I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

Krugman goes on to challenge Obama to get better at delivering his healthcare reform message.

It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

What Krugman leaves out is that it is up to Obama to challenge MSM to engage in something remotely related to responsible journalism.  Right now, MSM is letting the cable news echo chamber define the debate.  At least the New York Times is trying.

Post Ombudsman Agrees

Washington Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander agrees with my points in a post of a few days ago.

The Post yesterday gave prominent play to a story about disenchantment among Virginians who supported Barack Obama last November. Unease with the president’s economic policies, it said, are influencing the strategies of those running for governor of the commonwealth.

But about a dozen readers complained that the thrust of the story isn’t buttressed by the reporting. They noted that only three would-be voters are quoted. And while the story said that national polls show Obama’s approval rating has slipped since he took office, it cited no survey data to suggest that is the case in Virginia.

I think the readers have a point.

A Vote for the Worst

Thanks to Political Wire for pointing this out.

After going on for several days now, who looks worse in this town-halls-gone-wild story? An Obama administration that promised a new era of American politics, but that isn’t delivering on it? A Republican Party/conservative movement — less than seven months removed from the White House — stoking this anger and hoping it returns them to power? American citizens who can’t treat their neighbors or elected officials with respect, even when they disagree? Or a media covering the story but also amplifying the exaggerations and outright lies being told at these town halls? Ah, the classic political story … nobody wins, we’re all losers in these eyes of the true silent majority: the radical middle? To look at this debate through the prism of campaign politics, has anyone raised their POSITIVE ratings or simply succeeded in raising the NEGATIVE ratings of an opponent?

For the worst, I vote for the media.