Why Journalists Won't Touch Healthcare Policy

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Ben Cohen
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by Ben Cohen

Paul Krugman on why journalists would rather cover the horse race, rather than the actual ins and outs of healthcare policy:

It’s safer to cover the race. If you cover policy, and go beyond
dueling quotes, you have to make some factual assertions — and people
who prefer to believe otherwise will get mad. Newsweek’s Sharon Begley
wrote a piece about what actually is and isn’t in Obamacare, and got mail from readers
denouncing her and wishing her an early death. As I pointed out the
other day, I’m getting a lot of hate mail — and I mean obscenities,
death wishes, and all that, not strongly worded disagreements — for
writing about Swiss health care and budget arithmetic. Much safer to
report on ups and downs in the conventional wisdom.

The upshot, of course, is that we’re having a crucial national
policy debate in which the great bulk of the news coverage tells people
nothing at all about the policy issues.

The exact same can be said of national election coverage. Who remembers what Mitt Romney's healthcare proposal was compared to John McCain's in 2008? The media focused more on how Romney's visual comparison to Ronald Reagan and John McCain's war record played with voters rather than what they were actually proposing for policy.

While it is easy to accuse Americans of being disinterested dummies, the real culprits are the main stream media outlets who refuse to run anything resembling factual journalism and systematically dumb down debate to get ratings. If we don't get serious healthcare reform, we cannot just blame the Democrats or the Republicans. We must also hold CNN, MSNBC and Fox to account for failing to tell us what we missed out on.