Unbeknown to people
outside the Washington, D.C., region, health reform has faced tremendous
antagonism from the Washington Post.
The overt opposition
in the paper is bad enough -- especially the weirdly oppositional op-eds from
overtly right-wing WP columnists Charles Krauthammer and George F. Will,
along with numerous guest pieces on the op-ed page --but the overt opposition
has received continuing reinforcement, throughout fall 2009, by the Post�s
reportage on the health care issue, running in the front section and usually on
the front page.
WP reportage has virulently opposed the public
option and was particularly unsubtle in September, coming off the �tea parties�
that some reporters viewed as a sign of defeat for Obama.
The newspaper I
subscribe to has opposed the public option through several rhetorical tactics.
The public option was treated as politically unsafe or impossible, headed for
defeat, or �dead.� Genuine insurance reform was characterized as �liberal� and
its congressional opponents as �moderate,� thereby suggesting that the public
option is somehow immoderate. Financial ties between congressional opponents --
Republicans the �Blue dog� Democrats -- and the insurance industry were never
reported fully. And especially, the paper has never comprehensively reported
widespread and costly insurance abuses.
Here is a quick
run-down of the coverage, in chronological order beginning from the point at
which the Post recognized that health-care legislation was in the cards.
Not all Washington Post articles on health care are included, but all
the articles included are representative. Titles below were front-page
headlines except where noted:
- Sept. 5, 2009: ��Gang of 6� Urged to Act Now on Health.� Sample:
�The president�s speech to Congress on Wednesday offers him the choice of
preserving liberal ideals in the health-care bill, including the
government insurance option that has become the focal point of the debate,
or else falling in step with moderates.�
- Sept. 7: �Health Care in Japan: Low-Cost, for Now.� Inside heading:
�Japan Offers Health Care at a Lower Cost, but for How Long?� This lengthy
article, obviously addressing the point that every industrialized nation
outside the U.S. does have government support for health care, accompanies
an article on Obama�s upcoming health-care speech. Just as obviously, it
questions the future for Japan.
- Sept. 8: [FINALLY] �When Your Insurer Says You�re No Longer
Covered.� Sub-head: �Firms Defend �Rescissions� as Fraud
Control.� Responding to criticism of insurance abuses by others including
this writer, WP for the first time runs an article acknowledging
�why insurance companies are cast as the villain in the health-care reform
drama.� The article may be partly tribute to Obama�s effective Labor Day
speech in Cincinnati, reported same day. (Also same day: op-ed by former
Clinton aide Matt Miller, �Why Liberals Should Drop the Public Option.�)
- Sept. 10: �Obama Implores Congress to Act.� Sub-head: �In Arguing
for a Public Option, He Emphasizes It�s �Only one Part of My Plan.��
Sample graf: �Obama delivered the speech at a critical moment in his
presidency, as he seeks to simultaneously rally allies and rebut an
onslaught of attacks that have taken their toll on his push for reform and
- Sept. 11: �Details Still Lacking on Obama Proposal.� Sub-head:
�White House Unclear on How Some Far-Reaching Goals Would Be Met.�
- Sept. 14: �Reform Opposition Is High but Easing.� Sub-head: �More
Support if Public Option Dropped.� [a finding unique to Post
- Sept. 15: �Reform Bill Will Address GOP Fears.� Sub-head: �But
Affordability Questions Remain.� This one emphasizes the cost of buying
private insurance, under a government mandate, as a �Republican�
concern -- as though the GOP in Congress were not in favor of handing
millions of customers to the insurance industry. The Massachusetts
mandated universal coverage was instituted by former Republican Gov. Mitt
- Sept. 16: �Young Adults Likely to Pay Big Share of Reform�s Cost.�
They�re retreating somewhat; this piece ran on the front page, but below
the fold, bottom right-hand corner. Same day: a special six-page pull-out
advertising supplement in the paper, headed �The Insurance Report,�
purchased by the industry. A disclaimer notes that the supplement -- six
full pages, color, numerous articles boosting the necessity of buying
insurance -- was prepared for the Advertising Department of the WP
and did not involve news or editorial staff.
- Sept. 17: Analysis: �From Finance Chief, a Bill That May Weather the
Blows.� News article: �Baucus Measure Would Expand Care Without Adding to
Deficit.� A double-header -- analysis and reportage both supported the
Baucus measure, which did not include a public option. This is called
fighting a rear-guard action while retreating.
- Sept. 18: Not that they�ve given up. �Affordability Is Major
Challenge for Reform.� Sub-heading: �Burden on Middle Class Is a Top
Concern.� Sure. Of course the price of private insurance is a burden, to
put it nicely; that�s why we need single-payer -- an option almost never
mentioned by the Post,
and never seriously until 2009. (This piece ran just barely above the
- Sept. 22: �Revised Bill Would Ease Burden on Middle Class.�
Sub-heading: �Question of How to Fund It Remains.� This ran below the
fold, bottom right.
- Oct. 5: �States Resist Medicaid Growth.� Sub-head: �Governors Fear
For Their Budgets.�
- Oct. 12: Big headline: �New Bill Would Raise Rates, Says
Insurance Group.� The report does not mention that this is clearly a
threat by the insurance industry: Do it (pass a public option), and we�ll
raise your rates.
- Oct. 14: �Finance Committee Passes Bill with One GOP Vote.� Times
are changing; see below.
- Oct. 24: �Prognosis improves for public insurance.� Sub-head:
�Momentum shift is dramatic.� Or perhaps the polling is more accurate?
- Oct. 25: page two, �New life for the public option.� Declaring it
dead was premature.
- Oct. 27: �Reid says bill will include a public option.�
- Nov. 7, page five: �House Republicans plan to vote unanimously
against health-care measure.�* *except for Cao of Louisiana.
- Nov. 8: �House Democrats pass health-care bill.�
The articles also
tend to downplay the better positions of many Democrats in Congress on this
issue, and to sanitize the GOP and �Blue Dogs,� playing into the
split-the-difference, they�re-all-alike, plague-on-both-their-houses mindset.
The reportage also tends to drift into a win-loss rut, concentrating more on
the political horse race than on the big issues of health care.
Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at email@example.com.