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News Media Last Updated: Nov 16th, 2009 - 00:56:07

Washington Post opposes health care reforms
By Margie Burns
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 16, 2009, 00:18

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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 his popularity.�

  • 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 polling]
  • 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 Romney.

  • 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 fold.)
  • 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.

Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at

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