Few TDS readers will be shocked by Political Animal Steve Benen’s Washington Monthly post, “How the Media Covers health Care Rulings, Cont’d,” which shows that unfavorable court rulings on the legality of the Affordable Care Act are getting a lot more ink than favorable decisions. What is a little surprising, however, is that the rule of thumb holds true even for top liberal rags that supported the legislation in their editorials, including the Washington Post and the New York Times (nifty chart here).
Benen does a content analysis of the word counts, page placement and mentions in the news reports, showing a clear pattern of decisions upholding the ACA getting the short end of the stick for the Post, Times, Politico and the Associated Press. “…the discrepancy is overwhelming. In every instance, conservative rulings get more coverage, longer articles, and better placement,” says Benen.
Benen acknowledges that it may not be entirely because of political bias in each case, because conflict generally gets more coverage than agreement. He expresses some puzzlement about WaPo’s lack of any coverage for the most recent (Kessler) decision, especially since the courthouse is right around the corner from The Post’s offices.
All of the understandable reasons for the discrepancy acknowledged, however, Benen is right to fault the media outlets for failing to provide anything resembling balanced reporting on how legislation as important as the ACA is faring in the courts. While Politico may not be technically “MSM,” the huge word count discrepancy does raise a serious question about its coverage objectivity. The Times, Post and AP are critically-important, because so many editors of smaller papers read their coverage. If you had to give a letter grade to these four outlets for their coverage of the ACA rulings thus far, a “D” would be generous.
MSNBC, at least, ran a video clip of Sen. Richard Durbin, which could be instructive for reporters in putting the various rulings in a more balanced perspective. Here’s what Durbin said:
This law has been challenged in 16 different federal courts. Twelve judges have dismissed the challenges. Four have considered it. Two ruled that it was constitutional, two unconstitutional. So it isn’t exactly a wave of sentiment against the law.
And that was before the Kessler ruling. You can watch the video here, at the bottom of the page.