RealClearPolitics Media Watch

« Health Care Coverage: Tastes Great, Less Filling | Media Watch Home Page | ESPN: The Gang That Can't Shoot Straight »

All Eyes and Ears Were on Health Care

Turn away quickly, put your earmuffs on, or pick up a drumstick and join in as I bang away at the media's coverage of the health care debate just one more time ...

The Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence In Journalism is out with its numbers on what stories carried the news agenda the week of March 15-21, and by a whopping margin health care reform led the way.

I see this as good news, because it is one of the biggest issues of our time, and deserved the ample attention it got from the media.

Here's how Pew reported it:

Last minute deal-making, vote counting and suspense over a package of measures approved Sunday by the House of Representatives consumed 37% of the newshole during the week of March 15-21, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That topped the previous high of 32%, which occurred twice before: during the week of August 10-16, when tempers were flaring at town hall meetings, and from September 7-13, when President Obama addressed the issue in speech before a joint session of Congress that was marred by heckling.

You can find the story and revealing charts here.

If you are unfamiliar with how Pew puts these wonderful numbers together, you can find the methodology for assembling their data here.

On Tuesday, I theorized that despite this wall-to-wall coverage, most Americans could not give you specific details on 50% of what was ultimately passed (myself included).

I got some interesting reader feedback on this one, and most of you seemed to indicate you were comfortable with the information you had before rendering a decision on the subject.

I also typed, essentially, that it wasn't so much the devils in the details of the reform, but the devils on either side of the political spectrum that framed the debate on this hot-button issue.

Again, from the feedback I got directly, and from sorting through myriad online media sites, politics, not specific policy issues, seemed to drive people to their opinion on health care reform. Most seemed to agree there was enough information out there on specific legislative issues if you wanted it.

It's safe to reckon that if you are a Republican you are against this health care reform legislation. If you are a Democrat, you are for it. I think this kind of polarization on such an important issue is pretty sad, but before I veer too far out of my media lane, I'll leave it at that.

Check out what Pew reported under the subhead "Talk Shows Drive Health Care Coverage:"

The politics of the health care plan - which Republicans predicted would cost Democrats seats in the mid-term elections and diminish support for the president - drove the narrative last week. By a ratio of nearly three-to-one, stories involving the politics and strategy of the reform effort exceeded stories about what was actually in the bills.

For the week, indeed, 80% of the airtime on the 10 radio and cable television talk shows studied was devoted to the health care story last week.

Yowza. This was a made-for-TV-and-radio debate, no doubt about it, but 80 percent is pretty stunning.

There was no getting away from health care talk no matter how hard you might have tried. And certainly, especially on these popular media outlets, politics, not the policy, was being served to their audience in heaping helpings.

So I'll wrap up this healthy discussion by asking you one final question:

Was it the chicken (it became a political, not a policy, debate because the media drove it that way), or was it the egg (it became a political, not a policy, debate because the audience demanded it)?

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)