News outlets ignored Bush's absence from aging conference, instead reported on Medicare press event

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

Major news outlets ignored President Bush's decision not to attend the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging, where, according to the Palm Beach Post, he was the target of "a stinging rebuke" and where delegates refused to embrace "the Medicare drug law or Bush's call for private Social Security investment accounts." Outlets focused instead on Bush's speech at a Virginia event designed to promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Major news outlets ignored President Bush's decision not to attend the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), focusing instead on Bush's speech at a Virginia event designed to promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit. As WashingtonPost.com columnist Dan Froomkin noted in a December 14 post in his "White House Briefing" column, "Reporting that President Bush steered clear of the White House's own Conference on Aging yesterday -- making him the first president ever to do so -- fell to the regional newspapers and NPR [National Public Radio], not the big guys." Froomkin further noted that "had Bush attended, he would have been facing a very hostile audience."

Froomkin pointed to articles in the Palm Beach Post, the St. Petersburg Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Media General News Service, as well as a report on NPR's All Things Considered, as examples of news outlets that noted Bush's absence from the conference. In its December 14 article, the Palm Beach Post reported that Bush "received a stinging rebuke" at the conference and that "[r]ather than embracing the Medicare drug law and Bush's call for private Social Security investment accounts, delegates at work sessions on those issues overwhelmingly rejected those positions."

On the December 13 broadcast of All Things Considered, Julie Rovner reported, "While the conference on aging delegates was meeting in a hotel uptown, the White House motorcade set out in the opposite direction, to Greenspring Village, a high-end gated retirement community in suburban Virginia."

While USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press all carried articles about Bush's remarks at the Greenspring Village event, none of those articles noted that Bush had chosen that event over the WHCOA. In a December 12 article, USA Today did note that "many [WHCOA] delegates were upset that President Bush is not going to attend the conference, which started Sunday and continues through Wednesday."

From the December 14 USA Today article titled, "Medicare drug plan 'daunting,' Bush says":

President Bush acknowledged Tuesday that signing up for the government's new prescription drug benefits can be a "daunting task," but he said help is available for a plan that will save seniors money.

The new law offers an array of options, Bush said, and potential recipients who are wary can look to Medicare officials, family members, community centers and the AARP for help and advice.

"People will be able to match a program to their specific needs," Bush said during a visit to a retirement center outside Washington. He called the new program "a good deal for our seniors."

From the December 14 Los Angeles Times article, "Consumer Group Offers Seniors Tips on Drug Program":

With the Medicare prescription benefit scheduled to take effect in less than three weeks, President Bush acknowledged today that navigating the complex program can be a challenge -- a complaint often voiced by its detractors.

But in a related development, a leading consumer group released a report on how seniors can get bargains from the prescription benefit without sacrificing quality.

"We fully recognize that for some seniors, that this is a daunting task," Bush said after meeting with residents at the Greenspring Village Retirement Community in suburban Virginia. "When you give people choice and options, it can be a situation where people say, 'This is something I may not want to do.' "

From the December 13 Associated Press article, "Bush urges seniors to sign up for Medicare prescription drug benefit":

President Bush, acknowledging the Medicare drug plan seems perplexing, urged seniors on Tuesday to sign up anyway. "It's a good deal," he said of the program, which begins Jan. 1.

During a brief visit to Greenspring Village Retirement Community, just outside Washington, Bush said there are people who can help explain the choices offered. Under the program, the government subsidizes coverage for those covered, to a much greater extent for the poor.

Some seniors have found the enrollment process confusing, and signup has been slow.

"For some seniors, this is a daunting task," Bush said. "When you give people choice and options ... it can be a situation where people say, 'I don't really -- this is something I may not want to do.' "

In a December 14 article by Robert Pear, titled "New Problems in Medicare Drug Benefit," The New York Times also cited Bush's Greenspring Village remarks. The Times did not report on Bush's absence from the WHCOA.

The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters did not report on either the Greenspring Village Event or on Bush's absence from the WHCOA.

By far, CNN devoted the most coverage to Bush's Greenspring Village press event, reporting on it throughout the day on December 13 but never informing viewers that Bush had skipped the WHCOA. CNN noted the upcoming speech three times on American Morning. In one instance, CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash reported, "The president today will go to Virginia to focus on a major domestic initiative, and that is a prescription drug benefit for Medicare that Mr. Bush is trying to educate seniors about, explain what it is and why he thinks it's important for them to enroll in the program."

On CNN Live Today, anchor Tony Harris informed viewers: "Domestic policy takes priority today for President Bush, who was set to talk this hour with senior citizens promoting Medicare's new prescription plan. We'll air the president's comments from Virginia this morning as soon as we receive them right here at CNN." CNN then carried Bush's remarks live.

On CNN's Your World Today, Harris reported: "President Bush shifted focus today from Iraq to one of his top domestic issues, prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Earlier today, he visited a retirement community in Springfield, Virginia. He encouraged seniors to take advantage of the new Medicare drug benefit." The program then played footage of Bush's remarks.

And CNN's The Situation Room aired two separate reports (here and here) on the Medicare drug program, both of which featured footage of Bush's Greenspring Village remarks. Neither report mentioned the WHCOA.

On December 13, neither MSNBC nor Fox News reported on the WHCOA or Bush's failure to attend. Both networks briefly noted Bush's Greenspring Village event, but their coverage was far more modest than CNN's. MSNBC reporters and anchors mentioned it three times on December 13 -- during the 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 11 a.m. editions of MSNBC News Live. MSNBC did not play footage from the speech. On the December 13 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Olbermann told viewers: "We interrupt this week of Iraq news to bring you wall-to-wall coverage of the president's trip this morning to a Virginia retirement community touting his Medicare prescription drug plan. What are you, nuts? Nice try."

Fox News mentioned the Greenspring Village speech only once. On the December 13 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported, "The president travels to a retirement center in a Washington suburb today to talk about the prescription drug benefit for Medicare that goes into effect next month."

None of the three major television networks reported that Bush had skipped the WHCOA. However, on the December 13 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, co-anchor Bob Woodruff and correspondent Lisa Stark noted Bush's Greenspring appearance and played footage of his speech:

WOODRUFF: President Bush traveled to suburban Virginia today to reassure senior citizens struggling to understand the new prescription drug benefit for the elderly. Enrollment for the program began a month ago for coverage that kicks off in January. But many seniors are having a hard time choosing among the different coverage options being offered. Here's ABC's Lisa Stark.

STARK: At a retirement community outside Washington, D.C., the president met with seniors trying to wade through all the Medicare prescription drug plans. Mr. Bush admitted it's a daunting task but emphasized there are people who can help explain all the choices.

BUSH [clip]: What we want to assure seniors around the country is that there is help.

Posted In
Economy, Health Care, Medicare
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