Ignoring Republican sabotage, Fox & Friends uses health care insurer withdrawal to claim Obamacare failure
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As Senate Republicans face mounting criticism for including almost exclusively white men in their working group on the upcoming health care bill, media aren’t doing much better when discussing the legislation. Like the GOP, media are relying on mainly white people, particularly men, for their analysis and reporting on the health care bill, even though the bill would reportedly have serious consequences for women and minorities.
Shortly after the House of Representatives passed its version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Senate Republicans put together a working group to draft their own version of the legislation. The working group was roundly criticized for its lack of diversity. For instance, CNN’s Erin Burnett took issue with the all-male group, asking, “What can they realistically bring to the table when the conversation turns to, let’s just say, childbirth, maternity leave, ovarian cancer or breast cancer?” Likewise, Roll Call’s Patricia Murphy wrote that adding diverse voices to the group would allow people to “bring their own personal experiences to the debate,” noting that African-Americans have “a higher incidence of chronic disease” and are “more likely to require ongoing medical interventions over the course of their lives.”
Unfortunately, if people are hoping to hear a diverse group of people discussing the health care bill, media are of little help. A Media Matters analysis found that the people hosted on television to discuss the bill were disproportionately white men. Key findings include:
Of the 448 guest appearances* on prime-time cable news, broadcast morning and nightly news shows, and Sunday morning political shows, 392 appearances, or over 87 percent, were made by white guests.
During Fox News and CNN’s prime-time coverage of the health care bill, white guests made up over 90 percent of total guest appearances:
CBS hosted only white guests to discuss the bill during its morning and nightly news shows:
During Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press’s coverage of the health care bill, over 90 percent of appearances were made by white guests:
Of the 448 guest appearances* on prime-time cable news, broadcast news’ morning and nightly shows, and Sunday morning political shows, 299 were made by men, meaning two-thirds of the voices viewers heard were male.
During prime-time cable news, Fox News was the network that fared the worst on gender diversity:
During broadcast morning and nightly news shows, CBS was the only network to host more women than men to discuss the bill:
On the Sunday political shows, men outnumbered women 2-to-1, but some shows fared better than others. NBC’s Meet the Press was the closest to having equal representation, while ABC’s This Week had the highest gender imbalance:
Sadly, the groups that have been marginalized by Senate Republicans and television news have a lot to lose with the AHCA. As FamiliesUSA noted, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “greatly benefited Black communities, who are likely to disproportionately suffer the consequences of ACA repeal and the elimination of Medicaid as we know it” under the AHCA. And, as The Hill pointed out, “Hispanics benefited more than any other group from the Affordable Care Act,” and under the AHCA, “Many Hispanic leaders are worried their communities could be forced out of coverage and back into emergency rooms for primary care.” Additionally, groups fighting for the rights of Asian Americans have condemned the AHCA for the harm it would cause.
Women also have much to lose if the AHCA passes the Senate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, cuts to Medicaid would drastically hurt women who “comprise the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted that about 15 percent of low-income people “would lose access to care” under the AHCA due to the defunding of Planned Parenthood. And, as Marie Claire pointed out:
For women who let their insurance lapse, maternity coverage will no longer be guaranteed, and pregnant women may face surcharges up to $17,000 for care. C-sections could also be considered a pre-existing condition, meaning that a woman could incur costs of roughly $50,000 for simply wanting another child. States could determine that having a heavy period or other menstrual irregularities is a pre-existing condition to be paid for out of pocket.
The Republican health care bill presents a clear and present danger to millions of Americans, but minorities and women have the most to lose. Unfortunately, they’re nearly shut out of discussions about the bill, in politics and media alike.
* Repeated guests were counted each time they appeared.
Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of health care, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, the American Health Care Act, or AHCA on prime-time cable news, broadcast news’ morning and evening news shows, and Sunday political shows between May 4 (after the House of Representatives passed the bill) and June 18. Segments were coded if they included a significant discussion of the Republican health care bill. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another.
Prime-time cable news refers to CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC programming between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays. Broadcast news refers to ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, and NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News. Sunday political shows refers to ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the Union, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday.
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Television news largely missed reporting on Republican Senate leaders’ secretive drafting of its version of American Health Care Act (AHCA) that could radically alter health care for millions of Americans. New research from Media Matters has found that the five major newspapers almost completely ignored the GOP Senate leadership’s back room dealmaking on their front pages -- having a combined total of only two front page stories during a two-week period.
On June 16, Vox asked eight Republican senators to explain their party’s prospective bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the senators couldn’t “answer simple and critical questions” on their own bill. Vox Senior Editor Sarah Kliff pointed out on June 15 that “the Senate is running a remarkably closed process” to hide the bill; it has not released a draft to the public, has held no committee hearings, and has had no speeches “defending the policy provisions of the bill” on the Senate floor. The New York Times reported, also on June 15, that the “remarkable” secrecy around the bill has raised alarm with senators in both parties:
“They’re ashamed of the bill,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said. “If they liked the bill, they’d have brass bands marching down the middle of small-town America saying what a great bill it is. But they know it isn’t.”
Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, offered a hint of the same frustration felt by Democrats seeking more information about the bill.
“I come from a manufacturing background,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with information. Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process.”
The day Vox and the Times reported on the GOP senators’ unprecedented secrecy surrounding the bill, Media Matters released a report documenting the insufficient amount of weekday coverage on broadcast and cable news dedicated to the Senate health care bill from June 1 to June 14. Media Matters reported that the big three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) dedicated a fraction of their airtime -- roughly three minutes across all three networks -- to the Senate deliberations out of 15 total hours of scheduled weekday programming. The performance of cable news channels was not much better, as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News provided just under two combined hours of coverage to the Senate bill out of 150 hours of scheduled weekday programming.
Television news’ lack of coverage would help the Republican Party move the legislative process forward on this bill without a public debate that would highlight the real human cost of such legislation. Media Matters research also found that in addition to television channels falling flat, print media did not fair much better either on covering the the Senate health care bill.
An analysis of five major newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- showed that though newspapers did provide more in-depth coverage than television news, those papers almost completely ignored the issue on the front page. In fact, Media Matters did not identify a single front page story on the Republican Senate’s health care bill in the Times, USA Today, or the LA Times from June 1-14 and only identified one front page story each in the Post and the Journal. On June 19, ThinkProgess reported on this lack of front page coverage (which had continued beyond June 14) and noted that it was also a problem with local papers in areas that supported President Donald Trump -- areas which ThinkProgress noted would be “hit hardest by Trumpcare.”
In total, Media Matters identified 29 print edition news articles in these five major national newspapers that discussed the Senate health care bill from June 1 through June 14. Of these five outlets, the Post and the Times provided the most total coverage -- the Post published 11 articles on eight different days, and the Times published nine articles on seven different days. The Journal was third with six pieces published on five separate days. The Los Angeles Times published just two articles on two separate days, and Media Matters only identified one article in USA Today.
The GOP is counting on media’s silence and right-wing media myths to push a train wreck of a health care bill that would strip health care from tens of millions to slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Right-wing media have repeatedly assisted the GOP with claims that ACA is in a “death spiral” and have attempted to discredit the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office after its report found that up to 24 million people would lose health insurance under the AHCA. Right-wing media have even tried to pacify millions of Americans that would lose access to insurance by absurdly telling them to just go to the emergency room. As Talk Poverty’s Jeremy Slevin pointed out, “It is the responsibility of the press to draw out the contents of the Senate’s health care bill—before it is too late.”
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. We identified and reviewed all non-editorial print content that included any of the following keywords: health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 20 words of the word Senate.
Media Matters conducted a Factiva search of print editions of The Wall Street Journal from June 1, 2017, through June 14, 2017. health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or affordable care act or cbo within 10 words of the word Senate (the maximum distance allowed by Factiva).
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Evening broadcast and cable news coverage since June 1 has largely neglected ongoing Republican deliberations in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with major news networks devoting a fraction of their airtime to the prospective legislation. The sparse coverage also frequently overlooked the Republican Party’s unprecedented secrecy about its draft legislation, which Senate leaders plan to vote on before the end of the month without any input from outside experts, their Democratic colleagues, or the public.
The House-passed health care bill is arguably worse than the disaster from two months ago
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released another estimate of the budgetary and insurance market impacts likely to stem from the American Health Care Act (AHCA) if the version passed earlier this month by House Republicans becomes law. The score was arguably worse than a gruesome estimate first published on March 13, a fact seemingly lost on MSNBC conservative commentator Elise Jordan, who tried to defend the bill and failed.
On the May 24 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, correspondent Kasie Hunt spent several minutes detailing the CBO estimate released just minutes earlier, noting that AHCA was estimated to reduce federal deficits by $119 billion through 2026 at the cost of increasing the uninsured population by 23 million. Hunt added that the CBO believes people living with preexisting health conditions would be “ultimately unable to purchase health insurance at premiums that are about what they face under current law” if they lived in states that use a waiver of these existing patient protections built into the AHCA.
After Hunt concluded her segment by pointing out that the new CBO projections are not “dramatically different” than previous economic estimates, host Nicolle Wallace turned to a panel of guests to discuss possible political fallout for a bill that was already polling as low as 17 percent. Political analyst Dr. Jason Johnson predicted that the health care legislation would prove to be “a death knell for the midterm elections” before Jordan claimed the CBO estimate was “actually better than I expected” because “they do have a substantial savings of $119 billion, and it wasn’t looking that way in previous estimates of the prior plan.” Jordan pitched this report as proof that GOP-led health care reform could at least reduce government spending even if it couldn’t increase insurance coverage.
Unfortunately for Jordan, she is not convincing anyone. In its March 13 estimate, the CBO predicted the AHCA would kick 24 million people off their health insurance over ten years and reduce deficits by $337 billion. A March 23 estimate also found that a new amendment to AHCA would reduce deficits by $150 billion while still kicking 24 million people off insurance. The May 24 estimate of the version of the AHCA actually passed by the House contains by far the least deficit reduction (just $119 billion over ten years) but still predicts almost the same number of insurance losses.
More importantly, Jordan is egregiously exaggerating the significance of deficit reductions stemming from the bill. According to the CBO, the U.S. federal government will spend $49.9 trillion through 2026 and accumulate $8.6 trillion in additional deficit under current law, meaning the AHCA results in a meager deficit reduction of just 1.4 percent -- in exchange for virtually doubling the number of uninsured.
Watch the full segment here:
*This blog has been updated to clarify the AHCA's impact on long-term federal deficits.
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Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign
Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”
The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.
On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)
As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.
CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”
On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:
Audiences Need To Hear More Stories From People Like Kati McFarland
Viewers of CNN’s prime-time town hall event with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) witnessed personal stories from Americans across the political spectrum concerned about their country’s future. One person’s struggles, in particular, highlighted the life and death stakes of the Republican Party’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and set a standard for contextualizing the human costs of this political debate that other news outlets should follow.
On May 15, Pelosi appeared for an hour-long town hall during which she shared her perspective on how Democrats in Congress plan to respond to the right-wing agenda set out by their Republican colleagues and President Donald Trump. Moderator Chris Cuomo opened the forum with the late-breaking bombshell that Trump improperly shared classified intelligence with agents of the Russian government and moved on to questions from the audience on a host of topics.
One person Cuomo introduced was 25-year-old college student and Arkansas resident Kati McFarland, who “made headlines earlier this year” when she confronted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at a February constituent event regarding his support for repealing the ACA. McFarland presented Pelosi with the same grim reality that she told to Cotton, stating, “Without the ACA that saved my life, without the protections of the ACA, I will die.” She also questioned what Pelosi and Democrats plan to do to stop the Republican health care agenda, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), from becoming law and putting her life at risk. From the May 15 town hall:
McFarland’s perspective as one of the millions of Americans who might lose their health insurance coverage and patient protections enshrined in the ACA is sorely lacking from broadcast and cable news coverage of the health care policy debate.
A Media Matters analysis of cable news programming from February 18-26, a week of nationwide grassroots collective actions dubbed by organizers as the “Resistance Recess,” revealed that just three of 88 guests featured during prime-time discussions of a wave of town hall protests sweeping the country were actual attendees of the events. Outlets largely relied on journalists and political pundits to discuss the optics of the burgeoning political resistance movement, rather than the people and issues leading that resistance. Shortly after the AHCA narrowly survived a vote in the House of Representatives, Media Matters called on news outlets to feature more stories about people like McFarland who are directly affected by the GOP’s health care agenda. McFarland’s appearance at CNN’s prime-time town hall is a good start, but the human consequences of the GOP’s attempt to dismantle health care reform must remain a mainstay of news coverage. For millions of Americans the end results are about far more than political calculus; this is about life or death.
As the Beltway press scrambles to keep pace with the White House’s shifting explanations as to why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey -- explanations that seem built on a laundry list of daily deceptions -- journalists are now fighting a multiple-front war versus the Republican crusade to embrace fabrications as a rule.
The erratic new president has unleashed a torrent of lies in the place of public policy discussion, but the serial mendacity on the right is hardly limited to Trump. That means journalists face a growing challenge in trying to ferret out the facts.
After voting to pass a sweeping health care bill with no formal cost assessment, which hadn’t been marked up in policy committees, and which hadn’t even been read by all members of Congress, Republicans have been on an extraordinary public relations campaign to support the controversial legislation.
The push is extraordinary because Republican officials, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are aggressively fabricating claims about the bill that’s now pending before the Senate. In a Trump era of endless firsts, this is likely the first time we’ve seen a major American political party try to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill.
No, the House bill does not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It does not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It does not mean everyone will be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’t “bipartisan.” And it does not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claims.
If it did those things, the bill wouldn’t be controversial, would it? So instead, Republicans are committed to selling a fantasy version of the House bill -- and hoping the press doesn’t call them out on it.
“What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.”
This represents a dangerous new age in American politics. If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there’s no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be.
Right now, the future does not look promising because while some journalists and opinion writers, including those quoted above, are rightfully pointing out the GOP lies, others are routinely treating Republican health care lies as merely assertions in a larger he said/he said partisan debate.
As Brian Beutler noted at The New Republic:
To that end, these Republicans are counting on the reporters who interview them, and the news outlets that report on AHCA, to either not grasp finer points of health policy or to feel inhibited from disputing lies, so that the lies get transmitted to the public uncorrected.
Indeed, if Republicans don’t get called out for trafficking in fabrications, what’s the incentive for them to stop? If the press treats the GOP’s systematic lying as nothing more than partisan spin, there’s little downside to the strategy.
On Twitter, some observers have highlighted news organizations guilty of privileging GOP health care lies:
— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) May 7, 2017
Everybody at Axios knows this is a demonstrably false statement from Ryan https://t.co/tsPoEnr9bd
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 7, 2017
Note that it wasn’t just Axios’ Twitter feed that failed. In its write-up of Ryan’s TV appearance, Axios simply regurgitated the Republican’s false claims about health care and provided readers with no context about how many central untruths he was peddling.
Meanwhile, look at this feel-good New York Times headline that followed Ryan’s TV appearance and ask yourself, why would Republicans start telling the truth if lying produces headlines like this?
And note how The Associated Press struggled while covering Secretary Price’s recent illogical claim that a proposed $880 billion cut in Medicaid funding to states over 10 years would actually help states provide better health care (emphasis added):
CBO's analysis highlighted an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, which Price sought to cast as a way to give states more leeway to experiment with the program. The Obama-era law expanded Medicaid with extra payments to 31 states to cover more people. The House bill halts the expansion, in addition to cutting federal spending on the program.
But Price insisted Sunday, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources were being apportioned "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."
Basically, Price was claiming up is down, and AP did its best to let him get away with it.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed a previous version of the bill passed by the House, the $880 billion in Medicaid cuts would translate into 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage.
After pressing Price during a recent interview on his central contradiction about Medicaid (i.e. big cuts make it better!), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed a bit exasperated: “I think a lot of people wonder how taking more than $800 billion out of something is going to put more resources in it.”
It was good that Mitchell compelled Price to answer, but how did NBC News then treat Price’s nonsensical Meet the Press appearance? It rewarded him by repeating his health care lies in a headline: “HHS Sec. Tom Price: 'Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially' Under GOP Health Plan.”
And the lede of that article:
No one will be adversely affected by the Republicans' new health care bill once it's enacted and more people would be covered, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Politico did something similar for comments from Ryan: “Ryan: GOP Health Care Bill Not Only Good Policy, But Good Politics.”
For the GOP, that’s mission accomplished. And somewhere, Trump is smiling.
The good news is there’s still plenty of time for reporters to accurately describe how Republicans are trying to sell health care via baldfaced lies.
In Friday’s Washington Post, Dave Weigel did just that. He wrote a straightforward report about how Republicans, pressed at town hall meetings to defend the GOP’s bill, have unfurled “a series of flat misstatements and contradictions about what’s actually in the bill.”
Today, Republicans are unapologetic about spreading health care fabrications. More journalists should simply document that fact.
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