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Network News Coverage Of Obamacare Rollout Overwhelmingly Negative

Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.

  • CBS Leads The Way: Evening News Devotes 50 Segments To ACA In 2 Months

    CBS Devoted More Coverage To ACA Than ABC And NBC Combined. CBS' Evening News devoted a total of 50 news segments to coverage of the ACA during the months of October and November 2013. ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News covered the health care reform law significantly less, airing just 19 and 26 segments, respectively. 

    Total ACA reports

    Broadcast Evening News Was Far More Likely To Focus On Negative Stories

    ABC, CBS, And NBC All Aired More Negative ACA Stories Than Positive Or Neutral Reports. Of all the stories aired in October and November, many more were negative than positive. Sixty-eight percent of ABC's stories on the ACA were overwhelmingly negative, followed by NBC with 62 percent, and CBS with 46 percent. Ten percent of CBS stories were overwhelmingly positive, and zero NBC and ABC stories were positive.

    ABC News ACA Report Tone

    NBC News ACA Report Tone

    CBS News ACA Report Tone

    Personal Anecdotes Overwhelmingly Negative

    24 Percent Of Evening News Stories Used Personal Anecdotes To Tell Story Of ACA. A total of 95 stories appeared on the evening news programs reporting on the implementation of the ACA in October and November, and 23 of those segments relied on personal anecdotes to tell the story of how the law was being implemented. CBS used personal anecdotes in 20 percent of its coverage, ABC used personal anecdotes in 26 percent of its coverage, and NBC used personal anecdotes in 31 percent of its coverage.

    Network Personal Anecdotes

    Personal Anecdotes Downplayed Positive Aspects Of ACA. Only 13 percent of the segments citing personal experience with the ACA exchanges mentioned or explored subsidies that would help consumers pay for health insurance. Only 4 percent of the segments using anecdotes -- 1 single report -- compared an individual's premium costs before the rollout to premium costs for coverage selected through the exchange. When broadcast evening news shows did discuss premium changes, they were nearly twice as likely to focus on individuals whose premiums were increasing (30 percent), than on individuals whose premiums were decreasing (17 percent). Only 17 percent of the stories using personal anecdotes mentioned or investigated multiple policy options that were available on the exchanges. 

    Anecdotal Stories Reporting Effects Of ACA On Insurance


    Media Matters reviewed all transcripts of ABC's World News, CBS' Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News in the Nexis database between October 1 and November 30 using the search terms “show(nightly news OR world news with diane sawyer OR evening news) and (Obamacare or Obama care or health care or affordable care act or insurance or website or web site or premium)”.

    We excluded repeats, teases, and weekend editions of the shows. We only included segments in which the focus of the entire segment was the ACA. We coded each segment as positive, negative, or mixed, and then coded segments which featured individuals' enrollment stories separately.

    If a segment only discussed negative aspects of the health care rollout or only featured negative interviews with individuals, it was coded as 'negative.' For example, if a story only featured comments from individuals who had a negative experience or were unhappy with the health care law, it was coded 'negative.' Conversely, if a segment only featured a positive story or highlighted a positive feature of the law, it was coded 'positive.' For example, a segment would be labeled 'positive' if it focused solely expanded coverage or reduced health care costs as a result of the law. Segments were coded as 'mixed' if they featured both positive and negative stories. For example, a segment would be labeled 'mixed' if it reported that some people couldn't access the exchanges through the website, but also highlighted some people's success in choosing a plan they liked or later noted that the administration had fixed some website issues.

    Charts by Rob Savillo.

    Media Matters researchers Hannah Groch-Begley and Michelle Leung assisted with this report.