In a year when American voters list health care as one of their top concerns in the upcoming midterm elections, broadcast evening news shows have failed to air a single substantive segment about the issue. They have, however, provided breathless coverage of the newest British royal couple, continuous updates on lottery jackpots, and even segments on rapper Kanye West’s bizarre visit to the Oval Office.
Last week, Media Matters investigated coverage of health care policy and GOP-led efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News and failed to find a single substantive segment on the issue. Instead, the broadcast evening news shows this year have aired 45 segments on the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a total of over one hour and 18 minutes, and that does not include special coverage of their wedding. The latest, record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot was covered in 13 segments for about 10 minutes in total. Each network also aired a segment on Kanye’s visit with President Donald Trump, which totaled six minutes. Substantive coverage of health care policy still stands at zero.
The night after our study released, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker filed a two-minutes-long news package on Nightly News that focused on the midterm elections as framed through the importance voters placed on health care. Welker’s piece did not focus on health care policy or GOP attacks on the ACA.
But her piece did give a pass to Republicans now campaigning on protections for pre-existing conditions that they not only vowed to undo but also worked to eliminate. The piece quoted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as an example of Republicans who once “railed against all aspects of Obamacare” and now want to keep “key portions like coverage for pre-existing conditions.” But Cruz has said, as recently as June, that he believes the Justice Department’s position that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional is “reasonable” and has voiced his support of the Texas-led lawsuit against the ACA that challenges the legality of the entire law. Let’s not forget that Cruz once spoke for over 21 hours straight on the Senate floor against the ACA, and that Republicans in the House voted 54 times to repeal the ACA in the first few years after its passage.
As we approach Election Day, broadcast news shows continue to underserve their audiences of millions by failing to substantively cover this critical issue.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the following keywords: “Obama” or “health” within close proximity of “care,” “insurance,” “plan,” “bill,” or “coverage” or the terms “Affordable Care Act,” “ACA,” “American Health Care Act,” “AHCA,” “Obamacare,” or “healthcare” between January 1 and October 23, 2018.
We checked every single mention on health care policy, which included any mention of health care policy in general, the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, or any of the GOP-attacks on parts of the ACA, such as topics related to the individual mandate, pre-existing conditions, cost-sharing reduction payments, limited coverage plans, or the lawsuit led by Paxton and Schimel. We looked for substantive segments about health care policy, which we determined were segments if any of the aforementioned were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts. Passing mentions of health care policy in segments about other topics were not determined to be segments about health care policy.
For other topics covered between January 1 and October 23, 2018, we searched for mentions of: “Prince Harry,” “Meghan Markle,” or the term “royal” within close proximity to “Harry,” “Meghan,” “couple,” “wedding,” or “baby” for segments on the royal couple; “Mega Millions” or “Powerball” for segments on the lotteries; and “Kanye” for segments on Kanye’s visit to the Oval Office. As with health care policy, we determined segments by whether the aforementioned terms were included in the headline or lead of the transcripts and did not include passing mentions of the aforementioned topics in the results.