Study: Media Used Conservative Memes To Cover Obamacare

Then-House Opposition Leader Rep. John Boehner holds a press conference in 2009 mocking the length of the Affordable Care Act. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gopleader/4055448939/" target="_blank">Flickr/House GOP Leader</a>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

The latest study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism found that, despite the conservative perception that the mainstream media has a liberal slant, coverage of the Affordable Care Act was dominated by rhetoric used by the law’s opponents. According to Pew, “the concepts used by opponents were nearly twice as common as those used by supporters.”

The report comes with a chart illustrating the discrepancy:

The Pew study found that, as with most public policy issues, matters of “strategy” dominated, making up 41 percent of coverage of the Affordable Care Act. “Descriptions of plans” and the “state of health care” combined took up only 31 percent. Yet the substantive message of the law’s opponents clearly seeped through: Americans heard from the media that the law was bad.

Unsurprisingly, views on President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement have been mixed to negative. A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and GFK Roper Public Affairs found that only 33 percent of respondents supported the law, while 47 percent opposed it. Nevertheless, 77 percent believed Congress should get to work on a new health care law immediately if the current one is struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The consequences of a Supreme Court decision scrapping the law would be drastic for the people it is already helping—especially the quarter of Americans who continue to struggle with health care costs.

Pew describes the situation here as the White House having lost the “messaging war.” It’s also possible that most Americans don’t like the Affordable Care Act, and that more favorable coverage wouldn’t have convinced them otherwise. The phrase “messaging war,” however, seems like a deeply shallow way of saying that most Americans, who are neither health care wonks nor constitutional scholars, believed what they were hearing from the media. Journalists are supposed to separate truth from falsehood, but instead spent the bulk of their resources speculating about “politics and strategy.” This is the result.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest