ABC News is preparing for a day of in-depth of coverage on President Barack Obama's healthcare proposal on June 24, broadcasting from the White House and including an interview with Obama on Good Morning America and an hour-long Primetime "town hall" discussion featuring Obama and questions from audience members. Concerns have been raised about whether ABC's special programming will convey a full spectrum of opinion on the healthcare reform debate--but the views perhaps most likely to be left out have so far gotten little attention.
Complaints from the right about ABC's plans have gotten widespread play. The Republican National Committee, which attempted to buy ad time during the specials and was rejected, condemned "ABC's astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue" (Real Clear Politics, 6/17/09).
ABC said that its policy against advocacy ads was longstanding (FoxNews.com, 6/18/09); in a statement on ABCNews.com (6/16/09), the network declared: "ABC News prides itself on covering all sides of important issues.... In the end, no one watching, listening to, or reading ABC News will lack for an understanding of all sides of these important questions."
FAIR certainly hopes ABC stands by its claims and covers all sides of the healthcare debate--and there is little doubt that the network will bring up the complaints about a "government-run healthcare system" that the GOP has made.
More likely to be excluded is any discussion of a single-payer healthcare plan, which polls show is favored by a majority of both the public and physicians. However, corporate media have demonstrated a profound aversion to talking about single-payer.
A recent FAIR study (3/6/09) showed that of hundreds of newspaper and broadcast stories on healthcare reform in the week leading up to Obama's March 5 healthcare summit, only five included the views of single-payer advocates; none of those appeared on television. A Nexis search of all ABC News transcripts for the past six months shows that single-payer has been mentioned only four times, three of them by opponents dismissing the idea (3/5/09, 6/14/09, 6/14/09) and once in a reference to Medicare by liberal economist Paul Krugman (5/31/09).
The New York Times (6/19/09) recently illustrated the general media sentiment about single-payer and the healthcare debate:
Seeking broad popular support, the president and congressional leaders have played between the 40-yard lines of the health policy spectrum. Those who favor a single-payer, government-run insurance system have been marginalized, along with those who would unleash the system to the free market.
Of course, the decision to marginalize single-payer is a decision to avoid playing between the 40-yard lines. The Times and the rest of the corporate media are the ones who have decided that single-payer doesn't have "broad popular support," regardless of what their polling tells them (FAIR Blog, 6/19/09). And that makes healthcare "reform" more possible than it was under the Clinton administration, explains CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen (3/5/09; FAIR Action Alert, 3/12/09):
Fifteen years ago you sometimes heard--actually you heard quite a bit--people saying: "Let's have a single-payer system like in Canada. The government is going to be the health insurer for everybody." You don’t hear that as much as you used to. So more people are on the same page more than they once were.
According to an ABC press release (Note, 6/15/09), the town hall discussion will be moderated by Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, but also taking part will be ABC medical editor Dr. Timothy Johnson, who "will focus on different ideas for how to fix the system and how proposed changes will impact our already fragile economy."
In the past (ABC, 10/21/03), Johnson has provided insightful coverage of single-payer, debunking myths and explaining its broad support and benefits. ABC and Johnson should be sure to include such insight in their coverage of Obama's healthcare plan on June 24.
ACTION: Urge ABC to include a discussion of the single-payer plan in its coverage of the healthcare debate on June 24.
ABC News Primetime
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This story was published on June 23, 2009.