It was a wild political donnybrook and the defining policy initiative of the Obama presidency to date. A Democratic chief executive was staking the crucial first year of his presidency on health care reform—a legislative achievement that had eluded several of his predecessors. And he was facing off against an equally determined opposition spearheaded by a new groundswell of fear about exploding government intervention.
There was a third major player in the health care debate as well. Much of the battle over health care reform, and much of what the public knew or thought about it, played out through a changing media system.
Prior to the legislative battle, curiously, health care had often flown below the news radar screen. Though the system affects virtually every American and represents about one-sixth of the U.S. economy, it accounted for less than 1% of the overall coverage in 2007 and 2008 according to data from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
It also amounted to the first long-running policy debate the press would have to cover in what was in some ways a new media era. It was one in which bloggers were being recognized at White House briefings, cable news and talk radio seemed to play an ever larger role in the media landscape and new technologies such as Twitter and social media had become important components of politics.
Add to the challenge, the health care industry itself, a particularly complex and often confusing topic. And the cacophony of charges and countercharges, commentary and criticism from advocates on both sides further complicated efforts to comprehend the issue. Indeed, as the coverage continued, the public seemed more confused.
Read the full report, Six Things to Know About Health Care Coverage on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.