Media bias can be in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, it’s unintentional.
But this old reporter wondered what was up with a recent online Politico story that ran with the headline, “Poll: 54 percent against Obamacare.”
Strictly speaking, the headline was accurate. It was also misleading. So was much of the four-paragraph story.
Not until the third paragraph did the reporter, Kevin Robillard, reveal that the CNN/ORC International Poll showed 16 percent of respondents saying they opposed the Affordable Care Act because “it isn’t liberal enough.”
Add that figure to the 43 percent who said they favored the law and you get 59 percent. That's a healthy majority of those polled who supported the law as is, or who wanted it broadened.
Robillard wrapped up his story by writing, “The poll was conducted on May 17 and May 18, days after House Republicans again voted to repeal Obamacare.”
The implication – unintentional or not – is plain: a majority of Americans agree with the House GOP majority that the Affordable Care Act should be deep-sixed.
I don’t see the numbers in the survey bearing that out. Neither does Jeff Wiggins, a Steelworker and president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.
“It's in the media all the time. A story says a majority of people are against ‘Obamacare.’ But the story hardly ever stresses the fact that a lot of people who criticize the law don’t want it repealed – they want it strengthened.”
Maybe Robillard didn’t write the headline. Reporters didn’t at the daily newspaper where I was a scribe for more than a dozen years. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
But “majorities have consistently opposed the law,” Robillard wrote in the second paragraph. That’s not the whole story. In those polls, too, significant percentages of respondents said they had problems with the president’s health care legislation because it didn't go far enough.
Anyway, I also wasn’t sure what to make of the photo Politico used to illustrate Robillard’s story: a bowl full of “Repeal Obamacare” buttons.
I couldn’t read the small print on the buttons. So I Googled “repeal 'Obamacare' buttons” and discovered who put out the ones from the POLITICO story: the conservative group Heritage Action for America, a cousin of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Why not have pro- and anti- buttons?
From the start, right-wing groups used “Obamacare” as a slur for the president’s health care program. Ultimately, Obama and the Democrats embraced it. “You want to call it Obamacare — that’s okay, because I do care,” the president said.
Even so, conservatives continue to employ “Obamacare” as a big time slam. So why not just play the story up the middle and call the president’s plan by its actual name?
Bottom line: Robillard or an editor dropped the ball on this story. At the very least, it's sloppy reporting or bad editing, or both.
Unintentionally slanting a story isn’t as bad as deliberately slanting the news. But this Politico piece merits a clarification at the very least.
Meanwhile, Robillard could take a lesson in basic news reporting from USA Today's David Jackson.
"Some polls are what you make of them," was his online story lead.
"A new CNN/ORC International poll finds that 54% of those surveyed oppose President Obama's health care law -- but the law's supporters quickly point out that 16% opposed it because it doesn't go far enough."
Added Jackson, "White House officials are confident they can pick up the support of these and other Americans as major parts of the law go into effect later this year.
[dc]"A[/dc]s it stands now, only 43% of the public backs the health care law, according to CNN, a number that hasn't changed much since Obama signed the law in 2010.
"But the way supporters see it, no more than a third of Americans agree with the Republican position that the law should be repealed."
That's the kind of balanced journalism this old newshound was taught in his salad days.
Saturday, 1 June 2013