The drive to put Medicare privatization on the Congressional agenda in the mid-1990s was not journalism’s finest hour. Whether that explains the absence of good—or sometimes any—reporting about how the Ryan plan will affect ordinary people is hard to say. Perhaps the press is gun-shy. A Wall Street Journal piece, based somewhat on an interview with Newt Gingrich, briefly mentioned Gingrich’s previous stands on vouchers but didn’t mention his role in shutting down the government in 1995-96, an event partly based on changes to Medicare. Ditto for an NPR blog post that didn’t give much historical background.

To help prevent a replay of how journalists reported on Medicare in the past, in an upcoming post, Campaign Desk will offer a Medicare timeline which can help give important meaning and context to the stories they write the next time Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Paul Ryan—or any Democrat, for that matter—claims they can build a better Medicare program.

For more from Trudy Lieberman on Social Security and entitlement reform, click here.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.