When aspects of the bill were clearly explained to the public, they got it. Case in point: the excise tax on Cadillac plans. When union leaders told members what was at stake in the fight over these plans, which gave them good, comprehensive coverage usually in lieu of higher wages, workers understood and didn’t like it one bit. One firefighter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who hailed from a long line of Democrats, voted for Scott Brown in protest. “They’ll screw my system if we don’t stop them,” he said.
Indeed there was decent reporting on the Internet by several randomly dispersed bloggers who know their stuff. But it doesn’t count as great coverage if you write mainly for people who already get it. Arguably, blog followers already have an intense interest in the subject. But great journalism must do more than preach to the choir, and much of the coverage preached to the choir, especially the policy wonks angling for their next appearance on the News Hour.
Quantity of coverage does not equal quality, a point Allison Kilkenny makes on The Huffington Post. There is no argument that there was tons of coverage, especially about the process of writing and passing a bill—in other words, the horserace. Stories touched on everything from stakeouts at the Senate Finance Committee to the House whip’s minute-by-minute nose count. Pollack himself says that he “religiously checked David Dayen’s whip count at Firedoglake.” But as we’ve noted, stories were often too brief for public understanding, lacked completeness, and left readers or viewers with half a loaf. When Campaign Desk found comprehensive stories that connected the dots and provided important context, how-to information, or took a fresh angle, whether in Montana’s Missoulian, the Kansas City Star, the Charleston Gazette, The New York Times, or Time magazine, we were quick to praise them. We wish there had been more.
Pollack notes that some experts who were not exactly household names became leading commentators, like Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University. The press had pretty much ignored Jost until early last year when we featured him in one of Excluded Voices series to help bring new voices into the mix. Even so, by fall, the media were still relying on the same handful of sources. Pollack notes that Howard Gleckman wrote important material on disability policy. Maybe so, but the MSM never did much to spark a serious discussion on long-term care—another aspect of reform that was neglected during the two-year discussion.
Perhaps The New Republic piece was not so puzzling considering the magazine’s health care history. This was the same magazine that published stories by another provocative writer who didn’t have all the facts in hand—the infamous Betsy McCaughey, who helped to sink the Clinton plan and attempted to do the same last summer when she tried to kindle public anger over death panels. We hope The Treatment’s Jonathan Cohn returns to his posts this week. He is one of those bloggers who knows what he’s talking about.