As for the Cornhusker Kickback, that $100 million tucked in the bill to help the state cover its Medicaid expenses, Nelson said it was a way for individual states to “opt out of federal funds for Medicaid in the future.” Presumably he meant Nebraska. He pointed out that a “whole new group of individuals” would now qualify for Medicaid with the feds paying the whole tab at least until 2017. But what happens after that if states like Nebraska can opt out? Does that mean the Medicaid newbies will be kicked off the rolls because funding won’t be adequate if the states don’t pay their share? Context, please.

The Tribune’s story raises a larger question, however, one faced by news outlets of all sizes. When some political bigwig wants to talk to your reporters, how tough do you want to be? Can you really ask the hard, confrontational questions that might clarify things for your audiences but piss off the politico who won’t “give” you an interview next time around? Too many times these interviews become sounding boards for politicians to trumpet their agendas and spin their positions to their liking. The news story then becomes a subtle, or not-so-subtle, form of flackery. Unless the news outlet bores down, their stories may not differ much from from political advertising. As health legislation heads toward passage, the audience deserves something better.

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.