Rovner reported that “Clancy is only one of the many policy types who are trying to convince more Republicans to put expanding coverage on the back burner.” She singled out Michael Cannon, the health policy guru at the Cato Institute, which bills itself libertarian. Cannon questioned why everyone should have health insurance:

The idea that government should guarantee health insurance to everybody passes as really gospel in health policy circles, without any serious consideration, without any sort of examination of why is it that we want people to have health insurance. Is health insurance the best way to serve those goals; Could there lower cost ways of achieving those goals? People need to have the freedom not to have insurance if the marketplace is to function properly.

Rovner included quotes from supporters of the health reform law, who argued that making the marketplace function better is a “big smokescreen.” And this: she reported that GOP analysts see the argument against universal coverage as an effective political tactic that is “like class warfare.” How? “Republicans want to paint the healthcare law as requiring people who already have health insurance to help pay for those who don’t.”

There was a tiny bit of he said/she said in the pieces, but Rovner weighed the arguments, and a reader/listener came away with a clear understanding of her thesis.

A few months ago NPR released a new ethics document that aimed at ending he said/she said stories that offer false equivalence—presenting “all sides” of an issue to create an appearance of balance rather than the best version of the truth. NPR’s ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos told me the document was an “evolution” of existing policy. He said sometimes reporters had been “hiding behind the rules,” and “so long as you didn’t violate the rules it was okay…He said/she said is a perfect example.” Judging from Rovner’s stories, the document is evolving in the right direction.


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.