Friday, July 27th, 2012
Medicare is a big issue in the presidential campaign. President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican candidate, have very different ideas for the future of Medicare. This election could make a big difference to your future health care.
But according to the Columbia Journalism Review, news media are doing a terrible job explaining what these differences are. Basically, news reports simply repeat accusations the candidates make about each other without bothering to explain what any of the accusations mean, or even if they are true.
For example, CJR says, ABC News recently showed the President saying that Mr. Romney’s Medicare plan would leave seniors with less health care coverage than they have now. Instead of explaining why that might (or might not) be true, ABC News then went to Mr. Romney, who said that his plan would preserve Medicare and the President’s would fail.
In other words, it’s a lot of “he said, she said,” with no attempt present any facts voters might need to know to make their choices. Even the most intelligent and conscientious citizens could be left wondering if it matters which candidate wins. And whether you are healthy or have mesothelioma cancer, the outcome of this election could affect your access to medical care.
The CSJ writer, Trudy Lieberman, goes into more detail. The President criticized Mitt Romney’s Medicare plan, which would give seniors a fixed amount of money to buy private health insurance instead of paying for their costs directly through Medicare. This plan, called either “vouchers” (by Democrats) or “premium support” (by Republicans) would not affect current Medicare recipients, but would kick in for future recipients.
Some health care experts, and the Congressional Budget Office, have criticized this plan because the fixed amount seniors would receive is tied to an index that would not reflect true increases in health care costs. Under this plan, it is possible that, over time, the fixed amount would cover less and less of what seniors actually have to pay.
So President Obama’s criticism of Mr. Romney’s plan could prove to be valid, but you wouldn’t know that from the news stories.
Now, what was Mr. Romney’s response? According to several newspaper accounts, Mr. Romney complained that President Obama’s remarks were “dishonest” and mischaracterized Romney’s plan. However, there was nothing in the news stories that explained how President Obama’s remarks were dishonest, exactly. Does Mr. Romney not advocate a premium support system, as his website says it does? If so, what precisely did Mr. Obama say that was dishonest? Maybe there was something, but you would never know what it was from the news stories.
News critics say that campaign coverage is too much like horse race coverage. News stories about candidates too often focus on who is ahead or behind in the polls, or which one just said something spectacularly stupid that everyone is laughing about. What they don’t do is clearly explain exactly what policy proposals the candidates are running on and how they differ from each other.
One reason campaign news is reported this way is that, if one candidate is lying and the other isn’t, news stories that point this out appear to be biased. But shouldn’t citizens know if a candidate is lying? And maybe, if candidates get called out for lying in news stories, they won’t do it so much.