We've got a project for you: Let's demand some accountability from our newsmakers.
Early Thursday I told you that nearly 50 percent of Americans either believe Obama's Affordable Care Act has been repealed or don't know enough to say whether it's still a law. If that stat seems like a condemnation of American civics knowledge, it is—but only partially.
For the rest of the story, or, perhaps, for an explanation about why many Americans are so ignorant, consider the above graph. Ezra Klein made it with data from the Washington Monthly, and it shows the disparity between media coverage of court rulings that have ruled healthcare reform unconstitutional and rulings that have found the law completely legal.
In deference to those who can't read it, the red columns are how many words the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, and the Associated Press devoted to stories about reform being unconstitutional, while the blue columns represent the word counts the same outlets gave to reform being ruled legal. As you can see, not only did the unconstitutional rulings draw far lengthier coverage, that coverage was frequently given prime real estate (in the case of the Times, the stories were on page A1 rather than A34).
Now, one certainly wishes that citizens would at least try to think critically about the information being put in front of them, not just read the headlines and move on. But we also have to question the motives of our news outlets. We all know controversy (i.e. partisan bickering over a law) sells papers, and that serenity (i.e. a law remaining a law) does not sell papers. Thus, the graph above: Controversy—ginned up or not—is splashed across the front page, while "boring" stories about things being just fine are tucked into the back. Is it any wonder our public is confused about healthcare reform?
I say we write to our newsmakers and politely ask for an explanation as to why they're skewing their coverage this way. Below is contact information for proper authorities at the four aforementioned news outlets. If you have the time, drop a quick note to them—I've included a form letter below—and request some answers. The more people who write, the more they'll be compelled to give a response.
Arthur S. Brisbane, public editor, New York Times: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Alexander, ombudsman, Washington Post: email@example.com
Jim VandeHei, executive editor, Politico: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Stokes, manager of media relations, Associated Press: email@example.com
It has recently come to my attention that your publication devoted thorough coverage and prime placement to two stories about judges ruling the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. You then gave anemic coverage to three stories about other judges who said the Act was legal. Because the topic of the pieces—healthcare reform's legality—is strikingly similar, I'm wondering why there exists such a striking disparity in how many words you devoted to each, and how you featured them in your publication. Any insight you can offer into the matter would be hugely appreciated.