Poor Coverage of Health Care by the Corporate Media: How Can the Electorate be Informed?

During this election season, with health care one of the serious issues, the mainstream media are missing in action. As they posture coverage of contentious issues, they deliver disinformation and non-information at such a superficial level as to be useless.

What can we expect, since the so-called mainstream media have been corporatized and consolidated under the ownership of a few billionaires dedicated to free markets above public service? In this process, the numbers of paid reporters per capita has plummeted. (1) In their recently released book, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney tell us:

In the current crisis that is decimating the commercial model for journalism, the amount of resources for actual hard-digging into the actual panning and ambitions of the powerful is generally non-existent, and not something corporate owners have shown much inclination to encourage. As for political journalism, with a few fine exceptions, it is mostly pointless gossip and nutritionless assessments of spin and polls. With regard to political campaigns the journalism hits rock bottom. (2)

The reach of today's "journalism" extends to all forms of media, including print, digital, radio, and television. The news industry is bought and paid for by large corporate interests dedicated to their own financial bottom lines. Interlocking directorates among media corporations tighten the controls of the "news," as shown by a 2009 study by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), when single-payer national health insurance was barely mentioned as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) progressed through its political compromises and manipulations. (3)

General Electric (GE) and Comcast give us examples of how big their reach has become. GE has a 49 percent interest in NBC Universal, with Comcast at 51 percent. GE media holdings include TV networks NBC and Telemundo, 27 TV stations, and many cable TV networks, including the popular web-based TV website Hulu.

So here we are in 2016 with three very different proposals by the leading presidential candidates on health care financing--the Republicans with a free market plan still in the works, the Democrats with Hillary Clinton's support of the ACA, and Bernie Sanders' single-payer proposal for national health insurance. The media again give almost no coverage to these proposals, and when it does, provides distortion and disinformation, as shown by these examples:
  • The Washington Post, which was acquired in 2013 by Amazon's
  • libertarian CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013, recently ran 16 negative articles on Bernie's campaign in 16 hours. (4)
  • A recent article in the New York Times highlighted a proposal by Hillary Clinton to resuscitate the public option (5) (briefly considered as a provision of the ACA as it was being developed); but there was no critical coverage of this idea, which would be just another useless addition to the ACA with no chance of competing with the powerful consolidated and subsidized private insurance industry.
  • A later New York Times article accepted uncritically a flawed analysis by the Urban Institute that Bernie's single-payer proposal would be far more expensive and require higher taxes than proposed. (6) Since then, that "analysis" has been soundly rebutted by such flawed assumptions as Bernie's plan continuing with private insurance (not true, with some476 billion in annual savings by its being replaced by not-for-profit public financing), its underestimation of savings on drug costs by the government's negotiated drug prices (as the Veterans Administration has done for years), and unrealistic projections of overutilization of health services when universal coverage to health care is implemented (7)

Obviously, the political, economic and lobbying power of corporate
interests in the medical-industrial complex want to continue to defend the highly profitable, under-regulated marketplace in health care. We need a vigilant and critical media, but it's been long gone, bought off by their owners and advertisers as they deliver empty pablum to their mass audience. Corporate acquiescence to those in power has been openly acknowledged, as Chuck Todd of MSNBC's Meet the Press did in 2014 when he admitted that his career goals prevented him from asking tough questions, which could limit guests' return to the program, inhibit his getting high-profile guests, and cause drops in ratings that could lead to shutting down the program. (8)

The corporate media continue to posture that they are covering the real news. But their investigative capacity has been largely diminished through underfunding by corporate chiefs. Edward R. Murrow would cringe at what our media are today, having failed to report accurately on the Iraq War, the many problems with trade agreements that outsource American workers overseas, and alternatives to our overpriced and unaffordable health care industry. Our democracy cannot work unless we have an electorate informed by accurate information as to policy alternatives. We need more investigative journalism, but corporate control and power block the way.


1. McChesney, RW, Nichols, J. The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again. New York. Nation Books, 2010.

2. Nichols, J, McChesney, RW. People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, New York. Nation Books, 2016, p. 140.

3. Murphy, K. Single-payer & interlocking directorates. Extra!, August 2009, p. 7.

4. Johnson, A. Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours. Common Dreams, March 8, 2016.

5. Rappeport, A, Sanger-Katz, M. Hillary Clinton takes a step to the left on health care. New York Times, May 10, 2016.

6. Sanger-Katz, M. A single-payer plan from Bernie Sanders would probably still be expensive. New York Times, May 16, 2016.

7. Woolhandler, S, Himmelstein, DU. Doubling down on errors: Urban Institute defends its ridiculously high single-payer cost estimates. Huffington Post, May 22, 2016.

8. LeftofCenter, "'It's not my job' Chuck Todd admits he can't ask tough questions." Crooks and Liars, December 28, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2015. htpp://www.crooksandliars.com/2014/12/todd-admits-he-wont-ask-tough-questions-so