Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 7, 1994

Jamieson Says TV News Poorly Reports on Health Care Reform
By Steve Libowitz and Andy Blumberg

Last month, the dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at
the University of Pennsylvania went to the School of Hygiene and
Public Health to pose the question of how well the media is
helping to shape public opinion about health care opinion. The
short answer: not very well at all.
     Kathleen Hall Jamieson was the keynote speaker at the
school's Health Communication Day, an annual event held to
present issues of interest to students and professionals who
specialize in communicating public health information. 
     "The health care reform debate took the paradigms of how we
elect political candidates and overlayed them on how we debate
public policy," Dr. Jamieson said. 
     To illustrate her argument, Dr. Jamieson used statistics
gathered by advertising monitors who watched and listened to
hundreds of hours of media messages. She demonstrated the
disparity in coverage between divisiveness and substance.
     "What was presented on television as pure coverage was
really a series of attacks and counterattacks," she said. "The
media did not let the substance of the issue get through."
     There was never additional commentary on media stories, Dr.
Jamieson said, leaving the public wondering which side of the
debate was truthful and accurate. The result was an increasing
level of public cynicism toward the media as the health care
debate unfolded. 
     Much blame, Dr. Jamieson said, could be leveled at the
so-called "Harry and Louise" ads, which presented what was
supposed to be a typical American couple who did not support the
president's reform proposals. The problem, she said, is that most
Americans never viewed the commercials as television
advertisements. Instead, they were exposed to excerpts of them on
newscasts, which reported on legislators' concerns about the
negative effects the ads had on public opinion. 
     Dr. Jamieson said that this kind of media coverage had
significant impact on public opinion, supporting her claim with
an analysis of polls taken in which people were asked to express
their preference for one of the various health care reform plans.
When plans were mentioned by name, "The Clinton Plan" was, for
the most part, received negatively. 
     However, Dr. Jamieson noted, when the elements of the plans
were described without names attached, participants wanted the
Clinton administration proposal. 
     Ultimately the health care debate faltered and finally died,
Dr. Jamieson said, under the weight of the "attack-counter-
attack" media filter.
     "We are now conducting public policy debates in a way that
the electorate will not understand," she said. "This makes your
job that much harder and the job of media critics that much more

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