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West Michigan Media Coverage of Obama’s Health Care Speech

September 11, 2009

The news coverage surrounding the health care reform debate has been center stage in recent weeks. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, health care was the dominant news story in the national news for the week prior to the President’s speech. So, how did the West Michigan news outlets report on the much anticipate speech from Barak Obama?

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The Grand Rapids Press decided to get feedback from the community on the President’s speech, but limited it to a spectrum of those for or against. The story cites a businessman, someone who works at a low-income health care facility and a doctor. The businessman does not support the proposed plan from the White House, the low-income health care facility worker does, and for all practical purposes the doctor also does not support the President’s plan even though he admits there are problems in the current system. The Press also published an AP story that provided a summary of the President’s comments.

The local TV stations did straight up summaries of the President’s speech. WXMI 17 is a good example, where the reporter provides an overview of the speech with an a few excerpted quotes from the President. The channel 17 does not verify and of the claims made by the President and the excerpted comments were no doubt chosen because they were good punch lines, not because they provided viewers with any details of what the health care proposal actually is. WZZM 13 and WOOD TV 8 provided similar coverage, but they also chose to run additional stories that focused on Rep. Joe Wilson, who during the President’s speech yelled out “You Lie.”

WOOD Radio also reported on the President’s speech. However, the local radio news channel also did a story on reactions from both Congressmen Pete Hoekstra and Vern Ehlers. Hoekstra seems to think that Obama will have a hard time convincing moderate Democrats on this issue and Rep. Ehlers doesn’t think the proposal will pass because there is already a substantial federal deficit.

Independent reporting on the President’s speech was significantly different that how the commercial media was framing it. The Progressive Magazine’s Matthew Rothschild called the President’s comments on the Public Option proposal “tepid.” Washington author and journalist David Sirota provides a brief but excellent analysis of the President’s speech and The Nation magazine’s Washington correspondent John Nichols reported:

When it came to the task of offering the explanations, arguments and details that have been so hard to come by during a frustratingly unfocused debate about how to develop a functional health-care system for a country where tens of millions of Americans have no insurance coverage and tens of millions more are under-insured, Obama remained unsettlingly vague.

A couple of other issues that have been either marginalized or omitted from the commercial news coverage during the recent health care debate are; a single-payer option, which Democracy Now made the focus of their post Presidential speech on September 10; and the financial lobbying by the health care industry of Congress. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, the health care industry has spent $3.4 billion dollars since 1998 influencing federal legislation. It seems that kind of lobbying by the health care industry would merit substantial news coverage. Unfortunately, that has not been the case to this point in the debate.

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