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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare in America: How Journalism Made it Happen

It appeared to be close.

But in the way that Washington often does these things, the dramatic tension was built into the process from the beginning. Howard Kurtz and others in the DC punditocracy remarked that journalism did the "right thing" by closely and exhaustively following the minutiae of the debate. The rise and fall and slight rise again of the Obama administration's political fortunes were observed from close quarters.

It reminded me (in tone, if not in content) of the Clinton impeachment proceedings: how much detail was too much or too little. Who was saying wise things and who played the idiot? How much attention does one pay to the raw voice of American democracy even when it is stupid and hateful?

I could feel the fatigue in the newsrooms of DC as the vote got closer, as members of Congress played to the November galleries as Fox News and other like-minded types on talk radio allowed for the most asinine opinions to be voiced. I could hear the editors and producers beg reporters for anything else to give some editorial relief from the constant political coverage of this one relentless issue. As much as I found the details to be occasionally mind-numbing, I appreciated the coverage and the big picture view from the New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR. In Toronto, the Globe and Mail followed it closely since the failure of the Obama administration in this area would have repercussions on Canada's troubled health care system.

In the end, in the history of the United States, this was one occasion when process was less important than outcome. Health care was - and will continue to be opposed because it marks the beginning of the end of the Reagan Revolution: the notion that government is the problem, not the solution. As Americans discover that their daily anxiety levels can be reduced at least in this one area by eliminating the looming threat of economic disaster that can often accompany a chronic health condition, the support for this government program will grow.

I'm not underestimating the power of the Republicans to undermine this, or for their ideological allies in the media to sew panic. But in the end in this one case, good journalism prevailed and the polling of an informed electorate pushed the nervous representatives to make the best choice under the circumstances.

But the process as well needs to be noticed: While Americans have gained a national health care plan, something darker has been unleashed. Racism in American political life has been emboldened by the attacks on the administration allowed on certain media. Meanwhile the FCC takes refuge behind 1st Amendment rhetoric and concerns itself with "wardrobe malfunctions" rather than assaults on democracy perpetrated by so-called journalists.

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