Networks Continue to Ignore Obamacare Collapse

Television newscasts have devoted just a little more than 10 minutes — combined — to the ACA's death spiral

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 31 Oct 2016 at 3:30 PM

Bill Clinton’s startling description of Obamacare earlier this month as a “crazy system” yanked the Big Three broadcast networks out of the blackout of bad news about the health care reform law — but only a little.

According to a new study by the Media Research Center, which tracks left-wing bias in the news, the nightly news broadcasts and ABC, NBC, and CBS combined have devoted just 10 minutes and 21 seconds on the Affordable Care Act since the beginning of the year. Most of it has come since the former president made his controversial comments on Oct. 3.

“One the one hand, I’m shocked. On the other hand, it’s what I’ve come to expect.”

Prior to that, the ABC and NBC had not reported on the embattled heath care law at all.

“On the one hand, I’m shocked,” said Mike Ciandella, a research analyst who studied the broadcasts. “On the other hand, it’s what I’ve come to expect.”

The “CBS Evening News” set the pace — but Ciandella noted that is a low bar. The news program has devoted 5 minutes and 9 seconds to Obamacare, nearly as much as the other two networks combined.

The day Clinton made his comment, CBS devoted 45 seconds to it, while “ABC World News Tonight” gave it 58 seconds and “NBC Nightly News” spent 37 seconds on it.

The study was broad, counting any reference to Obamacare, even if it did not involve policy. For instance, it counted the 4 seconds of a news report about a hospital overcharging new parents when ABC played a clip of actress Whoopi Goldberg saying, "and I'm pretty sure you cannot blame this on Obamacare."

Networks Ignore Obamacare
2016 Network News Coverage
ABC2 minutes and 11 seconds
CBS5 minutes and 9 seconds
NBC3 minutes and 1 second
Total: 10 minutes and 21 seconds
Source: Media Research Center

All three networks also noticed on Oct. 24 when the federal government acknowledged that health insurance premiums would rise by an average of 25 percent. The networks combined to give the issue 5 and 11 seconds in that evening's broadcasts.

By the next day, though, the networks largely had moved on to other topics.

By comparison, according to the Media Research Center, September included 6 minutes and 42 seconds of coverage just of viral videos — from a man proposing at a New York Yankees game to a time-lapse video of a volcanic eruption. That means viral videos from just one month got more than half of the airtime that Obamacare has received the entire year.

The presidential campaign has received almost 20 hours of combined coverage on the network news programs — but little of it has focused on the Affordable Care Act.

Ciandella noted that the health law has generated plenty of news, from the collapse of most of the country's nonprofit cooperatives that supporters hoped would offer low-cost alternatives to insurance companies to government reports indicating that the law was costing more that originally forecast. Even the issue of rising premiums was well-known from announcements by individual companies.

"It should be hard to ignore," Ciandella said. "The networks make a big show of doing things that matter to viewers. This directly affects their viewers."

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