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April 17, 1996

Local Television News Coverage of President Clinton's Introduction of the Health Security Act

Author Affiliations

From the Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, Calif (Dr Dorfman); Division of Health Policy and Administration, the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley (Dr Schauffler); and the Department of Political Science, the University of Washington, Seattle (Dr Wilkerson). Ms Feinson is an independent consultant in Wilmington, Del, and Dr Wilkerson is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.

JAMA. 1996;275(15):1201-1205. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530390067038

Objective.  —To investigate how local television news reported on health system reform during the week President Clinton presented his health system reform bill.

Design.  —Retrospective content analysis of the 1342-page Health Security Act of 1993, the printed text of President Clinton's speech before Congress on September 22, 1993, and a sample of local television news stories on health system reform broadcast during the week of September 19 through 25, 1993.

Setting.  —The state of California.

Results.  —During the week, 316 television news stories on health system reform were aired during the 166 local news broadcasts sampled. Health system reform was the second most frequently reported topic, second to stories on violent crime. News stories on health system reform averaged 1 minute 38 seconds in length, compared with 57 seconds for violent crime. Fifty-seven percent of the local news stories focused on interest group politics. Compared with the content of the Health Security Act, local news broadcasts devoted a significantly greater portion of their stories to financing, eligibility, and preventive services. Local news stories gave significantly less attention to cost-saving mechanisms, long-term care benefits, and changes in Medicare and Medicaid, and less than 2% of stories mentioned quality assurance mechanisms, malpractice reform, or new public health initiatives. Of the 316 televised news stories, 53 reported on the president's speech, covering many of the same topics emphasized in the speech (financing, organization and administration, and eligibility) and de-emphasizing many of the same topics (Medicare and Medicaid, quality assurance, and malpractice reform). Two percent of the president's speech covered partisan politics; 45% of the local news stories on the speech featured challenges from partisan politicians.

Conclusions.  —Although health system reform was the focus of a large number of local television news stories during the week, in-depth explanation was scarce. In general,the news stories provided superficial coverage framed largely in terms of the risks and costs of reform to specific stakeholders.(JAMA. 1996;275:1201-1205)