Grading "The Media."

In a post titled "The Best-Covered News Story, Ever", Harold Pollack makes an important point:

Because it is so easy to find bad reporting and public stupidity, it is easy to overlook something. Press coverage of health care reform was the most careful, most thorough, and most effective reporting of any major story, ever.

Throughout this past year, moderately informed and inquisitive readers could get more accurate information, more quickly, and more carefully-analyzed than one ever could before. I concede that one needed to know where to find this information. ... If you read any of the top five or ten national newspapers or (often even better) their accompanying websites, you were only a few clicks away from a remarkable and free library of analysis and supporting information of remarkable depth and diversity. If people don't look, there is only so much the media can do.

This is the problem with making an assessment of how "the media" did reporting health-care reform, or anything else. Kaiser Health News, a site set up by the Kaiser Family Foundation, is part of "the media," where you could have gotten all kinds of informative and helpful information about reform. But so is the Fox News Channel, where you could have gotten all kinds of misinformation and absurd claims about reform. Pollack's point -- that if you wanted to, you could have learned more about this issue than about any other policy debate we've ever had -- is almost certainly true.

And it's fair to say that the most important news organizations -- the network newscasts, the key newspapers, the newsmagazines -- can at least be said to have made a good-faith effort to inform the public as best they could. Some did a better job than others, and some fell prey to the same weaknesses that characterize their coverage of any issue ("Look, people shouting -- let's go see what they're saying!"), but overall they offered the public the information they needed to make an informed decision, in amounts so vast that no thirst for wonkery could go unsated.

Those people who made a misinformed decision, like opposing reform because they didn't want their grandma turned into Soylent Green, didn't do so because they had no access to the truth, or because it was just too hard to become informed. They decided, consciously or otherwise, that what Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity told them was more credible than the opposite thing that a hundred journalists told them. And you can't blame the journalists for that.

-- Paul Waldman

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