It’s no secret that health reform is center stage in the media these days, but what exactly is being said? To find out, I searched for all occurrences of the phrase “health reform” appearing in Google News (which searches multiple online news outlets) over the last month, and classified the headlines according to whether they framed health reform in a positive or negative light.
First, I thought it important to summarize the total number of news headlines in which “health reform” appeared. As you can see, there has been a fair amount of fluctuation. The red line indicates the average daily number of articles (18.5). As you can see, the two biggest spikes in activity correspond with the House’s July 14 release of their draft legislation and Obama’s July 22 health reform press conference.
Of more interest, however, is the broad picture that these headlines paint about health reform. Is there a trend in favorable versus unfavorable coverage? Over the past month, approximately 58% of “health reform” headlines have been favorable, while 42% have been unfavorable. On the whole, then, the media seems to be covering health reform as a “good thing.” But what is happening over time?
From this chart, we see that the “good” and the “bad” stories tend to fluctuate a fair amount from one day to the next. Again, it’s interesting to note that coverage was split 50/50 on the day the House draft bill emerged, but became predominantly positive again for the next few days. However, coverage grew increasingly negative prior to Obama’s press conference, and while some positive ground was gained in the days after the President’s remarks, it is very apparent that the “positive” peaks never return to their halcyon days of early July.
What are we to make of this? Well, I’d say that some fluctuation is completely predictable, and I’d also point out that the most reliable (i.e., stable) percentage estimates coincide with the days in which the most stories were run. That’s just simple math. Fewer total stories means a smaller absolute difference will appear as a larger percentage difference. The two days to hone in on, then, are July 14 and July 22. What we see is fairly balanced reporting on health reform, and I think that’s a healthy thing in a democracy like ours.
What do I think we’ll see as the month draws to a close? Inevitably a shift towards more negative coverage, as questions are raised about the August recess and whether failure to pass a bill before the break will stall reform efforts indefinitely, leading to its ultimate demise. That is, until another news item breaks, and we get back to the land of 50/50.