MEDIA
06/30/2011 05:26 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2011

Health Care Reform Coverage Occluded By Horse-Race Obsessions

Yesterday, the Sixth Court of Appeals provided a lift to proponents of health care reform when it ruled that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. But if you hadn't heard that, it may have been because the ruling didn't exactly make headline news. As HuffPost's own Jennifer Bendery reported earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted how disparate media coverage has been of the law's legal successes, when compared to its legal setbacks:

"You would think sometimes from reading newspapers or watching TV that only the ones that have gone against us are happening," Carney said during a Thursday briefing.

"I would just note that there have been a number of rulings upholding the legality of the Affordable Care Act -- more than those that have not upheld it."

Bendery cites some research conducted by Steve Benen, which puts the discrepancy in stark relief:

Here’s the tale of the tape, putting yesterday’s coverage in the larger context of the other cases:

Washington Post
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A5, 1053 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A2, 607 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page B5, 507 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1624 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1176 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): no article, zero words

New York Times
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A15, 853 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A15, 416 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A24, 335 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1320 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1192 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A14, 488 words

Associated Press
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 832 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 474 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 375 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 915 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 1164 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 595 words

Politico
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 940 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 830 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 535 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): three pieces, 2734 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): four pieces, 3437 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 702 words

Whether it comes in the form of more pieces, longer pieces, or more prominently placed pieces, the rulings that ran against the bill are the clear and undisputed winners. And chances are, if you were to talk with the editors of these papers, they'd tell a similar story: it's not as interesting when a piece of law glides through legal review. Everyone would rather report live from the path of most resistance. Critics will, naturally, contend that the distortion enforces the perception that the outlook for the bill's survival in court is worse than it actually is.

There's a deeper rot at work, though. The entire story of health care reform, like so many other stories, is consistently, numbingly forced through one prism -- the political horse race. Health care reform, unemployment, foreclosures -- to the media, these aren't things that happen to people. These are things that happen to Barack Obama. And so, they don't need to give prominence to stories in which the White House is doing okay. The hot action is when the race is close.

If the media recognized that health care reform was something that impacted ordinary Americans, the coverage would be different. But the media doesn't know any ordinary Americans, and they certainly don't covet "access" to ordinary Americans, so why should they bother?

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