A Look at Media Bias in Coverage of Elizabeth Warren’s Defense of Paying for Medicare for All
For an explanation of why I have done this writeup, please see the Week 1 write up at the following link:
This week, Media Bias Chart considered how six news sources covered Senator Warren’s defense of how she plans to fund her Medicare for All plan. On Friday, November 1, 2019, Warren released a 21-page, 9,000 report outlining specific details of a plan that has previously been accused of being short on details. The math is questionable, as is its ability to get through both houses of Congress.
The six news sources are Slate, Huffington Post, Washington Times, The Guardian, Alternet, and The Washington Examiner
Slate starts off with a conclusion in the headline. “Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Pay for ‘Medicare for All’ Is Not Entirely Realistic.” While this conclusion may be supported by analysis in the body, it is noteworthy for setting the tone for the reader and is not original fact reporting for the purposes of our reliability grade. However, a headline is only a small part of the content, we make note of it and move on to the body to see if the article recovers. It does not, continuing to paraphrase the conclusion made in the headline. Now the body has either analysis or opinion in it, so it will be hard to recover the realm of factual reporting on the reliability scale. Moving on past the opening, the article acknowledges the credentials of Warren’s policy experts and then does a deep dive on the numbers, backed up by various hyperlinks that do not crosslink to other places on Slate’s website. In an otherwise factual article, not crosslinking to your own material is a good thing, but in an analysis piece such as this, it has little bearing on overall score. After looking at Warren’s experts and their numbers, it begins to pick them apart with the words of other, equally qualified experts or think tanks. Using these other numbers, it notes that while Warren’s numbers are not objectively false, they are likely inflated or exaggerated and hard to prove. The criticism of the plan is never directly attributed to the author, merely to the experts he cites, so it is less opinion and more analysis. There is little to no new factual reporting, just a rehashing of things already known in a new light. This article falls clearly into the “analysis” section of the Media Bias chart, though there is some wiggle room on whether to rank it high or low within that box. As far as the left-right bias, the article is critical of Warren’s plan and takes some jabs at what it touts as a “generic liberal gift list,” but it is not overly critical of the general progressive platform. It belongs somewhere left of center, but not very far over.
Huffington Post uses a more news-oriented headline with little use of criticism or analysis in its language. “Elizabeth Warren’s Most Anticipated Plan Of All Has Arrived.” The body of the article starts off with multiple crosslinks to other content on Huffington Post. This tactic of increasing visibility in search engines should count against a news source when it comes to original fact reporting, but there is nothing in the links that is misleading or factually incorrect. At times, the article makes unattributed opinions masquerading as analysis on the need for such a comprehensive plan and the pitfalls of the plan. Without sourcing, this will weigh down the article further on the reliability scale. This analysis continues through the middle of the article, never making clear if it is reporting on what’s in Warren’s plan or in the head of the author. None of it is wrong, per se, simply not factual reporting. However, in the latter half of the article, it reverts to factual reporting in coverage of disputes between Warren and more moderate candidates. Because it relies on more fact than analysis, this should be ranked higher than Slate, but not so high as to enter the box for purely factual reporting—somewhere in the area for the mixture of analysis and fact. The article is less directly critical of the position by Warren, focusing more on the impossibility of such a proposal, even with significant gains in the 2020 election. So while higher for factual reporting than Slate, it does drift slightly to the left on its left-right bias.
The Washington Times, openly notes that this is an editorial in its headline, so there is no need to look for opinion passing for news. We merely need to decide whether there is misleading or false information that would drag it below the area set aside for Opinion and Fair Persuasion. The body of the article uses the cross-link strategy noted previously for SEO points on numerous occasions. However, while Slate crosslinks to other articles, the Washington Times crosslinks to a topic page that includes all recent articles on the topic. This probably is not relevant here, given that both Slate and Washington Times were not pursuing original reporting, but it is a curious comparison to consider in future discussion. Near the opening of the article are a few jabs at Warren that are not related to the article. For example, in referring to the cost of the plan in wampum, a one-time currency for Native American tribes, they get to attack her as a “Native American wannabe,” referring to the controversy surrounding her ancestral claims. While mean-spirited, it is an opinion piece, so it will have little effect on the reliability scale. However, such attacks should drag it to the right on the left-right bias. The article picks apart all the claims made by Warren, calling her efforts a shell game. For example, they say that raising taxes on corporations will effectively be a tax on the middle class as corporations pass on those costs to employees and consumers. This commutative reality of taxes is fair. It notes that 2 million private insurance industry workers could lose their jobs as a result of removing private insurance before making a humorous attack on socialism that doesn’t quite make sense. However, at no point does the article use misleading or inaccurate information. What started out as an opinion piece remains an opinion piece. It should be well right of center on a left-right bias grade.
The Guardian starts off with a purely factual headline. Warren has a plan and some Democrats are attacking it. The body begins with a tit-for-tat coverage of what Warren and Biden have said about the plan. Throughout the opening is the cross-linking strategy that boosts the article in search engine results. While the crosslinks are not to misleading information, they should not be considered original reporting. The body of the article outlines the feasibility of the legislation as well as the feasibility of working its way to law with a US Senate that will have enough Republicans to filibuster. All statements are backed up with attribution. It is a fact-based article. But for the crosslinking, it would be original fact reporting. On a left-right scale, it is close to the center. It does not go out of its way to criticize the plan, nor does it fawn over it.
Alternet’s headline assumes that the plan will work and will lift millions out of poverty. This looks like an opinion piece, but the reader should remain open until the body of the article. It’s an opinion piece, written in the third person with some pretty hard-hitting observations such as the notion that poor people get sick more often. While fawning over Medicare for All and making a non-endorsement endorsement of Warren’s bold plan, the article is less a detailed coverage of Warren’s plan and more a treatise on why such a plan is necessary. It notes a study from 2018 that copays and other healthcare fees result in a regressive system in which the poor pay “nearly 1.5 percent of their income” to the rich doctors, pharmacists, etc. The 1.5 is a very generous approximation of the 1.37 percent mentioned in the study, which should be rounded to 1.4, not 1.5. That may not seem like a great difference, but .01 divided into 1.4 amounts to a 7 percent difference between reality and the article. Is it misleading or just bad math? After noting the need for action with a plan like Warren’s it launches into an attack on poverty and the rich who don’t pay their fair share, noting that the author grew up poor and has stayed socially conscious as an adult. does not make this rater very happy. The author closes with a personal testimony on why he has an opinion on this as a survivor of poverty and a founder of socially conscious companies. So the article is clearly opinion, but the math issue above drags it as far down in that category as it can get without slipping into misleading. As far as left-right bias goes, perhaps it is best to juxtapose it with the Washington Times article above. The premise of positive rights and the inherent evils of rich corporate greed is probably the polar opposite of the belief that any and all socialism will send us to the breadlines. Wherever a rater put the Washington Times article, this should be on the opposite side of the chart.
The Washington Examiner focuses on a minute detail only mentioned in passing in the Washington Times article. The creation of a single-payer program would result in the elimination of approximately 2 million jobs of those employed by the health insurance industry. This took place in an interview with New Hampshire public radio. However, there is some context that is lacking in the use of the quote. Listening further into the interview, Warren notes the billions in insurance premiums that don’t go directly to insurance and that private insurance is not a sustainable healthcare system. The article does not mention much else besides that quote from Warren before noting her polling aggregate at Real Clear Politics. Because it sources the article to other existing work from NPR and RCP, the article should not be considered original fact reporting. While there is some context to the quote about 2 million lost insurance industry jobs to consider, it doesn’t change the reality of the job loss, so it is still factual reporting. However, the failure to look at context drags it significantly to the right.