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Media Paying More Attention to Anti-Reform Rulings Than Pro-Reform

 
 
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Four federal district courts have heard challenges testing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Two judges concluded the law is legally permissible, two came to the opposite conclusion.

But it occurs to me the public has heard quite a bit more about the latter than the former. Indeed, it seemsas if the media largely ignored court rulings that bolstered the arguments of health care reform proponents, while making a very big deal about rulings celebrated by conservatives.

My perceptions, though, are just that -- personal observations, subject to opinions and reliant on memory. Let's go a little further, and quantify matters a bit.

Ruling #1

On October 7, Federal District Court Judge George C. Steeh of Michigan issued the first ruling testing the constitutionality of the reform law, and he sided with the Obama administration. Here's the media reception:

The Washington Post ran a story on page A2, which was 607 words.
The New York Times ran a story on page A15, which was 416 words.
The Associated Press ran a story, which was 474 words.
Politico ran a story, which was 830 words.

Ruling #2

On November 31, Federal District Court Judge Norman K. Moon of Virginia issued the second ruling testing the constitutionality of the reform law, and he too sided with the Obama administration. Here's the media reception:

The Washington Post ran a story on page B5, which was 507 words.
The New York Times ran a story on page A24, which was 335 words.
The Associated Press ran a story, which was 375 words.
Politico ran a story, which was 535 words.

Ruling #3

On December 13, Federal District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson issued the third ruling, siding with opponents of the law. Here's the media reception:

The Washington Post ran a story on page A1, which was 1624 words.
The New York Times ran a story on page A1, which was 1320 words.
The Associated Press ran a story, which was 915 words.
Politico ran three separate stories, which totaled 2734 words.

Ruling #4

On January 31 (yesterday), Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson issued the fourth ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, also siding with opponents of the law. Here's the media reception:

The Washington Post ran a story on page A1, which was 1176 words.
The New York Times ran a story on page A1, which was 1192 words.
The Associated Press ran a story, which was 1164 words.
Politico ran four separate stories, which totaled 3437 words.

Keep in mind, as a legal matter, none of these ruling is more important than the other. They're all at the federal district level, they're all dealing with the same law, and they'll all be subjected to an appeal.

And yet, the coverage discrepancy is overwhelming. One of the two pro-reform rulings didn't even make the Washington Post's A section at all. In literally every instance, the Republican-friendly rulings generated more coverage, with better placement, and longer stories than the rulings preferred by Democrats.

If there's a sensible explanation for this, I'd love to hear it.

Update: Reader B.A. emails to suggest I group these by media outlet, instead of by ruling. I aim to please.

Washington Post
* Steeh ruling (pro-reform): A2, 607 words
* Moon ruling (pro-reform): B5, 507 words
* Hudson ruling (anti-reform): A1, 1624 words
* Vinson ruling (anti-reform): A1, 1176 words

New York Times
* Steeh ruling (pro-reform): A15, 416 words
* Moon ruling (pro-reform): A24, 335 words
* Hudson ruling (anti-reform): A1, 1320 words
* Vinson ruling (anti-reform): A1, 1192 words

Associated Press
* Steeh ruling (pro-reform): one story, 474 words
* Moon ruling (pro-reform): one story, 375 words
* Hudson ruling (anti-reform): one story, 915 words
* Vinson ruling (anti-reform): one story, 1164 words

Politico
* Steeh ruling (pro-reform): one story, 830 words
* Moon ruling (pro-reform): one story, 535 words
* Hudson ruling (anti-reform): three stories, 2734 words
* Vinson ruling (anti-reform): four stories, 3437 words

 

Washington Monthly / By Steve Benen

Posted at February 1, 2011, 4:12am

 
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