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TV news runs from healthcare reform news

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See my article in the BMJ this week about the shameful performance of three leading local television stations as they failed to cover health policy issues in any meaningful way in the 2004 election year –- on the local, state, or federal level.

I analyzed 10 months or 326 hours of late newscasts on award-winning stations in Seattle, Chicago and Tampa.

KIRO/Seattle had only three stories in ten months, totaling 79 seconds, on any aspect of the George W. Bush or John Kerry health proposals in the 2004 presidential campaign.

WMAQ/Chicago had nine stories, totaling less than four minutes, on presidential candidates’ health plans. WMAQ had almost twice that many stories (16) on low-carb diet stories, including commercial-like promotions for new low-carb products offered by Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, and Jack Daniels.

WFLA/Tampa devoted only 84 seconds to Bush-Kerry health platforms in six stories. Serving the senior-heavy Florida Gulf Coast, WFLA managed only three stories in ten months on Medicare, totaling less than 2.5 minutes.

With 40-million-plus Americans uninsured, in 10 months these three award-winning stations reported only one story on the uninsured. It was about an uninsured man with melanoma who won a state lottery.

There are many in this country who now accuse the President of shifting the focus from bad news to better news. I submit that public officials are able to do that only to the extent that journalists let them. And these TV journalists let important health policy issues fall off the radar screen.

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