It’s the health-care law, not “Obamacare”

You expect the news in The Denver Post to be fair and accurate, as opposed to the writinng in most blogs, which is usually gossipy, free-wheeling, and, with luck, accurate. As to fairness on most blogs, forget it.

If you’re a journalistic outfit like The Denver Post, and you’re operating a blog like The Spot, you face conflicting priorities. You want to post stuff that’s easy to read and talk about but you definitely don’t want to undermine the journalistic credibility that separates you from the blogging masses…-especially if your fair-and-accurate news reporters are the ones doing the blogging, as is mostly the case on The Spot.

 One really good way to undermine your journalistic credibility is to use political propaganda as descriptive terms for bills or laws.

 I did some bean counting and documented a small, but meaningful, way that this is happening on The Spot.

 The Post’s blog is sporadically using the term “Obamacare” as a synonym for the federal health-care law.

It’s one thing to report the term “Obamacare” as part of a quotation or within quotation marks but to use it as a descriptive term, no. You don’t want to do that.

If you’re thinking this is no big deal, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. “Obamacare” is an inaccurate and partisan salvo, and coming from a reporter, working for a publication that cares about accuracy and fairness, it looks sloppy…-not to mention the fact that this kind of term in news reporting, even on a blog, makes The Denver Post look like it has a hidden agenda in support of the right wing.

 On the Spot, during this calendar year, I found 15 articles using “Obamacare.” Of these, it was used nine times, inappropriately, as a synonym for the health-care bill or law. In the remaining six articles, the term was used, appropriately, in quotation marks or in a quotation from a partisan. Once it was used in a Spot headline, “Don’t Worry, we’ve got Obamacare,” on March 23.

In a May 22 post on the differences between Attorney General John Suthers and his opponent Stan Garnett, the Spot reported: “They differ on Obamacare and medical marijuana for starters.”

On May 1, the Spot reported, “The AG’s race normally is pretty ho hum but with Suthers and Garnett disagreeing on Obamacare and medical marijuana it’s shaping up to be a battle.”

 Asked about this via email, Denver Post Politics Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote, “Whether it’s ‘Obamacare’ or ‘the Party of No,’ it’s incumbent upon reporters and editors (I can’t speak for columnists and the editorial dept.) to attribute political marketing terms to a source or somehow put them in proper context for readers. 

“Without going back and re-reading each post, your analysis suggests that there have been instances on the blog where that hasn’t happened in regards to the term ‘Obamacare.’ While it’s possible that the entire tenor of a post made it unnecessary or that the author assumed the audience of a politics blog was astute enough to figure it out for themselves, our goal should always be to provide clarity.”

 I often see things in my favor, but I’ll take this to mean he at least partially if not mostly agrees with me.

 For fun, and because bean counting is so interesting if you’re counting the right beans, I checked out how “Obamacare” is being used in the print edition of The Post.

 In staff-written news articles, I found “Obamacare” in eight articles (from May 23 of this year through July of 2009). In each case, it was used appropriately–either with quotes around it, or in a quotation by a partisan. It was never used as a synonym for the health-care law.

 For example, in describing a speech by Sarah Palin March 23, The Post reported that she “called the freshly passed health care reform law an attempt to drive the country toward socialism. The article quoted Palin as saying, “Mr. President, do you understand now that Americans don’t want Obamacare? And do you understand that it won’t improve our health care system?”

In the Post’s opinion articles, where fairness is not expected, “Obamacare” is used as political marketing term, without quotation marks. In an opinion column, you’d expect this and it’s appropriate. In the print newspaper, in opinion columns and editorials, I found “Obamacare” in 10 articles from May 23 of this year through July of 2009. In nine of those cases, it was used as a synonym for the health-care bill or the health-care law passed by Congress. (Columnist David Harsanyi used it in six columns, columnist Mike Littwin in two, and columnist Susan Greene in one). I found it in one Post editorial, used within quotation marks. Once it was used in a headline (“Repeal Obamacare? Unlikely”) on a Harsanyi  column. (If I were an editor, even on the opinion page, I wouldn’t put “Obamacare” in a headline, because it’s not factually accurate and therefore not right for any headline.)

 In any case, with the exceptions I cited in the Spot blog, the Post is treating the term “Obamacare” as you’d expect, allowing its use in opinion articles but not using it as a descriptive term elsewhere.

If you read the Spot, especially more recently, you see writing that’s fairly similar, if more chatty and quirky, to what’s in the print newspaper. I think the Spot blog should follow the standard described in Sunday’s New York Times by Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson:

“Blogs are an important part of our news report. On big, running news stories, like the oil spill, the earthquakes in Haiti, the elections, and so forth, they offer readers the most important, up-to-the-minute developments-.While the opinion side of The Times also has blogs, the news blogs exist to report and analyze, not to offer slanted “takes.” Times blogs are never personal diaries. All of our blgos are carefully edited, and we apply the same standards for accuracy and fairness to them.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.