CBS and ABC Lead by Hailing Hillary Clinton's Universal Health Care Solution

The CBS and ABC evening newscasts led Monday night -- even before O.J. Simpson -- by trumpeting Hillary Clinton's universal health care plan, a proposal fill-in CBS anchor Harry Smith insisted addresses a vital need: “It's a huge problem. An estimated 47 million are not covered.” Of course, CBS didn't bother explaining how a significant number of those can afford insurance or are illegal aliens. ABC's medical doctor, Tim Johnson, who back in 1993 called Bill and Hillary Clinton “almost heroes in my mind for finally facing up to the terrible problems we have with our current health care system,” praised Senator Clinton's new plan: “Every industrialized country in this world that is successful with health care -- often more successful than we are -- has a partnership between government and the private sector.”

Smith led the CBS Evening News: “She tried to do it as First Lady. Now, as a presidential candidate, she is trying again. Hillary Clinton today outlined a new plan for making sure every American has health insurance. It's a huge problem. An estimated 47 million are not covered.” Reporter Jim Axelrod asserted “Clinton doesn't remind reminding people of her past painful experience in health care reform” because “in the latest CBS News poll, 66 percent of registered voters say her health care experience will help her.” Charles Gibson led ABC's World News: “We start with Senator Clinton, now trying to get to the White House by promising to do something she couldn't do when she was in the White House -- come up with a plan to provide health care for all Americans that would be accepted by Congress.”

Brian Williams limited coverage to this short item on the NBC Nightly News:
It was the issue that tripped her up as First Lady for a time, but now she is running for President and today Senator Hillary Clinton called for health care coverage for all Americans. This time, the centerpiece of her universal health care plan is that all Americans would be required to have insurance either through their employers or self-purchased with help from the government.
Unlike Williams, the ABC and CBS stories at least offered a brief mention of Clinton's plan to pay for her system by raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000.

In the guise of journalism, the CBS Evening News has been campaigning for universal health care funded by the federal government. An August 8 NewsBusters item, “Universal Health Care Backer's 'Moment of Truth' Championed by CBS Evening News,” recounted:
Tremendously exaggerating the number of Americans who lack access to health insurance, CBS on Wednesday night trumpeted the cause of an AFL-CIO member who denounced the United States for not providing health insurance coverage for his wife and endorsed the John Edwards plan for universal health care. Anchor Katie Couric previewed the upcoming story: “Presidential candidates hear a dramatic plea for help from one of the millions of Americans with no health insurance and no way to pay for it.” Setting up the tribute to the retiree, Couric asserted that “45 million Americans have no coverage. That includes more than 13 million between the ages of 19 and 29. Many of them don't get coverage from their jobs, and cannot afford to buy it on their own.” Of course, many can afford it and in that age range feel comfortable without insurance. In fact, 17 million of the uninsured earn more than $50,000. Removing those, plus people who are not U.S. citizens, leaves fewer than ten million chronically uninsured.

Reporter Michelle Miller began her CBS Evening News piece by championing how “every once in a while, a moment of truth breaks through a political campaign event. That happened last night when a 60-year-old retired steel worker from Union Township, Indiana, asked a question.” Viewers then saw a clip of Steve Skvara from the AFL-CIO debate shown Tuesday night on MSNBC: “Every day of my life, I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family, and I can't afford to pay for her health care. What's wrong with America? And what will you do to change it?” Miller explained that “Skvara says he got the answer he was looking for from his favorite candidate, John Edwards,” who proclaimed: “And we ought to have universal health care in this country!” Skvara agreed: “We need a national health care plan.” Miller wondered: “Now the question is whether a moment in a debate will be the moment that motivates reform.”
The August 1 NewsBusters posting, “CBS Hails 'Landmark' and 'Historic' Efforts to Expand Federal Control of Health,” began:
Wednesday's CBS Evening News trumpeted two liberal efforts to expand government power, leading by heralding “landmark legislation” to have the FDA regulate cigarettes followed by a story slanted in favor of, as reporter Thalia Assuras described it, an “historic expansion of health care coverage for children” of the “working poor.” Assuras, however, ignored such inconvenient facts as how a family of four with an income as high as $82,600 could get on the taxpayers' dole....

Couric introduced a look at “getting medical coverage for the millions of American children who don't have it.” Assuras touted how a proposed expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) “boosts funding by $50 billion over five years, almost doubling the number of uninsured kids covered from the current six million children to about 11 million.” Sinking to the all too common media technique of exploiting a victim to push a liberal policy, Assuras cited “children like seven-year-old Pilar Edwards whose ear ache was so severe her mother brought her to this mobile medical clinic where she could get help even though Pilar is uninsured.” Assuras did pass along how critics contend “the legislation is a slippery slope toward a universal health care plan,” but against two negative soundbites, viewers heard from four advocates as Assuras concluded with a Senator's charge that “it would be a travesty if the President vetoed this legislation,” followed by these final words from Assuras: “With kids caught in the middle.” More like taxpayers.
A 2003 MRC CyberAlert item, “Dr. Tim Johnson Was a Cheerleader for HillaryCare in 1990s,” collected some of his quotes from 1993-94:
“I say the Clintons are almost heroes in my mind for finally facing up to the terrible problems we have with our current health care system and bringing it to the attention of the public....Most people, I think, will be better off.” -- ABC Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson, September 24, 1993 20/20.

“Everyone is applauding, I think, in the health care community, the emphasis on universal access, because they know that unless they're going to let some people just die in the streets, it makes sense to get medical care early, when it's going to be more effective and less costly....the insurance companies are the focal point for the dynamics of denial that are part of our present for-profit system.” -- ABC medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson, January 26, 1994 World News Tonight.

“So at least from the physicians represented here, you get a 100 percent vote, including mine, for universal coverage.” -- ABC reporter Dr. Tim Johnson to Hillary Clinton on Good Morning America, July 19, 1994.
Transcripts of the September 17 coverage on CBS and ABC, as provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:

CBS Evening News:
FILL-IN ANCHOR HARRY SMITH LED: She tried to do it as first lady. Now, as a presidential candidate, she is trying again. Hillary Clinton today outlined a new plan for making sure every American has health insurance. It's a huge problem. An estimated 47 million are not covered. In fact, in a CBS News poll out tonight, respondents told us it is the biggest problem facing the country after the war in Iraq and the economy. Tonight, Jim Axelrod on how President Hillary Clinton would solve it.
After summarizing the plan, Jim Axelrod segued to critics of it:
...Senator Clinton doesn't remind reminding people of her past painful experience in health care reform. That's because, for all the scars that it may have caused, she's benefitting now -- that is, if you believe the polls. In the latest CBS News poll, 66 percent of registered voters say her health care experience will help her. It's even higher with Democratic primary voters...

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: We start with Senator Clinton, now trying to get to the White House by promising to do something she couldn't do when she was in the White House -- come up with a plan to provide health care for all Americans that would be accepted by Congress. She says it can be done for $110 billion a year, and she'll pay for it by eliminating some of President Bush's tax cuts. ABC's David Wright joins me tonight from Washington. David?
Following Wright's look at the plan, a story which ended with Mitt Romney calling it “socialist,” Charles Gibson turned to Dr. Tim Johnson:
And our medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, joins me now. Tim, David reported on an interesting irony there. They've essentially adapted the plan in Massachusetts initiated by then-Republican Governor Mitt Romney. And yet, Romney says, no, this is socialized medicine. Is that fair?

TIM JOHNSON: I don't think it is fair. They're obviously using that word to scare people, but, in fact, the government programs that Hillary will offer, including Medicare and the federal employees program, have a lot of private choice. Medicare patients can choose any doctor or hospital they want, the federal employees choose from a long list of private plans that the government has vetted for cost and quality. I don't think any Republican would run on a platform saying they want to take Medicare away from seniors or the federal employees plan away from employees, including Congress, just because the government plays an important role.

GIBSON: But, Tim, at the same time, she -- and David played the cut -- she says this is not government-run. And, as you pointed out, to be perfectly frank, it would expand a couple of, major, in major ways, expand a couple of federal programs.

JOHNSON: Well, I think it's fair to say it's not government-run, but certainly the government is involved. And, in fact, every industrialized country in this world that is successful with health care -- often more successful than we are -- has a partnership between government and the private sector. And that's what I think we have to have in this case. As I said, the government has a role in providing guidelines, maybe regulations, but leaving free choice. That's the key, I think, to the partnership.

GIBSON: In just in about ten seconds, is she inevitably tainted by the fact that she tried to work on this issue in 1993 and failed?

JOHNSON: I don't think inevitably. She's obviously being much more open about the process now than she was back then. I think that will pay off.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center