ABC Paints Bush as Uncaring for Vetoing Health Care 'for Children'

Again exploiting children and mothers to advance the goal of expanding federal spending and dependency, ABC's World News led Wednesday night by giving voice to the media-political establishment's astonishment that President Bush would veto a bill to provide health insurance “for children.” Anchor Charles Gibson led his newscast: “Most politicians like to kiss babies, pet dogs and support programs for children. Not often you'll see one take a stand against a proposal providing health insurance for children. But that's what President Bush did today, vetoing the so-called S-CHIP program that would have expanded health insurance for children by $35 billion.”

Reporter Martha Raddatz highlighted how “the country seems to disagree” with Bush since “72 percent of Americans support expanding the program,” which the media have promoted, “including majorities of Republicans and conservatives.” Indeed, ABC's poll (PDF) found self-identified conservatives favor the expansion by 61 to 36 percent. Raddatz, who two weeks ago used a crying mother to push increased spending, warned Wednesday that “the veto could have a profound impact.” To back her assumption, Raddatz featured an unlabeled left-wing activist from Families USA followed a mother who pleaded: “Having it taken away would be devastating. You can't do that to children. It's not right.”

The CBS Evening News, however, at least noted that Bush wasn't against federal help to provide health insurance for poor kids, just against the bill which “would include more than the poor” by covering those with substantially higher incomes. Jim Axelrod explained: “Saying he supports expanding health care coverage for poor kids, just not to the extent the Democrats want, President Bush cast his veto.” Axelrod warned that “this veto could be big trouble for Republicans who now face a 'shame on you' campaign complete with small children in red wagons delivering petitions to the White House,” but he added: “Never mind that the President proposed his own $5 billion expansion to the program.”

Noting how Bush “says he's curbing runaway spending,” Axelrod countered from the White House lawn that “one GOP strategist says poor kids' health care trumps fiscal restraint every time. Democrats have two weeks until the override vote to frame the choice just that way.” But, thanks to the news media, the choice has already been framed that way.

(Wednesday's NBC Nightly News limited veto coverage to a brief item read by anchor Brian Williams.)

When the Story's Got Children, Who Needs Facts?” read the headline over an October 3 posting on the MRC's Business and Media Institute, an extensive report sub-titled: “Media coverage of State Children's Health Insurance Program expansion heavy on liberal talking points, light on its unattractive reality.” Amy Menefee outlined “things the media didn’t tell you” in coverage of the proposal to greatly expand the health program, including:
* Does Bush Care about the Children?
* Who Really Wants Government Health Insurance Expansion?
* What Congress Would Do vs. What Bush Would Do
* Why the Tobacco Tax Increase Wouldn’t Work
My September 20 NewsBusters posting, “ABC Exploits Kids and Crying Mom to Push Higher Federal Health Spending,” recounted:
CBS, and especially ABC, on Thursday night portrayed the debate over increasing federal spending on health insurance for children as an effort to help kids only the cold-hearted could oppose, a framing aided by scenes of cute toddlers, a crying mother and little emphasis on how those well above poverty would qualify. ABC anchor Charles Gibson overlooked the proposed expansion, to those in families who have or can afford private insurance, as he cited “a bill providing health insurance to millions of kids whose parents cannot afford private coverage.”

Reporter Martha Raddatz found a poor mother to exploit, beginning her story: “Susan Dick depends on the so-called SCHIP [State Children's Health Insurance Program] program for her two sons, both of whom have asthma. The family income is too low for private insurance, too high for Medicaid.” Raddatz briefly noted Bush's fear many would move from private insurance to the government program and then, leading into a soundbite from liberal Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she hailed how “the expansion has bipartisan support across the country, including from many Republicans...” Capping her story, Raddatz featured a crying mother who sympathetically fretted: “If my boys don't have health insurance, it makes it very hard when you're a parent to know that they're sick and you have to get them to the doctor.” Raddatz coldly concluded: “But the President made it very clear today, Charlie, he will veto this bill in its present form.”

CBS anchor Katie Couric also painted Bush as opposed to helping kids: “President Bush opened a news conference today by attacking a proposed expansion of a health care program for low-income children.”...
My August 1 NewsBusters item, “CBS Hails 'Landmark' and 'Historic' Efforts to Expand Federal Control of Health,” related:
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. Katie Couric had teased her top story: “Tonight, landmark legislation that supporters say could save millions of lives. Congress takes a step toward regulating everything about cigarettes for the first time ever.”

Next, 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...
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the October 3 stories on ABC and CBS:
CHARLES GIBSON, IN OPENING TEASER: Welcome to World News. Tonight, a controversial veto. President Bush blocks a major expansion of health insurance for children, a measure that Congress and most Americans want.

...

GIBSON: Good evening. Most politicians like to kiss babies, pet dogs and support programs for children. Not often you'll see one take a stand against a proposal providing health insurance for children. But that's what President Bush did today, vetoing the so-called S-CHIP program that would have expanded health insurance for children by $35 billion. Democrats on the Hill and many Republicans support it. The President says it's too expensive. Our chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz is at the White House tonight. Martha?

MARTHA RADDATZ: Charlie, this is the fourth time the President has used his veto pen, but it is by far the most unpopular veto. The President signed the veto in private, but gave a very public and strident defense of it.

GEORGE W. BUSH: What you're seeing when you expand eligibility for federal programs is the desire by some in Washington, D.C. to federalize health care. I don't think that's good for the country.

RADDATZ: The country seems to disagree -- 72 percent of Americans support expanding the program, including majorities of Republicans and conservatives. And on the Hill today, Democrats and Republicans stood side-by-side against the President.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): And I don't think the President is somebody who doesn't want these kids to be covered. I think he's been given some pretty bad advice by some who, though sincere, are sincerely wrong.

RADDATZ: The so-called S-CHIP program was originally intended to reach families who earn at most three times the poverty level, which ranges on average from $20,000 to $60,000 for a family of four depending on where they live. Today, 6.6 million children are enrolled. The House and Senate, concerned about skyrocketing health care costs, passed this bill, which would have maintained the current enrollment and added nearly 3.5 million more children to the program. The veto could have a profound impact.

RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: If the states do not get enough money to pay for the additional costs of health care, then they're going to have to cut back on the coverage that they're currently providing to children. And as a result, about one million children currently in the program are at risk of losing it.

RADDATZ: Lori Siravo has S-CHIP coverage for her daughter Carly.

LORI SIRAVO, MOTHER: Having it taken away would be devastating. You can't do that to children. It's not right.

RADDATZ: Analysts say children like Carly could lose their coverage, but the White House strongly disagrees. Although they did say late today if there is not enough money to meet the program's original intent and families are struggling, we are willing to talk about how much more needs to be done. And, Charlie, the White House does say it is willing to compromise.

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: From the Pentagon to the White House now, where President Bush made good today on a threat to veto an expansion of the so-called S-CHIP program. That provides health insurance to about six million poor children. Congress wants to increase that to 10 million children, but the President says that would include more than the poor. Here's Jim Axelrod.

JIM AXELROD: Saying he supports expanding health care coverage for poor kids, just not to the extent the Democrats want, President Bush cast his veto, then flew to Pennsylvania to make it crystal clear he's ready to deal.

GEORGE W. BUSH: And if they need a little more money in the bill to help us meet the objective of getting help for poor children, I'm more than willing to sit down with the leaders and find a way to do so.

AXELROD: Despite significant Republican support, it's uncertain if Democrats can get the votes needed to override the veto. They're set in the Senate but still roughly 15 votes short in the House.

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AXELROD: This veto could be big trouble for Republicans who now face a "shame on you" campaign complete with small children in red wagons delivering petitions to the White House. Never mind that the President proposed his own $5 billion expansion to the program.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D-IL): He knows he is on the wrong side of what is right and what is politically correct.

AXELROD: Democratic leaders like Rahm Emanuel are licking their chops.

EMANUEL: And so the President of the United States is asking 15 Republicans to stand with him on an argument about government-run health care and deny American kids health care and yet vote at the same time to give Iraq $190 billion.

AXELROD: The President says he's curbing runaway spending. One GOP strategist says poor kids' health care trumps fiscal restraint every time. Democrats have two weeks until the override vote to frame the choice just that way. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, the White House.
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