CBS Champions Support for S-CHIP Expansion, But When People Know Facts...

A day after a USA Today/Gallup Poll discovered the majority of Americans, when provided with basic facts about the scope and impact of the plan to expand the S-CHIP program, agree with President Bush's concerns which led to his veto, on Wednesday's CBS Evening News Katie Couric trumpeted how a new CBS News poll found 81 percent favor “expanding this health insurance program for poor children.” Couric also highlighted how “four out of five say it should be expanded to cover children in middle income families” and “of those who favor expansion, three out of four are willing to pay higher taxes to get it done.” Bob Schieffer assured Couric that Democrats are not worried about Bush's veto since it means “having the President in the position that they can go out in the campaign next year and say this President vetoed health insurance for little children. That sounds pretty good on the stump.” And it sounds just like how the media have framed the topic.

Richard Wolf reported in Tuesday's USA Today:
Slim majorities back two positions at the core of the President's opposition to the expansion: 52% agree with Bush that most benefits should go to children in families earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level -- about $41,000 for a family of four. Only 40% say benefits should go to such families earning up to $62,000, as the bill written by Democrats and some Republicans would allow. 55% are very or somewhat concerned that the program would create an incentive for families to drop private insurance.
The PollingReport.com has posted the actual questions in the USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted October 12-14, and that shows that when respondents hear the points made by President Bush, but given short-shrift in the news media, the majority agree with the reasons advanced by conservatives and Bush for opposing the bill:
• As you may know, the Democrats want to allow a family of four earning about $62,000 to qualify for the program. President Bush wants most of the increases to go to families earning less than $41,000. Whose side do you favor? [Bush: 52%, Dems: 40%]
• How concerned are you that expanding this program would create an incentive for middle class Americans to drop private health insurance for a public program, which some consider to be a step toward socialized medicine? Are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not concerned at all? [Very: 22%, Somewhat: 33%, Not Too: 25%, Not at All: 17%]
CBS News, however, generated the 81 percent favorable response by posing a vague question -- about covering “some” uninsured children in the “middle class” -- without citing the $62,000 income level which Gallup provided those they surveyed. Question 67 in the PDF of the full results of the CBS News poll conducted October 12-16:
• Currently, a government program provides health insurance for some children in low-income families. Would you favor or oppose expanding this program to include some middle-class uninsured children?
Back on August 1, a NewsBusters post recounted Couric's promotion of the proposal to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program:
Couric introduced a look at “getting medical coverage for the millions of American children who don't have it.” Thalia 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.”
Two weeks ago ABC touted how their poll found 72 percent want higher spending on S-CHIP. The October 2 NewsBusters item, “ABC Highlights 'Guns Versus Butter' Poll that Matches Media's Agenda,” recounted:
Just over a week after ABC News exploited a crying mother to push an expansion of federal health insurance “for kids,” a story which matched the media's overall emotion over facts reporting on the topic, on Monday's [October 1] World News anchor Charles Gibson highlighted how “a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds opposition to more money for Iraq and support for more money for children's health insurance.” Citing a “guns versus butter debate,” Gibson noted how “fewer than three in ten Americans back the President's request for another $190 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while seven in ten Americans support the increased funding for children's health insurance that the President says he'll veto.”
The September 20 NewsBusters item, “ABC Exploits Kids and Crying Mom to Push Higher Federal Health Spending,” detailed how ABC earlier pushed expansion of the program.

Couric's reporting on the poll and her first exchange with Bob Schieffer on the October 17 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, OVER VIDEO OF KIDS: Also at his news conference today, the President expressed confidence that Congress will not be able to override his veto of the so-called S-CHIP bill. But a CBS News poll out tonight finds Americans overwhelmingly side with Congress on expanding this health insurance program for poor children. Four out of five say it should be expanded to cover children in middle income families. And of those who favor expansion, three out of four are willing to pay higher taxes to get it done.

The President's job approval rating, by the way, is holding steady at 30 percent. As low as that is, it's still three points higher than Congress. Bob Schieffer is our chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation. Bob, do you think the President might be surprised by those S-CHIP polling numbers?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, surely he knows. The White House has its own polling operation, but I tell you, while the Democrats are not going to be able to override this veto, apparently, I'm not sure some of them are all that worried about it. Having the President in the position that they can go out in the campaign next year and say this President vetoed health insurance for little children. That sounds pretty good on the stump. And maybe that's one reason the Democrats are not fighting him that hard on this.
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