NPR Promotes 'We Need Health Reform Now' Mural In DC; Artist Paints Opponents As Abused Little Girl

On Monday night’s All Things Considered newscast on National Public Radio, reporter Joseph Shapiro recounted the sympathetic story of Regina Holliday, who lost her 39-year-old husband Fred to kidney cancer. Holliday painted a mural in Washington demanding "We Need Health Reform Now." (It’s headlined "A Widow Paints a Health Care Protest" and it's the most popular story on Wednesday at NPR.org.)

But Shapiro’s story actually skimmed over just how passionately ideological Holliday’s mural is. She's amazed anyone could possibly be against health reform. On her blog she explained that she painted her opponents as a little girl in a red, white, and blue outfit:  "I wondered 'How can you be against this?' Then I realized they were acting like people who have been abused. She is a pretty little girl with welts on her legs..." [Italics hers.]

On air, NPR stuck to the heart-tugging narrative. The politics emerged late in the story:

SHAPIRO: Over the next two months, Regina would see her husband go in and out of hospitals. But there was nothing doctors could do to save his life. Six days after Fred died, Regina picked up her paintbrushes and started the mural. The brick wall is tucked off of a busy avenue. Important players in the health care debate drive by every day.

HOLLIDAY: Well, I mean, of course, it's a wonderful therapy and release to get to paint. To get to do this has been a wonderful dialogue with the public. I mean, people often come over here. They look at the mural. They want to talk about it, and they often share their health stories.

SHAPIRO: She climbed down from her scaffold to hear other people speak with anger and sadness about their own run-ins with doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. As summer turned to fall and the battle over health care heated up, Regina's mural got more political. She added details, like a doctor holding a sign that says: Health Reform Now. [music]

The other day with the last paint dry, there was a nighttime dedication of the mural. A few dozen friends and lots of kids gathered in the parking lot. They held flashlights to shine on the painting. People sang. And Regina answered questions about all the symbolism in her mural.

The clock with no hands: because normal time seems suspended in a health emergency. The nurse at a computer with the dark screen: because records aren't shared with patients. The doctor with her hands tied: because one part of the health care system doesn't communicate with others. [Soundbite of applause]

Ms. HOLLIDAY: Okay, that's my question for all of you, is what do we do next? Thank you so much for coming tonight. Thank you so much for being part of Fred's life and my life, and spreading the word. And please, go out tonight and Facebook and blog, and post and tweet, and do not stop! Do not give up until we get change in this nation! Until people get taken care of, and we all have the right to see our own information! Thank you guys.

SHAPIRO: Regina Holliday is looking for new walls to paint, but not now. The cold makes the paint too brittle. In the springtime, she'll take out her colors again. Maybe by then, there'll be health care change signed into law. But there will still be stories to tell. This time, she will paint the stories of others, of the people who watched her work and told her about their own struggles as caregivers and patients.

The promotional video at NPR.org is also more openly political than the radio story. On her blog Regina Holliday's Medical Advocacy Blog, she explains her abused little girl:

The little girl America stands to his right. This image came into the mural as the health care debates began and I saw kind, well-meaning people oppose health reform. I wondered "How can you be against this?" Then I realized they were acting like people who have been abused. She is a pretty little girl with welts on her legs, and she is standing next to a switch. She clutches the caduceus. Most Americans equate this symbol with medicine, but it the staff of the god of profit, thievery, and death. In using this symbol I am pointing out that little girl America is clutching that which is abusing her. She stares out at you with a sad countenance. It seems as if her eyes are asking "Do you see what is happening to me? Can you make this right?"

She also explained the doctor in a turban holding the "We Need Health Reform Now" sign:

To her left is a physician holding a sign for reform. He wears a turban. He looks out at us with kind eyes. He is the other, the foreigner who embraces reform as a right.

She pointed out the figures in private industry who are evil (again, italics are hers):

To his left are three figures at a desk. First we have see no evil (insurance). She is an angel/Roman god wearing a blindfold and carrying a blue cross and blue shield. Money pools at her feet. Next is hear no evil, a man representing small business with his hands over his ears and his posture in defeat. His desk is strewn with papers while time is running out. Finally we have speak no evil, a pharmacist figure who talks into a phone with a mask over her mouth. Pills pool at her feet.

Oh, but National Public Radio doesn't have a liberal bias, we're told.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis