Thirty years ago this week, Bill and Hillary Clinton outlined their ill-fated plan for unprecedented government intervention in the health care sector. The liberal media loudly crowed their approval, assuring voters “reform” would end the “shame” of America as the only developed nation without universal coverage, and that the massive government program would cost nothing (or even save money) in the long run.
For years before the Clintons arrived in Washington, the media had been preparing the battlefield to aid liberals. A Media Research Center study at the time found that between January 1, 1990 and July 31, 1993, 70 percent of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC coverage promoted the benefits of government-run health care, with advocates outnumbering opponents by a two-to-one margin (72 to 36).
In the weeks leading up to Bill Clinton’s September 22, 1993 speech before a joint session of Congress, the media enthusiasm ramped up. “I think people now universally agree there should be an entitlement, a right to health care,” Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift proclaimed on the September 18 McLaughlin Group.
Journalists maintained this spin over the next twelve months — even crowning the Clintons as “heroes” for their efforts — but public support for the scheme never matched the media’s. By September 1994, the Clintons’ health care bill had been set aside in Congress without a final vote; it would be March 2010 before the media could finally celebrate passage of a big government health care bill.
In many ways, ObamaCare was a beneficiary of the media’s previous push for HillaryCare. Here’s a quick look back at how the media championed the idea of government-run health care during the debate that began 30 years ago:
Giddy Over the Promise of Universal Coverage
■ “I think people now universally agree there should be an entitlement, a right to health care.”
— Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, September 18, 1993.
■ “Some 37 million Americans, mainly the working poor, live without the basic peace of mind offered by health insurance. Every other industrial country provides something close to universal coverage, and the ever-growing number of uninsured Americans has long been seen by medical experts as an index of national shame.”
— New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm, November 14, 1993.
■ “With an aging population, rising health outlays will be with us forever. But universal coverage, delivered through managed health systems, is the best hope for spending those dollars more efficiently. Congress should swallow its aversion to confronting people with the upfront price — new taxes — and get moving toward this fundamental goal.”
— U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Susan Dentzer, February 14, 1994 issue.
■ “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.
■ “Those who argue for universal coverage very often make the point that the U.S. is practically alone in the industrialized world without it. Thirty million people without health insurance in the U.S. — compare that to Europe and Japan....In the great debate over universal coverage, a good many Americans believe it comes down to choices between haves and have-nots.”
— Peter Jennings introducing July 26, 1994 “American Agenda” story on World News Tonight.
The Clintons = Health Care Heroes
■ “You’ve been working hard already to introduce this plan to people, sell this plan to people. Are you having any fun with this or is it all just hard work? It looks to be very hard work....I don’t know of anybody, friend or foe, who isn’t impressed by your grasp of the details of this plan. I’m not surprised because you have been working on it so long and listened to so many people....”
— Dan Rather to Hillary Clinton, September 22, 1993 48 Hours health care special.
■ “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.
■ “She came, she saw, she wowed them. It was standing room only, and when the photographers saw her, it was like the Fourth of July....Seldom referring to notes, she argued that much of the system is broken and must be fixed. There seemed to be no detail she did not know, no criticism she had not considered....All sides agreed it was a boffo performance. Republicans were impressed. Democrats just loved it.”
— CBS Evening News reporter Bob Schieffer discussing Hillary Clinton’s testimony on Capitol Hill, September 28, 1993.
■ “I saw a Hillary Clinton that I’d never seen before. She was funny, charming, sexy — yes, gang, sexy....She’s earned the respect of everyone (except the wackos) with her handling of the health care issue. Indeed, she has gotten everyone (except the wackos) to agree that we need health care for everyone. This is a very formidable idea, ladies and gentlemen.”
— CNN/Mutual Broadcasting talk show host Larry King in his October 4, 1993 USA Today column, writing about his interview with the First Lady.
Government Preferable to Evil Insurance Companies
■ “The only thing government is better than are insurance companies and doctors having their own way with the health care system.”
— Time White House reporter Margaret Carlson on CNN’s Capital Gang, October 2, 1993.
■ “Hillary was smart to rip their heads off....After all, she’s right substantively: the industry has ‘brought us to the brink of bankruptcy,’ it does ‘like being able to exclude people from coverage, because the more they exclude, the more money they can make.’ No other industrialized country puts up with useless paper shufflers taking such a large cut of their health budgets....If health-care reform is to live, the companies backing Harry and Louise must die.”
— Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter on the insurance industry’s “Harry and Louise” ads, November 15, 1993.
It’s Really Rather Centrist
■ “Woven through the 1,300-page health plan is a liberal’s passion to help the needy, a conservative’s faith in free markets and a politician’s focus on the middle class.”
— Washington Post reporters Steven Pearlstein and Dana Priest, October 28, 1993.
■ “In fact, Clinton’s prescription for change, more than any other politically viable reform proposal, would increase choice of doctors for most patients. ‘Clinton’s plan has, if anything, bent over backward to give people the maximum choice,’ said Stanley Jones, a Sheperdstown, W. Va., analyst.”
— Los Angeles Times reporter Edwin Chen May 29, 1994 news story.
A “No New Taxes” Pledge the Media Actually Believed
■ “White House officials said today the plan will require almost no new taxes. Most of the funding will come from employers who will be required to pay into a state system.”
— CBS reporter Linda Douglass, September 1, 1993 Evening News.
■ “The Clinton plan is surprisingly persuasive in supporting the longtime claim of the Clintons, and their top health care strategist, Ira Magaziner, that reform can be almost entirely from savings, without broad-based new taxes and with enough left over to reduce the federal budget deficit.”
— Time Washington Bureau Chief Dan Goodgame, September 20, 1993.
■ “Two thirds of the voters believe that Clinton has both raised their taxes and intends to raise them more with health care reform. While neither is true, Republicans have happily promoted both notions.”
— U.S. News & World Report Assistant Managing Editor Gloria Borger, June 27, 1994.
Relax, It’s “Totally Free”
■ “The Clinton plan proposes totally free coverage, no co-payment for preventative measures....The single-payer plan, and the House Education and Labor Committee would add free family-planning services and contraceptives for poor women.”
— ABC reporter Ann Compton, May 26, 1994 Good Morning America.
Don’t Call It “Socialized Medicine”
■ “The American Medical Association used the specter of ‘socialized medicine’ to defeat Harry S. Truman’s plan for national health insurance in 1945. The same demagoguery still works, but that does not change the agreed facts...while Americans who can afford it get the best care in the world, the current system makes little sense in terms of economic competitiveness or social equity.”
— New York Times editorial page editor and former Washington bureau chief and White House reporter Howell Raines, June 12, 1994.
■ “Congress is about to begin floor debates on whether all Americans have the right to cradle-to-grave medical coverage. Health insurance is part of the social safety net in every other major democracy. In the United States — a country founded on the idea of limited government — generations of health reformers have been thwarted by the opposition of powerful interests and a deep suspicion of ‘socialized medicine.’”
— Knight-Ridder Washington reporter R.A. Zaldivar, August 7, 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Oh, Never Mind
■ “It’s official — health care reform legislation is dead for this year....The White House issued a statement saying President Clinton acknowledged the defeat but would fight on.”
— Peter Jennings on ABC’s World News Tonight, September 26, 1994.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.