If you’ve read one of Montana’s Lee Newspapers in the past couple of days, you might be under the assumption that there is neither a single person in Montana who supports the Affordable Care Act nor a single reason the law is beneficial. Instead, you’ve been treated to a story from the Missoulian’s Jenna Cederberg which reads like a Steve Daines campaign piece against “radical Obamacare.”
According to the piece, a series of business leaders are concerned that they might have to pay more or deal with more onerous regulation because of the passage of the law. The opening of the piece is especially powerful, in which Cederberg writes:
With a burgeoning number of questions and few answers about what full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will mean for businesses across Montana, a diverse set of stakeholders aired concerns Tuesday about rising costs and ever-larger mounds of red tape.
A dramatic lede, one worthy of the opening lines of a campaign press release or ad—but certainly not an accurate or balanced assessment of the Affordable Care Act.
What the piece fails to mention is that the “diverse set of stakeholders” was a hand-picked group of Daines supporters or that there was no public notice of the meeting before it took place. Even a cursory search of the Missoulian’s own web page shows that Daines didn’t publicize the event before it happened. If he had, I suspect the crowd would have been just a touch more “diverse.”
It’s not news when a Congressman gathers a collection of people who agree with his viewpoint so that they can parrot it back to him; it’s a campaign event. Worse, it’s one that leads readers to believe something that simply isn’t true.
The piece doesn’t include a single quote from a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t mention the cost savings that states are already starting to see, and it doesn’t even verify that the claims made about the law are accurate. There’s nothing resembling balance in the piece.
Now, my experience in journalism is limited to writing for my high school newspaper, but I seem to remember something about new stories covering both sides of political issues and providing context for the coverage. At a minimum, this story should have included the viewpoint of a single supporter of the bill and provided context describing how this “diverse set” of opinion-leaders happened to gather to discuss the law. At a minimum.
Instead, Montana voters across the state (because Lee reprints the same stories all over) were misinformed and manipulated by a press corps too willing to be led by nose by political operatives.