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How Fox News is framing the health care debate: it’s either Graham-Cassidy or single-payer

They never stopped covering single-payer.

Senate Republicans have scheduled a vote this coming week for their latest Obamacare repeal bill, but all Fox News can talk about is single-payer health care.

We started to see this a few days after Sen. Bernie Sanders released his single-payer plan, which was also the early stages of the GOP pushing to pass yet another Obamacare repeal bill — this time, Graham-Cassidy.

Reporter Mike Emanuel put them head to head on Fox News: "There are dueling health care proposals — one liberal, one conservative."

And then Fox News showed a clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the namesakes of the Republican bill, saying: “If you want a single-payer health care system, this is your worst nightmare. Bernie, this ends your dream of a single-payer health care system.”

But while Fox News is trying to make it sound like a choice between the two plans, nothing could be further from the truth. The Republicans hold power, and seem to be just a few votes away from pushing Graham-Cassidy through the Senate to finally repeal Obamacare. The Democrats are in the minority, and though Sanders has more backers for his single-payer plan than ever before, it’s more of an idealistic vision for the future than anything that’s close to getting a vote.

On networks that aren’t Fox News, coverage is ramping up as Senate Republicans have started to get serious about passing Graham-Cassidy, and most other networks have stopped talking about Sanders’s proposal. After all, Republicans wanted to overhaul the American health care system and dismantle Obamacare with little debate or analysis. The chart below shows how buzz around Sanders’s single-payer plan died down and coverage of Graham-Cassidy ramped up:

But on Fox News, the story is still very much about single-payer.

The storyline Republicans and right-wing media started to push was using the possibility of single-payer as a boogeyman to show what could happen if this repeal bill isn’t passed.

On September 14, Tucker Carlson debated a former Sanders staffer on his show and framed the conversation like this:

[Sanders is] effectively creating a single-payer health care system that covers all residents of the US and does nothing to exclude noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, which means they would be covered. Is America ready to give free health care to basically everyone in the world?

... Why wouldn’t every poor person on five other continents move here tomorrow, and what would it be like when they get here?

Shepard Smith’s show aired this quote from President Trump:

You know, we got very poorly treated on the health care plan. Now you see what is happening where people are going single-payer — exactly what I said would happen. Single-payer would be terrible. ... So Republicans have to stick together better. They had the votes, and then John McCain changed his mind, pure and simple.

A few days later, Lisa Boothe on Fox News’s Outnumbered said the American health care system is failing under Obamacare, and then ended with this: “These are real things that need to be addressed — and what are the Democratic answers? Single-payer?”

In short, Fox News never stopped talking about single-payer even when other outlets did:

This was predictable, given how Republicans have used Obamacare as a boogeyman

With previous bills, Republicans and right-wing media have distracted their audience from half-baked bills by invoking Obamacare — how bad it’s been, how it’s headed for failure, etc. That hasn’t changed with Graham-Cassidy.

In the spring, when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the House Republican repeal bill, the American Health Care Act, would cause 23 million people to lose coverage, Fox News had to figure out how to cover it. And their strategy was simple: Talk about how Obamacare is failing and attack Democrats.

And when the CBO showed that the revised, House-passed bill would also cause more than 20 million people to lose insurance, they did the same thing.

But this time around, there’s a second target, and that’s single-payer.

Other networks, like CNN, dwelled on the politics of this latest Republican plan and stressed how this is a “last-ditch” effort and a “Hail Mary.” MSNBC spent a lot of time covering the monologue from late-night host Jimmy Kimmel in which he said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the other namesake of the bill, had lied to him:

But the network that covered single-payer the most was Fox News, even though it was the network that covered Graham-Cassidy the least. We can even see this when we look at the chyrons (the text on the lower third of the screen) from these networks from the past week:

Coverage will ramp up more as we get closer to the deadline

If the previous Obamacare repeal bills are any indication, we’re going to see media coverage ramp up around Graham-Cassidy in the next week or so. Republicans have until September 30 to pass a repeal bill under a procedural move known as “budget reconciliation,” which requires only 51 votes.

One thing Fox News has done is kept the conversation on Obamacare and its supposed failures, even when the rest of the news cycle has moved on. The network continues to focus on the Democrats and Obamacare’s shortcomings, even as the uninsured rate drops to under 10 percent and insurers have stepped into every potentially empty market.

That’s why Republicans continue to say Obamacare is in a death spiral, even though it is not. It’s implying that even if things are fine now, if we don’t act, things will implode and we’ll go down with it. Sanders’s single-payer plan has worked as an additional boogeyman Republicans can add to this consistent strategy in attempting to repeal Obamacare.