In theory, cable news should be the perfect outlet for explaining a complicated issue like health care policy. 24-hour news networks have a ton of airtime to fill, access to a wide range of policy experts, and a roster of journalists who can find real-life examples that illustrate how abstract policy changes could impact people’s day-to-day lives.
But in the coverage of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, cable news networks have largely fixated on the drama of trying to get the bill through Congress: the vote whipping, the partisan infighting, and Trump’s efforts to make a “deal” with the more conservative members of his party.
That focus on the spectacle of a vote distorts audiences’ understanding of what’s at stake in the health care debate. It means entire interviews are spent asking politicians about vote counts and deal-making instead of talking to actual health care experts. It leads to segments debating Trump’s deal-making abilities and the “optics” of health care reform. In the end, viewers at home end up getting less and less meaningful information about what the Republican health care bill actually does rather than whether or not it’s a good idea in the first place.
Treating the health care debate like an episode of House of Cards might make for good television, but it fails to accomplish the basic goal of good political journalism: Explain why this stuff matters to people outside of DC. And if the angry town halls across the country reveal anything, it’s that you don’t need the drama of congressional politics to make people care about what’s happening to their health care.
Watch the video above to see how cable news’ focus on politics over policy warps the way we think about health care.