March 11, 2009

Health Care in the Headlines (Rarely)

2009 Big Weeks 2007 Big Weeks Coverage Overall (Jan. 1, 07 – Mar. 8, 09)
Mar 2-8, 09 Obama health summit 3.9
Oct 14-19, 07 S-Chip override fails 3
Sep 16-20, 07 S-Chip press conference 2.6
Sep 23-28, 07Congress passes S-Chip 2.4
Oct 21-26, 07 Dems continue S-chip push 2.3
Jan 1, 07- Mar 8, 09 Coverage Overall 0.6

0.6% – Percentage of coverage of the health care issues in the past two years

On March 5, Barack Obama hosted a health care summit to begin to address one of the thorniest public policy issues. The story generated some notice, as it finished No. 4 for the week of Mar. 2-8. But it filled only 3.9% of the newshole according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, less than 10% of the coverage allotted to the financial crisis and about half the attention generated by the debate over who is leading the Republican Party.

But as it turns out, that’s the highest level of weekly coverage the health care debate has generated since PEJ began tracking it two years ago. From Jan. 1, 2007 through Mar. 8, 2009, that subject has filled just 0.6% of the newshole. To place that level of coverage in context, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which lasted two weeks, generated just as much attention in the same time 26-month period.  

The only other time the health care really made it on the media radar was in late 2007, when Congress pushed the S-Chip bill which would expand health care for children. From Sep. 16-20, 2007, the bill gained national attention and President George Bush voiced his opposition to the plan. That week coverage filled 2.6% of the newshole. The following week, when Congress passed the measure, the story was at 2.4%. From Oct. 14-19, Congress attempted but failed to override Bush’s veto and the story accounted for 3.0% of the newshole. When Democrats continued to push for the bill the following week, Oct. 21-26, the story accounted for another 2.3% of the coverage.

That level of health care coverage, modest as it was, was not seen again for 16 months—until last week.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ