Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Media Bias

Ezra Klein points out, correctly in my view, that the whole story on health care reform essentially comes down to a relatively small handful of people.  These people are the remaining swing voting Democratic Members of the House.  In fact, we can narrow that down further.  As Ezra points out, there are thirty-nine Democrats who voted against the health care bill the first time around, and another fourteen Democrats who voted yes, but may switch without the Stupak language.  Basically, for every one of the fourteen that Pelosi loses, she needs to get one of the thirty-nine.

OK, quick: name five of them.

You can't, can you?  Can you name three?  C'mon, I spotted you one already.  I'm sure a few of you can, but most of you?  No way.

But if you're reading this, and read Ezra Klein regularly, and otherwise follow the news closely, I bet you can name, oh, the two least conservative Republican Senators, and four solid candidates for the four most conservative Democratic Senators.  Well, I don't know; I'm sure some of you leave people like me to know the details, and you skip to the bottom line.  Still, I'm sure you know who Snowe and Collins are, and I suspect you thought of four out of a list of Ben Nelson, Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, Bayh, and Webb. 

What accounts for this is, to some extent, the actual influence of individual Senators compared to the actual influence of Members of the House.  But there's also a huge media bias involved.  The press basically treats the House as if it was a bunch of nobodies, other than the Speaker, the Minority Leader, a handful of key committee chairs, and a few crazies who are good for a quote or a wild story.  Senate elections are national news, at least sometimes; individual House elections are, no matter how entertaining, not news.  A Senator who retires is front page news; a Member of the House who retires might get a two sentence squib.  Yes, individual Senators are far more important, but they're not that much more important.  And right now, it's swing voters in the House that matter, and we're not hearing nearly as much as we should.

It's possible that the fifty Democrats who really matter -- and the true number is no doubt fewer, because many of them probably have clear positions that just haven't been widely reported -- simply don't want the press attention.  It's also possible that Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman really, truly, didn't want any press attention, and just happened to keep talking without realizing all those cameras were pointed at them.  But, whether they want attention or not, reporters should be pressing them for answers, because they're the ones who are going to determine what's going to happen.  As Ezra says, they're the true audience for Thursday's summit. 

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