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 V.18 No.32 | August 6 - 12, 2009 

Thin Line

A Shot in the Arm for Single-Payer

The idea of putting "health care" in the headline of this Thin Line makes me recoil. We're inundated with health care stories. They're everywhere. And the subject isn’t exactly flashy or gripping—not like the news about the man who, according to Albuquerque police, made love to his car last week. (Though, he may have some health care issues of his own after that sweet night of passion in a Smith's parking lot. Remember, friends, you can love your sexy vehicle, you just can't love your sexy vehicle.)

Even though we're at maximum saturation with the health care debate, left-leaning media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) says we're only encountering part of the story. A single-payer system—where basic care is paid for by the government—has been marginalized in the news, according to FAIR.

A New York Times / CBS News survey from January found that 59 percent of the people polled like the idea of a single-payer system. But somehow the conversation about making this plan work was dropped like a leper's limb. President Obama and lawmakers won't touch it. Insurance companies sure don't want to talk about it. But does that mean the media should wheel it down to the morgue, too?

FAIR delivered an ongoing petition calling for the major news networks to revive the single-payer option in public discourse. ABC, says the watchdog organization, hasn't had a single-payer advocate on its screen at all in 2009.

Obama's doctor, David Scheiner, was invited and then uninvited from a forum on health care put together by ABC. Scheiner supposes he was kicked out of the conversation because he was going to talk about Medicare as an effective model of the single-payer system. "We've had our exposure to single-payer. It works," Scheiner says in a FAIR interview. "We've had our exposure to this private health insurance system. It doesn't work." If the public knew what single-payer was about, he says, it could put pressure on lawmakers to reconsider it as a serious option.

Even so, the polls show most people already dig the concept. If single-payer isn't making the news, it's not because viewers at home don't know about it or don't want to hear about it. So why the void on your TV?

Well, FAIR will tell you it’s because journalism has been corporatized. News is reported under the auspices of corporations that are linked to other breeds of corporations, including insurance companies. Los Angeles Times writer James Rainey will tell you that no one wants to report on European-style, single-payer systems because of America's xenophobia.

I'd posit that when politicians took it off the operating table, news release-centric media took it off the monitors. If it's not coming to newsrooms from paid spokespeople, news gatherers probably aren't pursuing it, no matter what the polls say.

Or maybe it's a little from column A, a little from B and a little from C.

FAIR's petition to renew the single-payer option’s TV life is ongoing. You can find it at


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