In-Depth: Columbus Dispatch’s Mangled Medicaid Expansion Coverage
The Columbus Dispatch advocated for Medicaid expansion in 8 staff editorials while quoting nearly 3 times more Medicaid expansion supporters than critics in news coverage that slammed opponents and shielded proponents, a full review of stories published from February 4 to June 18 reveals.
The Dispatch’s failure to objectively report on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Medicaid expansion, which the editors endorsed in late January, is clear in individual news pieces and even more obvious when coverage of the issue is viewed in the aggregate.
In 60 news stories, Dispatch reporters quoted a total of 114 Medicaid expansion supporters and only 40 critics. News was routinely based on themes favoring Medicaid expansion, with story titles including “Medicaid expansion crucial to mentally ill,” “Without Medicaid expansion, poorest lose,” and “State covers many foes of expanding Medicaid.”
Among the pro-expansion talking points repeated – but rarely questioned – by Dispatch reporters, Gov. Kasich’s false claims about PPACA Medicaid expansion funding were included in 8 news stories.
Dispatch writers never challenged the Kasich Administration’s deceptive assertions, just as they showed no skepticism of Ohio Hospital Association rhetoric debunked by an exhaustive Media Trackers analysis of hospital financials.
Not only did the Dispatch fail to ask difficult questions of Medicaid expansion supporters, the paper circled its wagons around the PPACA Medicaid expansion when others tried to do so.
From this foundation of willful ignorance, Dispatch reporters built up the narrative that opposition to Medicaid expansion has no rational basis. In 6 different news stories, the Dispatch suggested foes of Medicaid expansion are motivated by heartless ideology.
Dispatch reporters’ refusal to acknowledge major arguments against Medicaid expansion fit neatly with pronouncements from the editorial board.
“Any responsible leader also can see that the terms of the expansion will benefit Ohio,” the Dispatch editors opined less than a week after the governor’s budget plan was released. Through June 18, the editors advanced this theme in a total of 8 columns.
The Dispatch published 5 Medicaid expansion news stories written by senior editor Joe Hallett during the 18-week period reviewed, though Hallett described critics of the policy as “fringe,” “legislative ideologues,” “rigid intimidators,” and “bent on society’s regression” in a pair of February opinion pieces.
Elsewhere on the opinion page of Ohio’s most influential newspaper, 14 op-eds supported the PPACA Medicaid expansion versus just 1 column from an opponent. With the exception of letters to the editor, no commentator featured in the Dispatch after February 22 advised against expanding Medicaid.
Gov. Kasich wants to spend billions per year to expand an ineffective entitlement program, and The Columbus Dispatch has chosen to work with the governor, the health care lobby, and socialized medicine advocates against any Ohioan who might disagree.
Download the complete Media Trackers report for details.
Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison was contacted for comment on preliminary findings from this analysis, but did not respond.
Media Trackers also reached out to Statehouse press corps president Laura Bischoff to ask whether she has spoken with anyone at the Dispatch about the paper’s Medicaid expansion coverage, and whether she or any other Statehouse reporters have worked to address the side of the debate ignored by the Dispatch.
“I don’t tell the Dispatch how to cover stories or issues,” Bischoff replied. “That is not my role as a Dayton Daily News employees [sic] or as the president of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association.”