It’s the health-care law, stupid, not “Obamacare”

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



You expect the news in The Denver Post to be fair and accurate, as opposed to the writing in most blogs, which is usually gossipy, free-wheeling, and, with luck, accurate. As to fairness on most blogs, forget it.

So if you’re a journalistic outfit like The Denver Post, and you’re operating a blog like The Spot, you face conflicting priorities. You want to post stuff that’s easy to read and talk about but you definitely don’t want to undermine the journalistic credibility that separates you from the blogging masses-especially if your fair-and-accurate news reporters are the ones doing the blogging, as is mostly the case on The Spot.

One really good way to undermine your journalistic credibility is to use political propaganda as descriptive terms for bills or laws.

I did some bean counting and documented a small, but meaningful, way that this is happening on The Spot.

The Post’s blog is sporadically using the term “Obamacare” as a synonym for the federal health-care law.

It’s one thing to report the term “Obamacare” as part of a quotation or within quotation marks but to use it as a descriptive term, no. You don’t want to do that.

If you’re thinking this is no big deal, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. “Obamacare” is an inaccurate and partisan salvo, and coming from a reporter, working for a publication that cares about accuracy and fairness, it looks sloppy-not to mention the fact that this kind of term in news reporting, even on a blog, makes The Denver Post appear to have a hidden agenda in support of the right wing.

On the Spot, during this calendar year, I found 15 articles using “Obamacare.” Of these, it was used nine times, inappropriately, as a synonym for the health-care bill or law. In the remaining six articles, the term was used, appropriately, in quotation marks or in a quotation from a partisan. Once it was used in a Spot headline, “Don’t Worry, we’ve got Obamacare,” on March 23.

In a May 22 post on the differences between Attorney General John Suthers and his opponent Stan Garnett, the Spot reported:

“They differ on Obamacare and medical marijuana for starters.”

On May 1, the Spot reported:

“The AG’s race normally is pretty ho hum but with Suthers and Garnett disagreeing on Obamacare and medical marijuana it’s shaping up to be a battle.”

Asked about this via email, Denver Post Politics Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote:

“Whether it’s ‘Obamacare’ or ‘the Party of No,’ it’s incumbent upon reporters and editors (I can’t speak for columnists and the editorial dept.) to attribute political marketing terms to a source or somehow put them in proper context for readers.

“Without going back and re-reading each post, your analysis suggests that there have been instances on the blog where that hasn’t happened in regards to the term ‘Obamacare.’ While it’s possible that the entire tenor of a post made it unnecessary or that the author assumed the audience of a politics blog was astute enough to figure it out for themselves, our goal should always be to provide clarity.”

I often see things in my favor, but I’ll take this to mean he at least partially if not mostly agrees with me.

For fun, and because bean counting is so interesting if you’re counting the right beans, I checked out how “Obamacare” is being used in the print edition of The Post.

In staff-written news articles, I found “Obamacare” in eight articles (from May 23 of this year through July of 2009). In each case, it was used appropriately–either with quotes around it, or in a quotation by a partisan. It was never used as a synonym for the health-care law.

For example, in describing a speech by Sarah Palin March 23, The Post reported that she “called the freshly passed health care reform law an attempt to drive the country toward socialism. The article quoted Palin as saying, “Mr. President, do you understand now that Americans don’t want Obamacare? And do you understand that it won’t improve our health care system?”

In the Post’s opinion articles, where fairness is not expected, “Obamacare” is used as political marketing term, without quotation marks. In an opinion column, you’d expect this and it’s appropriate. In the print newspaper, in opinion columns and editorials, I found “Obamacare” in 10 articles from May 23 of this year through July of 2009. In nine of those cases, it was used as a synonym for the health-care bill or the health-care law passed by Congress. (Columnist David Harsanyi used it in six columns, columnist Mike Littwin in two, and columnist Susan Greene in one). I found it in one Post editorial, used within quotation marks. Once it was used in a headline (“Repeal Obamacare? Unlikely”) on a Harsanyi  column. (If I were an editor, even on the opinion page, I wouldn’t put “Obamacare” in a headline, because it’s not factually accurate and therefore not right for any headline.)

In any case, with the exceptions I cited in the Spot blog, the Post is treating the term “Obamacare” as you’d want it to, allowing its use in opinion articles but not using it as a descriptive term elsewhere.

If you read the Spot, especially more recently, you see writing that’s fairly similar, if more chatty and quirky, to what’s in the print newspaper. I think the Spot blog should follow the standard described in Sunday’s New York Times by Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson:

“Blogs are an important part of our news report. On big, running news stories, like the oil spill, the earthquakes in Haiti, the elections, and so forth, they offer readers the most important, up-to-the-minute developments….While the opinion side of The Times also has blogs, the news blogs exist to report and analyze, not to offer slanted ‘takes.’ Times blogs are never personal diaries. All of our blgos are carefully edited, and we apply the same standards for accuracy and fairness to them.”

73 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. RedGreenRedGreen says:

    If backers of the health care legislation hadn’t wanted it called Obamacare, they should have come up with a better name for it, or a handy one-word name for it at all.

  2. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    Obamacare is shorthand, not vitriol.  As a supporter of both the president and the health care program (it’s a start, anyway) I take no offense at the term.  

    • RedGreenRedGreen says:

      Just because opponents seem to have coined the phrase doesn’t mean it isn’t a good descriptive, short-hand term.

      There’s precedent for treating policy nicknames this way. “Star Wars” was a pejorative term when Democrats used it about Reagan’s missile defense, but after a while it became the best way to describe it quickly, at least in headlines, i.e., “Star Wars test fails again.”

      There are slanted terms journalists should avoid outside quotes and context (Death Tax, anyone?), but I don’t think Obamacare is really one of them.

      • gaf says:

        Hillarycare was Hillary’s plan. What is referred to as “Obamacare” was not Obama’s plan. It is shorthand that is inaccurate. But both are ways of attacking a plan without spending any energy explaining–or understanding–what it is.

        Star Wars had the same flaw–although at least that name implied the reality it was really just a game, not something that had a reasonable possibility of success.

    • Ralphie says:

      I think it’s most often used as a pejorative.

      I don’t hear many of my Democratic friends calling it “Obamacare.”

    • sxp151 says:

      And the fact that any particular supporter doesn’t take offense doesn’t mean it wasn’t intended to be offensive.

      The idea was to brand Obama with a health care plan, make sure the plan failed, and then taint him for the rest of his term with that failure.

      They probably would have called it “BarryCare” if “ObamaCare” hadn’t come first.

      • Middle of the Road says:

        The phrase “Obamacare” wasn’t created as a short cut to describe HCR and I don’t see reputable journalists using that phrase. I don’t see Democrats using that phrase. I typically only see that phrase used by people that are vehemently opposed to the health care reform bill.

        To pretend otherwise is kind of silly. Then again, I’m still calling the Tea Party fanatics “Tea Baggers” but according to RG’s theory, that’s a good descriptive, short-hand term so I guess it’s all good. :)

        • redstateblues says:

          At any rate, I agree with RG. If Dems had come up with a better branding, then it wouldn’t be an issue.

          • Middle of the Road says:

            which Dems? I’m just curious because I really haven’t seen that much.

            • redstateblues says:

              There was a Pols diary not too long ago that had at least one Dem refer to it as Obamacare.

              I’m trying to think of a better term for it. Jason’s suggestion of “the health care law” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue.

              • Middle of the Road says:

                you’ve never made anything up before so your word is good enough for me.

                On the larger topic, I wholeheartedly disagree. I’ve never seen that phrased used in print, on television, by  talk show and politico pundits or politicians in a way that was remotely positive. I agree with Ralphie who probably summed it up best for me–it seems to be a pejorative that I’d like to see reputable people using less, not more.

                How hard is it really just to call it the health care reform bill? I mean really, reform usually implies something good and it sounds a hell of a lot better than the implication the Republicans are attempting with their nifty phrase that some Democrats seem downright eager to co-opt.

                Why do we suck so much at framing in this Party and why are we always so willing to immediately cede to something shitty rather than come up with something on our own?

                Okay, rant over.

                • redstateblues says:

                  Republicans are always better at creating media-friendly soundbites, talking points, and nicknames. It’s partially because they don’t care if they’re half-truths or extremely simplified, just as long as it serves their purpose.

                  For all of the whining from Democrats about Rahm Emmanuel as Obama’s COS, he’s really just trying to play more by the Republican rulebook. They’re not afraid to play hardball–even if it means playing with the truth.

                • DaftPunkDaftPunk says:

                  Because we’re the party of people, and they’re the party of corporations;  You know, the ones with huge advertising budgets, marketing campaigns, branding strategies….  That sort of thing.

                  Remember “He’s for the powerful, I’m for the people”?

                  • Ralphie says:

                    I even remember “I Like Ike.”

                  • Middle of the Road says:

                    Jesus, that’s weak. Could you possibly sell us a little shorter?

                    We’re not the party of savants. Intelligent people can walk and chew gum at the same time…or in this case, be the super awesome “party of the people” and learn how to message simultaneously.

                    Stunning, I know.

                    Oh and I hate to break this to you but the “part of the people” has been out raising Republicans for the last two election cycles. Our budget is just as big as theirs is.  

        • H-man says:

          Health care reform could mean anything.  I think it is important so that we can give credit where it is due to legislation that will drive down the cost of medical care, cover millions of people and reduce the deficit simultaneously. I want to make sure that credit is given where it is due.

          If we called that Health care reform I might get confused.

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      Since that’s what it is?

      • marilou says:

        Can’t call it that because it is already called “Obamacare,” a government takeover of 1/6 of the economy.

        • ClubTwitty says:

          government doctors?

          I missed that along with the news that the Iraq War has been won and peace has spread across the Middle East as per L Paul’s plan.

        • parsingreality says:

          why not?

          It’s not like private enterprise has done such a sterling job.

          Of course, since the government already runs the VA, Medicare, the military Tri-Care (the three highest delivery systems in customer satisfaction, BTW)and pays for health care for all government employees from your senator to all of our soldiers and their families to your gardener at the local schools, and indirectly pays for it through all the prime contractors (McDonnell-Douglas-Boeing-Whatever), Halliburton, Whomever, and then their sub-contractors like Fedex, Joe’s Machine Shop, and Office Despot………

          That leaves about 1/3 of the health care economy that the government(s) don’t either pay for directly or indirectly.  

          I did that research about 13 years ago, so maybe something is tweaked since then, but that’s the result I came up with.

  3. Froward69 says:

    Every concession to republicans for nary one vote. (never granted)Is an amendment that makes the Health care bill the wasteful giveaway to Pharmaceutical and Insurance companies. Born to fail.

    Knowing this, the term “Obamacare” sticks to the Health care bill that is Shit to begin with.

    “Single payer” would be Single payer Not Obamacare Had the republicans not torpedoed Health care reform to begin with… to make it fail in the long run.

    thus sticking the term “Obamacare” to an already flawed and soon to be failure.

    I would prefer “Republi-care” as that’s what it is.

    “Conservacare” is what we had in the previous system. A system that denied payment for health care at the insurance companies’ discretion.

  4. TheGreatAndPowerfulOz says:

    I never thought about this before, but you are right, now that I think about it, I see many articles in papers referring to legislation with right or left wing nicknames. Now that my attention has been brought to it, I will pay close attention.

    Thanks for the great piece!

  5. marilou says:

    That unconstitutional, freedom taking, tax increasing monstrosity is Obamacare.

  6. Laughing Boy says:

    That Dems want to disassociate Obama’s name from this turd.  If it was so great, wouldn’t you want to blow smoke up his ass?

    Just sayin….

    • ClubTwitty says:

      since it’s going so well; we won according to one conservative poster recently gracing us with his presence.  (I do not compare you to that troll, BTW LB, just asking a question).  You know that Obamacare is used as a pejorative.  I disagree with you that it’s a turd (of course I wish it went further, sorry that the options got constrained to good-for-corporate-insurers to fricking-great-for-corporate-insurers, but you get what I’m saying).

       

      • Laughing Boy says:

        I have no problem with that.  At least the war in Iraq accomplished something.

        • Ralphie says:

          So tell me.  What exactly did the war in Iraq accomplish that was worth more than 4000 American lives?  Never mind the tens of thousands of Iraqis–I’ll give you a pass on those if you can justify the Americans who were killed.

            • Ralphie says:

              But if he wants to try to justify the treasure too, I’m all ears.

              • ClubTwitty says:

                Just sayin’

                One of the reasons the budgets look bad is Obama uses more honest accounting.  Bush took a lesson from his bff Ken Lay and used Enron accounting to keep the wars off the books.

                If we are going to fight we need need to understand the costs, in blood and in dollars.

                • Ralphie says:

                  I won’t argue budget deficits with people, because for seven years we fought a war completely off budget.  It was all done with supplemental appropriations.  If someone wants to argue deficits with me, they have to account for off-budget spending as well.

                  • Laughing Boy says:

                    Saddam dead.  Tens of thousands of jihadis dead.

                    Sorry, I love and respect most all of you, but I believe war accomplishes purpose.

                    • Ralphie says:

                      Nor do I doubt the beliefs of people who believe in creation, for example.

                      Beliefs are no substitute for facts.  Give me some facts about what the war in Iraq accomplished.

                      “Sadaam dead” isn’t an accomplishment that was worth the lives of 4,000 Americans.  He was no threat to us.

                    • Laughing Boy says:

                      I think he was a horrendous threat to us.

                    • Laughing Boy says:

                      He would have given shelter and provided a State sponsor for AQ.

                    • Laughing Boy says:

                      Link.

                      An Iraqi of that name, Carney knew, had been present at an al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on January 5-8, 2000. U.S. intelligence officials believe this was a chief planning meeting for the September 11 attacks. Shakir had been nominally employed as a “greeter” by Malaysian Airlines, a job he told associates he had gotten through a contact at the Iraqi embassy. More curious, Shakir’s Iraqi embassy contact controlled his schedule, telling him when to show up for work and when to take a day off.

                    • Ralphie says:

                      He wouldn’t have given them shit.  He viewed them as a threat to his absolute power.

                      I’m watching a public hearing on a gravel pit in my neighborhood, so it might be tomorrow before I can respond to your next point.

                    • Laughing Boy says:

                      I’m sure SR will chime in with something personal that has nothing to do with it.

                    • Rainidog says:

                      grandma jihadis and pregnant mama jihadis and sick grandpa jihadis and somebody’s little sister at a wedding jihadi and somebody’s two-year-old toddler jihadi.

                      Sorry, I do not love or respect you.  You are cold-hearted and death-loving, and proud of it.  There’s nothing there to respect.

                    • Laughing Boy says:

                      You demean our troops by insinuating they intentionally killed innocents.

                      This was the most carefully fought war in human history.

                      I’m neither “death-loving” nor cold hearted.

                      I’m not going to lose any sleep over you.

                    • Rainidog says:

                      Bombs don’t discriminate.  So-called “smart bombs” still kill people who didn’t need to be killed.  Our troops were and are under horrendous kinds of stress and pressure.  War is hell.  

                      Carefully thought out war!!!  Yes, you are death-loving, and delusional as well.

                    • ClubTwitty says:

                      that I’m sure he is aware of.

                      He presented an argument that suggested anyone opposed to this particular war believes that no war might be justified or necessary.

    • Earnest says:

      Regardless of whether it’s good or bad, the law reflects more than Obama’s wishes (assuming it even reflects his wishes).

      The objection, I think, is to the attempt to reduce the hard-earned legislative accomplishment to a celebration of Obama’s personality.  It is more than him.  If you hate it, then your objection is to more than him.   To associate a name-associated jingle with the health care laws is an attempt to conflate an opposition to Obama’s personality with the objection to the health care laws.

      “Just sayin”?  Are people still sayin’ that?

  7. showme says:

    It’s not what it was.  Most stories contain comments of an “editorial” nature (plus typos). And, whatever happened to asking follow-up questions and asking “why?”  Also, saying it is the Administration’s fault for not coming up with a catchy name is a little like blaming the victim of an attack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not having the right body language, etc.

  8. dwyer says:

    Source your comment:

    One really good way to undermine your journalistic credibility is to use political propaganda as descriptive terms for bills or laws.

    Why didn’t you count how many times caplis/silverman used the word “ass” to protest the use of the word “ass” by the President?

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