Losing The Message Wars

A new Pew Study shows that the “liberal media” adopted conservative language and ideas when covering healthcare reform, helping sell the opposition’s message. Shocking, I know!

Pew studied a 10-month period that ended on March 31, 2010, on various platforms including network and cable news, newspaper, magazines and online publications. It found the three main themes expressed by opponents — that the plan called for further government involvement, it raised taxes and rationed health care — were mentioned some 18,181 times.

Terminology used by supporters to convey that the legislation increased marketplace competition, insured more pre-existing conditions and combatted greedy insurance industry practices received 10,883 mentions, Pew said.

Wow, that’s almost twice as many mentions for opponents’ viewpoints as supporters’. No wonder people are confused and mistrust the law.

Of course, this was just two years ago. We all remember the summer of “Town Brawls.” We remember the lies about “death panels” and “socialized medicine” and “government bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor” which opponents spread through the media. We were all collectively going “Huh?!” — when we weren’t bitching and sniping at one another about the compromises in the bill, of course.

I found this interesting:

Phrases used by opponents, calling it government-run health care, a government takeover of health care and “death panels” were “really evocative,” Rosenstiel said. They were also used more consistently, an indication that opponents were better organized than supporters, he said.

Meanwhile, some of the phrases and ideas set forth by supporters to define insurers or talk about pre-existing conditions were more abstract and there was less coordination among people pushing for its passage, he said.

Therein lies the problem. I’d love to say, “c’mon, Lefties, get it together. Come together … right now …” But really, is that ever gonna happen? No. It’s not in our constitution. We are not a homogenous, authoritarian group like the Right. We’re different and need to be approached differently.

Here’s how the Affordable Care Act — a Republican idea, let me add — was suddenly transformed into evul Lefty Obamacare “socialized medicine.” First the corporate moneybags leading the Republican Party funneled their fearmongering about healthcare reform through the wingnut wurlitzer — the Fox News shows like Glenn Beck, radio blowhards like Rush, the e-mail FWD:s, etc. It’s easy to get everyone riled up and repeating the same language when you have that kind of machinery eager and willing to do your bidding. And then just when people were hot and bothered enough, along comes a corporate-funded bus to load everyone up and take them to a rally which those same message outlets had promoted.

Ah, the Tea Party. Y’all were very useful idiots for the plutocrats, weren’t you? You always are. Feeling ignored these days? Don’t be. I’m sure they’ll call you guys up to be foot soldiers for the status quo again soon. /snark.

Anyway, this is why we can’t have nice things, like get the fucking lamestream media to stop adopting right wing talking points. We don’t just need a liberal Frank Luntz to help us with “framing” (God how I hate that term.) Democrats can’t get their message out there because a) we don’t have the same infrastructure to do so and, b) the left’s big tent is not filled with the same follow-the-leader types as the authoritarian right. We’re always going to be arguing amongst ourselves about how Obama and the Democrats have failed us because of this or that thing. And yes on healthcare reform I did it too, I’m not absolving myself of blame here — I called the healthcare reform law a shit sandwich. It was. I didn’t get everything I wanted and I was pissed.

I’m not even saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather be part of a group that asks a lot of questions and engages in a hearty debate and fights for the things it sees as necessary than be part of a group that robotically falls in line when it’s ordered to do so by Big Daddy.

I’m just saying, Democrats, that this is a problem you’re going to need to solve if you ever want to win political battles. You need your base to help you sell your message. You just do. Look what happened when we were all arguing amongst ourselves and feeling ignored and irrelevant on healthcare reform. You lost the message wars.

If you want to sell a huge piece of politically expensive legislation like healthcare reform, you need to figure out how to get the Left on board. I don’t remember you guys doing that. I don’t remember you selling the healthcare reform compromises to us. I don’t remember you reaching out through those liberal channels that do exist — the few Lefty talk shows on radio and cable TV and even The Daily Show and whatnot. I remember you throwing us under the bus and telling us to STFU and let the grown-ups be in charge. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong.

Anyway, I’m just throwing some ideas out there. When we’re having a debate there needs to be two sides of a conversation, not the right-wing side shouting everyone else down. That was a problem during healthcare too, the sheer volume on the conservative microphone drowned everyone else out. I don’t know how we fix that problem, but I do know it needs to be resolved.

1 Comment

Filed under Democratic Party, healthcare, Media

One response to “Losing The Message Wars

  1. I share your frustration. And, just as thanks for sharing that charming TED talk by Ben Goldacre (which I may use in one of my information literacy lessons), I’m going to share a short promotional video with you:

    It’s about a library tax campaign, but it’s also about appropriating the opposition’s message, and using it for your own purposes. I think it’s brilliant. And, no, I don’t live in Troy, MI. I’m a librarian, and I cannot tell you how uplifting I find this.

    What we need to do is imagine a way to make this kind of campaign work for Affordable Care.