In '94 Debate, Misleading Ads and Confusing Coverage Reached Fever Pitch

Monitoring media to improve public understanding of health care reform

From January 1994 to September 1997, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication, evaluated the role of the media in the health care reform debate and created an archive directory of the coverage that took place during that debate.

It was the first large-scale, multi-methodological examination of the news media's impact on the public's attitude about a public policy issue.

Jamieson and her colleagues collected and analyzed newscasts and print reports on health care reform, as well as televised, print, and radio ads. They also conducted a study in six cities to assess the public's impressions of the debate.

A follow-up survey evaluated the impact of the RWJF-funded NBC special "To Your Health," which aired June 21, 1994.

Key Findings:

  • Soap operas and prime-time programming distort both the features of contemporary medicine and the nature of the health care reform problem.
  • Television reporters unknowingly aided advertisers.
  • Advertising was used as an effective surrogate for lobbying in influencing the public policy debate.
  • Press coverage confused, rather than clarified, the issues and activated cynicism.
  • Viewing the television special "To Your Health" lowered cynicism and resulted in perceived and actual learning.
  • The archive directory of print, radio and television coverage is housed at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.