I was taking a walk in Goodale Park during my lunch break today when a woman carrying a large stack of papers approached me, accompanied by a cameraman. She said she was from Channel 6 news and asked if she could talk to me about healthcare reform.
Predictably, the stack of papers was the healthcare bill itself. She asked me how long I thought the bill was, and I said, “it’s about two thousand pages, right?” “Yeah!” she replied.
She asked what my stand was on healthcare reform. I said I strongly supported it and gave my reasons. “Have you read any of the bill?” she asked. “Um, no,” I said.
After asking a few more questions, she thanked me for my time. Before walking away she smiled and said, “I’m glad the interview is over so I can put this down!”
I’ll be honest – when the interview ended, all I could think about was how excited I was at the possibility of being on TV, especially voicing my opinion on something I care a lot about. I went over everything I said and decided that I was satisfied with my answers.
Then the excitement wore off, and the more I thought about it, the more I was annoyed with the way she approached the subject. Mostly, it was her act of carrying the stack of papers. The papers weren’t held together with anything, so they looked especially messy. The reporter was a short, skinny woman, so the bill seemed about to topple her over.
This is not only a cliche, but a cliche usually used by ideological opponents of government expansion – not by local TV news stations. It reminded me of the Republican congressman who, in 1994, presented a chart of tangled bubbles and lines representing Bill Clinton’s healthcare bill to show how bloated and chaotic it was. And then there was the conservative guest on the Daily Show last year who carried the bill with her in a big, thick binder (even she was respectful enough to have it bound).
Anyway, so what if the bill is long? Do they expect a bill reforming the healthcare system for a country of 300 million people to be on a pamphlet? I would hope that a bill that is supposed to accomplish so much would be well thought out. Conciseness isn’t the number one goal in drafting a bill, effectiveness is.
I imagine that if they show my footage, they’ll present me as a liberal who supports the bill even though he hasn’t read a word of it. True, I haven’t read a word of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a good idea of what’s in it, as the reporter would know if she asked me more substantive questions. Like most Americans, I don’t have time to read through every bill my congressman votes on. In fact, I think it’s the duty of the press to keep the people well-informed about such things while they carry on their lives.
This is a duty that Channel 6 failed on with this segment. Instead of filming a frail woman struggling to carry the bill, with the obvious message that the bill is dangerously expansive, why not identify what in the bill is actually dangerous and ask me questions about that? If there’s something nasty hiding in those two thousand pages, tell me what it is. That might not provide such a memorable image, but at least it would be good journalism.