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Six Things to Know About Health Care Coverage

About this Report

A number of members of the PEJ staff assisted in the production of this report, “Six Things to Know About Health Care Coverage: A Study of the Media and the Health Care Debate.”

The team that aided in the research, including coding and content analysis of the more than 5500 health care stories from June 2009 through March 2010, included:  Banu Akdenizli, Josh Applebaum, Jeff Beattie, Kevin Caldwell, Erica Feldherr, Jesse Holcomb, Danielle Kurtzleben, Vadim Nikitin, Kenny Olmstead, Aaron Ray, Angela Sanson, Sovini Tan and Nancy Vogt.

Other staff members who made substantial contributions to the report were: Public relations associate Dana Page, content & training coordinator Mahvish Shahid Khan,  weekly News Index manager Tricia Sartor, analyst/coder  Laura Houston Santhanam, senior methodologist Hong Ji, content supervisor Paul Hitlin, associate director Mark Jurkowitz and director Tom Rosenstiel.


As a special report for PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index (NCI), “Six Things To Know About Health Care Coverage” is based on aggregated data collected from June 1, 2009, through March 31, 2010. The complete methodology of the NCI is available here.

Examining the news agenda of approximately 50 different outlets (55 outlets in 2009, and 52 outlets in 2010) in five media sectors, including newspapers, online, network TV, cable TV, and radio, the NCI is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of major stories and differences among news platforms.

Following a rotation system, PEJ analyzes all stories with a national or international focus that appear as follows:

  • On the front page of newspapers
  • In the entirety of commercial network evening newscasts
  • During the first 30 minutes of network morning news and all cable programs
  • During a thirty minute segment (rotated daily) of the PBS evening news and NPR’s Morning Edition or All Things Considered
  • As one of the top 5 stories on each website at the time of capture
  • During the first 30 minutes of radio talk shows
  • During the entirety of radio news headline segments

Capture and Retrieval

All outlets included in the weekly index are captured and included in PEJ’s media archive.

For newspapers that are available in print in the Washington, D.C. area, we have hard copies delivered to our office each day. For newspapers that are not available for delivery, digital editions of the paper are retrieved either through the newspaper’s own web site, or through the use of digital delivery services such as and When necessary, the text of articles are supplemented by the archives available in the LexisNexis computer database.

Radio programs are captured through online streams of the shows. Using automated software, we record several local affiliates that air the program in various markets throughout the country. The purpose of this method is to ensure that we have a version of the program in case one of the streams is unavailable on a particular day, and so that we record the show in a manner that represents the way a typical listener would hear the program with commercials and newsbreaks.
Online websites are captured manually by a member of PEJ’s staff. The capture time is rotated between 9 am ET and 4 pm ET. The home pages and pages with the top articles for all sites are saved so that when we reference the material, the format is the same as it appeared online at the time of capture.

Finally, all television shows are recorded digitally and archived for coding purposes. PEJ is a subscriber to DirectTV satellite service and all programs are burned onto DVDs for archival purposes.

All television and radio programs are then coded by a member of PEJ’s staff who watches or listens to the archived version of the program

List of Outlets and Rotation Schedule

The most current list of outlets and rotation schedule is available here.

Story Selection

This report aggregates the NCI from June 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010. The data is primarily based on 5,557 health care stories during that time. Stories were considered to be about health care if 50% or more of the story was on that topic.

The Talk Show Sector

The talk show sector identified in this study includes both cable talk and radio talk shows. Cable talk shows include Lou Dobbs, CNN Prime Time, Hardball, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, The Ed Show, O’Reilly Factor, and Hannity. Radio talk hosts include Rush Limbaugh, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Sean Hannity, Michael Salvage, Glenn Beck, and Thom Hartmann.

Among this group, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, The Ed Show, Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, and Randi Rhodes are considered liberal talk shows, while O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Salvage are considered conservative talk shows.

Coding Team

The coding team responsible for performing the content analysis is made up of sixteen individuals. The daily coding operation is directed by a coding manager, a training coordinator, a methodologist, and a content supervisor. Several of the coders have been trained extensively since the summer of 2006 and most of the coders have more than a year’s worth of coding experience.

Nexis search

PEJ examined the appearance of opponents’ and supporters’ key terms about health care in the mainstream media by searching these terms in the Nexis database. The time period examined was June 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010—a period of 10 months.

There were about 65 U.S. general news sources included in PEJ’s Nexis search. The sources come from six media sectors, including newspapers, online, network, cable, radio and magazines. The list of sources is as follows:  

  1. Major US Newspapers (It is a Nexis combined source containing English language newspapers published in the U.S. that are listed in the top 50 circulation in Editor & Publisher Year Book.)
  2. ABC News Transcripts
  3. CBS  News Transcripts
  4. CNN
  5. Fox News Network
  6. MSNBC
  7. National Public Radio (NPR)
  8. NBC News
  9. The Newshour with Jim Lehrer
  10. The New Yorker
  11. Newsweek
  12. US News & World Report Publications
  16. Slate Magazine

The key concepts and themes espoused by opponents and supporters was identified by examining the web sites of three organizations opposed to Democrats’ reform plans—the Republican National Committee, Conservatives for Patients Rights and America’s Health Care Insurance Plans. The three organizations that supported them were the Democratic National Committee, Health Care for America Now and Families USA.

The generated opponents’ top concepts and themes include:

  1. more taxes with health care reform (search terms: taxes increases AND health care,  new taxes AND health care  )
  2. rationing health care (search terms: ration OR rationing OR rationed AND health care  )
  3. more government involvement (search terms: government run AND health care, government takeover AND health care,  government bureaucrats AND health care )

The supporters’ concepts and themes include:

  1. more competition (search terms: competition AND health care)
  2. insuring pre-existing conditions (search terms: pre-existing conditions AND health care)
  3. greedy insurance industry A series of terms are used, including: if the insurance companies win, we lose, insurance companies AND record profits AND health care, insurance company abuses AND health care, insurance lobbyists AND health care, unfair insurance industry practices AND health care, and (discriminatory premiums or high premiums) AND health care
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