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CBS and NBC Push Obama's Health Agenda, Empathize with His Challenge

The White House's decision to offer interviews with the President to the medical doctors who are correspondents for ABC, CBS and NBC paid off Wednesday night with stories that embraced the assumption health care must be reformed; and interviews on CBS and NBC which put Obama's efforts in the best light. Ironically, ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson, a long-time advocate for government-directed universal coverage, didn't presume Obama's prescription is benign.

Anchor Katie Couric led the CBS Evening News by making the underlining case for Obama's view that government intervention is needed:

They've been talking about it for decades. President Obama says he wants it done now, as in this summer - universal health care. As he put it today, it's time for us to buck up. And there are a lot of bucks at stake. Since 1999, health insurance premiums have increased 120 percent - four times as much as wages. And about one and a half million American families lose their homes to foreclosure every year because of sky high medical bills. A number of proposals are making their way through the House and Senate this week.


In the subsequent story, Chip Reid did spend some time on the burden the new health care requirements would place on small businesses, before CBS played an excerpt from Dr. Jon LaPook's Obama interview in which LaPook empathized: "Mr. President, when people hear you talk about a national insurance plan, there are fears of socialized medicine, rationed care, limited choice. How do you handle this?"

NBC's Brian Williams began: "The President tried again today to be heard on the subject of health care. In an interview you're about to hear, he said today the worst thing would be to do nothing at all. Whatever Washington comes up with will affect every one of us, and the newest idea for how to help pay for it all is to get the money from the people who have the money - the wealthiest Americans."

Reporter Kelly O'Donnell hailed a "milestone," asserting: "On Capitol Hill, a milestone: plans from both the House and Senate..."

Dr. Nancy Snyderman pleaded for Obama to press the public to "pony up," presumably meaning through higher taxes: "What I haven't heard anyone ask is for the American public to pony up, too, that this is going to require some give for all the stakeholders involved."

She also fretted to Obama: "What I haven't heard anyone ask is for the American public to pony up, too, that this is going to require some give for all the stakeholders involved." Snyderman used some of her ten minutes with Obama to talk about something other than his policy wishes: "Mr. President, I know you hate this, but is the battle with the cigarettes going okay? I would be remiss as a cancer surgeon not to ask you how you're doing."

(The MRC's Brad Wilmouth helped collect these transcripts.)

ABC anchor Charles Gibson delivered a less-promotional set up to the coverage:

Good evening. President Obama's sport is basketball, and he is now putting on a full-court press for health care reform. He got a boost today when a key Senate committee passed one version of reform legislation, but the committee vote was 13-10 - 13 Democrats in favor, 10 Republicans against. The President says he wants bipartisan support for reform, but so far, he's not getting it. And now there are even some in his own party expressing skepticism. Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill.


The questions posed by Dr. Tim Johnson and aired on World News:

- Charlie, I had 10 minutes with the President, and I began by asking him who would decide what medical care is unnecessary, and therefore should not be paid for? - The House bill that came out yesterday proposed a so-called health benefits advisory committee - 25 people appointed mostly by you, headed by the surgeon general - who's going to figure out what benefits will get paid for and what won't.

- I then quoted from some doctors who were very worried about increasing coverage without enough primary care in place. One of them said, "I fear that the plan will increase insurance coverage without increasing the ability of primary care physicians to take care of everyone who needs care."

- At this point, the President made a surprising statement about his timetable for solving primary care problems.

BARACK OBAMA: We're not going to solve all of them immediately overnight, and that's why I think we have to anticipate this program's not going to start up probably until 2013. That gives us four or five years to start developing programs to solve this problem.

CBS Evening News. Couric's intro:

Good evening, everyone. They've been talking about it for decades. President Obama says he wants it done now, as in this summer - universal health care. As he put it today, it's time for us to buck up. And there are a lot of bucks at stake. Since 1999, health insurance premiums have increased 120 percent - four times as much as wages. And about one and a half million American families lose their homes to foreclosure every year because of sky high medical bills. A number of proposals are making their way through the House and Senate this week. But chief White House correspondent Chip Reid tells us there is growing opposition from small business owners who would pick up a big part of the tab.


The questions aired from Dr. Jon LaPook to Obama:

- Do you believe that each individual American should be required to have health insurance? - Mr. President, when people hear you talk about a national insurance plan, there are fears of socialized medicine, rationed care, limited choice. How do you handle this?

- Let's talk about how you get rid of unnecessary procedures. You've said that if doctors have the right information, they'll do the right thing. And generally, I like to - I'm a physician, practicing, I like to think that's true. But actually, there are a lot of times when that's not the case. For example, angioplasties, elective angioplasties, when you open up a clogged artery in the heart. It turns out that about 30 percent of them are unnecessary.

BARACK OBAMA: Right Why are they still overdoing them, do you think?

LAPOOK: I think - because they believe, there's this thing about, if an artery is closed, it's got to be better if it's open, and it turns out that's not true. So how to you make that doctor do the right thing?

Brian Williams at the top of the July 15 NBC Nightly News:

Good evening. The President tried again today to be heard on the subject of health care. In an interview you're about to hear, he said today the worst thing would be to do nothing at all. Whatever Washington comes up with will affect every one of us, and the newest idea for how to help pay for it all is to get the money from the people who have the money - the wealthiest Americans. Our chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, interviewed the President earlier today. She's standing by at the White House. First, Kelly O'Donnell's at the Capitol with a look at where all this stands tonight. Kelly, good evening.


The questions aired from Dr. Nancy Snyderman:

- What I haven't heard anyone ask is for the American public to pony up, too, that this is going to require some give for all the stakeholders involved. - On the issue of an individual mandate for health insurance, the President said he's been persuaded.

- But how to pay for fixing the nation's health care system. Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he's against any direct tax on people's health care benefits.

- And on managing his own health. Mr. President, I know you hate this, but is the battle with the cigarettes going okay? I would be remiss as a cancer surgeon not to ask you how you're doing.

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center