August 12, 2009 6:39PM

Media Failure?

Just a few minutes ago on the wash​ing​ton​post​.com homepage, there was an example of one of my pet peeves about bias — possibly unconscious bias — in the way the major media cover issues. A homepage headline read “Price of Failure on Health Care,” and the Howard Kurtz article itself is titled “The Price of Failure.” Kurtz explores what would happen if “health care reform [goes] down in flames.”

So what does he mean by “Failure on Health Care”? He means President Obama not getting the sweeping new government programs that he seeks. But to many of us Post readers, that would actually be “Success on Health Care.” It would mean that American health care would not get worse under the burden of government regulations and restrictions.

The media tendency to refer to the defeat of a big‐​government scheme as “failure” reflects a possibly unconscious bias toward government action. As I’ve written before:

Does one ever hear “Congress failed today to reduce taxes”? “No Progress on Deregulation”? I don’t think so. Journalists unconsciously assume that Congress should Do the Right Thing. When it doesn’t, that’s “failure” or “no progress.” Journalists and headline writers should try to find neutral language to describe Congress’s actions.

(Kurtz’s article actually focuses on the political consequences to Obama of not passing his signature issue, and I have no quarrel with the article. But the headlines convey the sense that it would be a “failure” for Congress not to pass a government health‐​care plan.)