The healthcare debate in the America has been driven by cable news and other old media, rather than new technologies, according to White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod, adding that cable news networks focused on a small number of angry people at town hall meetings in August, and ignored the larger debate.The Internet has been a powerful force in politics and government, helping drive President Obama's election. 13 million Americans now belong to Organizing for America at BarackObama.com. But the Internet has been less important in healthcare reform than old media, said Axelrod, speaking Wednesday at a presentation in front of a live audience at the University of Delaware, which was simulcast in a video feed in Second Life.
"It's the blend of new and old technology, and in some ways the old technology is more influential, at least in coverage of the debate," Axelrod said.
"In the month of August, there were some vituperative town hall meetings. There were some angry quotes at some town hall meetings, but they were by no means emblematic of what was going on in this country," he said. The quieter town hall meetings focused on discussion of the plan, with some people speaking in favor, some against, and some just focused on the details.
He said one network news reporter told him that the network would send out 20 camera crews to town hall meetings, and if 18 were quiet and two were angry, the network would air coverage from the angry meetings, "because it was better TV."
Despite the town hall meetings, opposition to the Obama healthcare plan did not grow in August, Axelrod said.
It may be true that the Democratic healthcare reform plan didn't gain opposition in August, but it still finished the month with opposition running deep. Polls in September showed 49% of Americans opposed the Congressional healthcare reform plans, and only 39% supported it. The split is more even now, but still not great for Obama, an even 40%-40%, with a large number of undecided, according to an Associated Press poll released Wednesday. The AP headlined its story that healthcare reform is "hanging in there," but former Bush press secretary Karl Rove's Wall Street Journal column is headlined, "The GOP Is Winning The Healthcare Debate."
Television will likely continue to be a powerful force in politics, in some ways more powerful than the Internet, Axelrod said. "Television is still the broad-gauge communication weapon in politics," he said. "If you want to reach people, and convey a real sense of someone, television is the way to do it," he said. Other media are emerging, but they won't replace television.
InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).
Follow InformationWeek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn: