Tuned In

Congratulations, Glenn Beck! Health Care Reform Has Passed!

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There are plenty of other places on this website and elsewhere where you can read about the implications of health care reform’s passage, politically and medically. But what about the implications for the media?

On this, I’m going to have to agree 100% with former Bush speechwriter David Frum: this “is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.”

Whether the bill is hated, hailed or forgotten by the general electorate come November, whether it’s repealed or becomes an institution, its passage means a big win for the media wing (as opposed to the holding-office-and-running-things wing) of the conservative movement and the Republican party. The audience will be angrier, the following will be more passionate, the images and analogies will be darker (I’m guessing this will be a memorable Glenn Beck show tonight) and the ratings will go up, up, up.

Whether this bodes well or ill for actual conservative politics is anyone’s guess (and my predictions about that irrelevant), but the stock and influence of Beck, Rush Limbaugh (broadcasting from the U.S. or Costa Rica) and Facebook author Sarah Palin will only increase.

You’ll notice today, watching TV or reading the news, that there will be a sudden rash of stories about “what health care reform means for you.” Which is the sort of thing that might have been nice for journalists to focus on for, oh, the year or so before the bill passed. Now granted, some reporters have fought the good fight attempting to get attention for actually explaining the bill. (And it’s true that we didn’t always know what would be in the final legislation, but the Senate bill passed in December, and it has been clear for some time that it would more or less be that or nothing.)

But the most excitable, and therefore popular, precincts of the media have focused on amplifying the most excitable, and therefore popular, participants in the debate. Sometimes it’s seemed as if the entire debate in the media has been about the kind of health system opponents wanted to argue against, and ironically, that progressives most wanted—European-style socialized medicine—despite the fact that such a system was never under serious consideration. It just made better TV.

The result being that the actual dynamic (essentially, the centrists behind a bill requiring private insurance vs. both small-government conservatives and public-healthcare progressives*) went relatively uncovered. That dynamic, not being a simple dichotomy, didn’t fit the usual frame, and it didn’t make for as exciting a fight. Cable TV today rewards presenting all news as a dualistic fight between two poles (and, preferably, picking a side—hence CNN’s fall in primetime behind MSNBC and especially Fox News). [*I’m sure I’m oversimplifying this myself.]

Well, the vote may be over, but the fury doesn’t have to be. And while I expect to hear Glenn Beck tell us what a dark day for America yesterday was, I couldn’t blame Fox’s ad-sales staff if they’re not feeling quite as gloomy this morning.