AP and Pickler blow coverage of Edwards health plan

The AP has a bizarre story out today about former Sen. John Edwards' new plan for universal health coverage. Unlike most news stories covering a candidate's position, the headline and lead of the story focus only on one aspect -- that fact that it would, like most programs, cost money.

The story is running everywhere; here's a typical version from the Chicago Tribune:

Edwards puts tax hike in mix for health care;
Universal plan's cost could hit $120 billion

Associated Press
February 5, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Sunday that his plan for universal health care would require higher taxes and cost up to $120 billion a year.

Although the byline doesn't appear on most of the pieces, the author is Nedra Pickler, an AP reporter Democrats grew to despise in 2004 due to convincing examples of her anti-Kerry reporting (in contrast to sympathetic Bush coverage, a more recent example here.) One activist even took the anti-Pickler campaign to the throngs watching American Idol.

But back to the Edwards health plan story. How often are other policy initiatives covered this way? For example, have the Associated Press and Pickler ever written a story like this?

Bush to drive up U.S. debt with war spending;
Military plan's cost could hit $625 billion

WASHINGTON -- U.S. president George Bush said Sunday that his plan for war spending would require expanding the debt and cost up to $625 billion a year.

No, of course not. In fact, we know this because the AP does have a story about Bush's war spending today, with the following innocuous headline and gentle lede:

Bush Budget Proposes $624.6B for Defense

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - President Bush's 2008 budget request includes $624.6 billion in defense spending and marks the first time he has offered an estimate of how much the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost a year in advance.

No scary headline stoking fear of "hikes" in debt or taxes. No hidden message about soaring costs that could "hit" a big amount.

The lede does note that this is the first time Bush has estimated the cost of war -- a remarkable fact -- but, unlike Pickler's Fear Factor report, it makes no attempt to say where the money will come from (government meanies stealing your tax dollars, as in Pickler's account, or big spenders shoveling us deeper into debt, which AP could have referenced re: the war).

And this isn't even the right comparison. Edwards wasn't announcing the budget for his health plan, as Bush was for Iraq. The better question would be: every time the administration announces a major policy initiative -- Iraq war, No Child Left Behind, and so on -- do Pickler and the AP make the focus of the headline AND lede about the costs -- the "hike" in taxes/debt they would "require?"

The bottom line: for the AP and Pickler, only Edwards' health plan will be costly to the public; when it comes to Bush's war spending, it apparently has no consequences to the economy.

They have some explaining to do.

P.S. -- Kudos to the Seattle Times for at least focusing on the health plan itself, running this different headline: "Edwards Calls for Universal Health Coverage." Sends a different message, doesn't it? (Although the first paragraph, which they are likely reluctant to edit, still seizes on the tax issue.)