Hoyer: Media ‘Misrepresented’ Town Hall Protests
September 9, 2009House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that the national news media "misrepresented" town hall meetings held during August by focusing on the minority of attendees who oppose health care reform.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Hoyer said that the media had not done justice to the majority of town hall attendees who supported reform, saying that only “10 to 15 percent were there make their point and get on television.”
“The [media], particularly the television media, misrepresented the story in terms of the context of what happened” at the town halls. By focusing on the rowdy few, the television cameras prevented the public from seeing the majority of people who are either open to reform or support health care reform, Hoyer said.
“At my own town [hall] meeting I had some 1,500 people,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s accurate to say that at least 60 percent of the people were proponents of health care reform. Another probably 10, 15, 20 percent were not sure and were there to listen, to learn, and to express their opinion. And 10 to 15 percent were there to make their point and get on television, which they succeeded in doing.”
“If you weren’t there you didn’t get that impression,” Hoyer added. “You got the impression that the majority of the crowd was opposed to reform, and I say that because most of the members that I talked to reached a similar conclusion.”
According to Hoyer, most of his fellow lawmakers “are of the opinion that the majority of their constituents believe that changes in our health care system are required.”
Hoyer admitted that the democratic process is not always smooth, especially when contentious issues come up.
“I thought that the district work period was a very productive one,” Hoyer said. “Democracy is not always a process of sweetness and light, there is animated discussion -- that has always been the case. Debate was pretty animated.”
Hoyer said that August was a “challenging” month for members of Congress, given constituents’ anxiety about Democrats’ health care reform plans – including a public option to compete with private insurance plans.
“I don’t know of a period that I’ve been in Congress where I think more people have gotten engaged on an issue than this one.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs adopted a similar line on Wednesday morning in an interview with Fox & Friends.
Gibbs also said the American people had made it clear in various town hall meetings that they do support health care reform:
“And I think if representatives and senators and the president listen to the American people, what they’re telling them quite clearly is that we have to do something about health care. We’ve talked about this for decades. And during those decades, we’ve watched premiums double, time after time after time -- even for those that are fortunate to have health insurance.”
However, a September 8 Gallup Poll shows that 39 percent of Americans would advise their congressman to vote against current health care reform legislation. Thirty-seven percent of Americans told Gallup that they want their congressman to vote for the legislation. (In a Gallup Poll in August, 36 percent wanted their congressman to vote against, and 35 percent wanted their congressmen to vote for health care reform.)
Hoyer acknowledged that members of Congress will bring their town hall experiences back to Washington with them:
“I’ve been with members in tough districts,” Hoyer said. “I think members’ experiences at town halls have been much like mine. I think they’ll bring that back to the debate in terms of what can be passed, what can garner a majority of support.
“It’s very nice to talk about, in legislative terms, what you’d like to do, but what is important and what can change lives in America is what you can do.