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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s Creative Clippings

Selective, embellished and out-of-context quotes from newspapers pump up Obama's health plan.


Obama's ad touting his health care plan quotes phrases from newspaper articles and an editorial, but makes them sound more laudatory and authoritative than they actually are.

  • It attributes to The Washington Post a line saying Obama's plan would save families about $2,500. But the Post was citing the estimate of the Obama campaign and didn't analyze the purported savings independently.
  • It claims that "experts" say Obama's plan is "the best." "Experts" turn out to be editorial writers at the Iowa City Press-Citizen – who, for all their talents, aren't actual experts in the field.
  • It quotes yet another newspaper saying Obama's plan "guarantees coverage for all Americans," neglecting to mention that, as the article makes clear, it's only Clinton's and Edwards' plans that would require coverage for everyone, while Obama's would allow individuals to buy in if they wanted to.


Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's ad on his health care plan has been running in Iowa. A hat-tip to The Washington Post for first revealing some of the twists in this 30-second spot.

[TET ]

Obama for America Ad: "Interest"

Obama: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.

Announcer: While Iowans struggle with health costs, outside groups are spending millions to stop change, including false attacks on Barack Obama's health plan. But experts say Obama's plan is "the best." It "guarantees coverage for all Americans." Putting "pressure on insurance and drug companies," his plan cuts costs more than any other – saving twenty five hundred dollars for the typical family. The same old Washington politics won't fix health care. But we can. [/TET]

Obama Writes His Own Reviews

The ad flashes a line credited to The Washington Post that says the Illlinois senator's health care plan would cut costs, "saving $2,500 for the typical family." But the Post didn't say that; the Obama campaign did, and the Post reported it as the campaign's estimate. The fuller citation from the May 30, 2007, article reads:

Washington Post:The senator's aides estimated that his plan would save the average family $2,500 per year and would allow those without insurance to buy it through a new health-care option that would resemble the one federal employees can choose.

Obama Strengthens His Own Reviews

The ad also says that "experts" called Obama's health care plan "the best," words that are attributed to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. We found the citation in an editorial from Dec. 19, 2007. With all due respect to the paper's editorial writers, they aren't "experts" in the same sense as, say, full-time health care researchers at think tanks or university professors who teach the subject. Editorial writers are paid to give their opinions, and in this case no actual experts were quoted.
Obama  Edits His Own Reviews
Obama also distorted the reporting of one newspaper to make his plan sound more comprehensive than it is. His ad includes a quote from the St. Paul Pioneer Press saying his plan "guarantees coverage for all Americans." But the full citation from the Sept. 18, 2007, article actually said:

St. Paul Pioneer Press: Edwards and Clinton would require all Americans to have health insurance. Obama's plan guarantees coverage for all Americans but does not require all to have it.

As we've noted previously, there is an important semantic distinction here. Obama's plan wouldn't guarantee that every individual had health insurance, just that everyone would have the opportunity to obtain it. Under the Clinton and Edwards plans, coverage would be required, and thus truly universal, at least in theory. Obama's clipping of the Pioneer Press article omits this point.

– by Justin Bank


Kornblut, Anne E. and Bacon Jr., Perry . "Obama Says Washington is Ready for Health Plan." Washington Post, 30 May 2007.

"Obama has what it takes to Restore Nation's Integrity." Iowa City Pres-Citizen, 19 Dec. 2007.

Kurtz, Howard. "Incomplete Picture in New Obama Health Care Ad," Washington Post, 28 Dec. 2007.

Hall, Kevin. "How Democrats' Three Health Care Plans Compare." St. Paul Pioneer Press, 17 Sept. 2007.