ABC, CBS Praise Return and 'Reverse' of Harry & Louise

     The fake couple famous for opposing universal health care is back and has changed their tune. The network news media couldn’t be happier.


     “They’re back: Harry and Louise, symbols of opposition to universal heath care,” Harry Smith announced on the CBS “Evening News” August 19. “Now, they’ve switched sides.”


     Harry and Louise were the stars of 1990s commercials run by the Health Insurance Association of America opposing President Clinton’s proposal for government-run coverage. But now a coalition of groups is bringing back the fictional couple – and the original actors – in a campaign aimed at promoting industry reform.


     “Evening News” and ABC’s “World News” praised the idea that Harry and Louise have “switched sides.”


     “Well, Harry and Louise have switched sides,” George Stephanopoulos reported on “World News” August 19. “Now a coalition of groups who want government action on health care will run ads during the political conventions in which the couple asks the next president to put health care at the top of his agenda.”


     Wyatt Andrews said on the “Evening News” that “some patient-rights and hospital groups are borrowing Harry and Louise and in this new ad the couple changes sides in support of health care reform.”


     But Harry and Louise haven’t really “changed sides.” They’re not supporting universal coverage like the plan Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama has proposed. And they’re not supporting Republican candidate Sen. John McCain’s proposal to provide tax incentives to help Americans’ buy their own coverage.


     “Whoever the next president is, health care should be at the top of his agenda,” Louise says in the ad, available at the coalition Web site. “Bring everyone to the table and make it happen.”


     After suggesting Harry and Louise had “changed sides” in the debate, Andrews acknowledged that “the groups behind this campaign won’t touch the tough question of which candidate – Obama or McCain – has better ideas for health care. They’re trying to generate so much public and industry-backed pressure that health care reform gets done regardless of who’s president.”


     With an actual stance on policy neglected in favor of general support for government intervention, Harry and Louise have earned the support of the networks this time around. But coverage of the duo wasn’t nearly as friendly when they originally appeared to oppose universal coverage.


     The media were much more critical of anti-universal health care ads than of pro-reform commercials, according to analysis conducted by the Business & Media Institute’s parent organization, the Media Research Center in 1994.


     CBS “This Morning” allowed Families USA chief Ron Pollack to call the old ads “unethical to the worst degree” on September 22, 1993. The report didn’t mention the ads met all disclosure requirements.