How Mainstream Media Spread The GOP's False Harry Reid Cancer Story
Mainstream media outlets echoed a deceptive framing, created by the conservative media and amplified by House Republicans, of comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), leaving the false impression that he dismissed the plight of cancer-stricken patients denied care by the government shutdown.
Reid Pushed For Full Government Funding Over Piecemeal Legislation
House Republicans Adopt Piecemeal Strategy Of Funding Only Some Government Agencies, Including National Institutes Of Health. From The Washington Times:
House Republicans plan to keep trying their new piecemeal approach to solving the shutdown, setting up yet another round of votes Wednesday on bills that would fund veterans affairs and national parks -- and adding new bills to fund the National Institutes of Health and to pay the National Guard  and the military reserves.
Reid Responds: "Why Would We Want" To Pit Groups Against Each Other For Funding? During an October 2 Senate press conference, Reid decried the idea that legislators should "pick and choose" which parts of the government should be funded, reiterating his desire for legislation to fully fund the federal government without strings attached. After a reporter followed up by asking, "if you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn't you do it?" Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) interjected, asking"why pit one against the other?" Reid then chimed in, "why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own." From the press conference:
DANA BASH (CNN): You all talked about children with cancer unable to go to clinical trials. The House is specifically going to pass a bill that -- (off mic) -- given what you said, would you at least pass that? And if not, aren't you playing the same political games as Republicans are?
SEN. REID: Listen, Senator Durbin explained that very well. And he did it here, and he did it on the floor earlier, as did Senator Schumer. And it's this. What right did they have to pick and choose what part of government's going to be funded? It's obvious what's going on here. You talk about reckless and irresponsible. Wow.
What this is all about is "Obamacare." They are obsessed. I don't know what other word I can use. I don't know what other word I can use. They are obsessed with this "Obamacare" thing. As has been pointed on the floor the last few days, they did the same thing on Social Security. They did the same thing on Medicare. Now they're doing it on this.
It's working now, and it'll continue to work, and people will love it even more than they do now by far. So they have no right to pick and choose.
BASH: But if you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn't you do it?
HARRY REID: Listen (INAUDIBLE) what do --
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Why pit one against the other?
REID: Why do they -- why -- why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force Base that are sitting home. They have the -- they have a few problems of their own. [Senate Press Conference, 10/2/13, via Nexis]
Reid: "Why Would We Have" Speaker Boehner "Cherry Pick What Stays Open And What Should Be Closed?" Reid later elaborated on the exchange. From an October 2 article in The Hill:
Later, in an interview with The Bill Press Show, Reid elaborated on the exchange.
"The whole answer is this -- why would we want to have the House of Representatives, John Boehner, cherry pick what stays open and what should be closed?" he said. "Listen, I gave a speech on the floor talking about the babies, 30 babies, little kids who are not going to have clinical trials. Of course I care about that. I have 16 of my own grandchildren and five of my own children."
Reid said that there are other agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that are just as important to fund and that he's working to get everything back online.
"What I told Dana Bash, who is a fine reporter, is that we care about all of these things," he continued. "We care about our state parks; we care about our veterans, but we can't fall into the trap ... of Cruz-led Republicans. That is this ... we'll cherry pick ... and finally at the end, everything will be open except for ObamaCare." [The Hill, 10/2/13 ]
Conservatives Distorted Reid's Comments
Free Beacon Deceptively Edits Transcript, Claims Reid Asked Why Democrats "Would Want To Fund The National Institutes Of Health To 'Help One Child Who Has Cancer.'" In reporting on the exchange, The Washington Free Beacon deceptively removed Schumer's interjection, suggesting that Sen. Reid was directly responding to Bash's question. From an October 2 post on The Washington Free Beacon:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) asked why Senate Democrats would want to fund the National Institutes of Health to "help one child who has cancer" Wednesday when asked that question by CNN reporter Dana Bash.[Washington Free Beacon, 10/2/13 ]
House Republicans Amplify False Framing And Edited Transcript. The website of House Speaker John Boehner published a post titled "Top Senate Democrat on Helping Kids With Cancer: 'Why Would We Want To Do That?.'" The post featured the following deceptively edited transcript:
CNN: "If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn't you do that?"
Some Media Adopt GOP's False Framing Of Reid's Comments...
CNN's Carol Costello: "What Harry Reid Said Was Awful." On the October 3 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Carol Costello aired video of the exchange and had the following remarks:
COSTELLO: Okay so Jason I'll start with you. So, the Democrats aren't they being a little hypocritical here because they passed a resolution to pay servicemembers?
JASON JOHNSON, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so, look the whole point is that -
COSTELLO: But what Harry Reid said was awful.
JOHNSON: I'll never defend Harry Reid for anything. [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 10/3/13]
CBS' Nancy Cordes: Reid's Response To Funding Cancer Research "Was 'Why Would I Do That?'" From the October 2 edition of CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley:
CORDES: Senate Democrats say the only funding they'll agree to is a bill that funds the full government, no strings attached. In fact, Scott, today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was asked if he would be open to funding cancer research for kids only and his response was, "Why would I do that?" [CBS, CBS Evening News, 10/2/13 , via Media Matters]
... While Other Media Outlets Explain Reid Is Being Taken Out Of Context
NY Times: Contrary To GOP Claims, Reid Was "Ineloquently Making A Point About The Need To Fund The Entire Government." From an October 3 New York Times article:
Mr. Reid's tendency to speak without inhibition or filter has created no shortage of complications and may have so alienated Republicans that they see no incentive to work with him. On Wednesday, Republican press offices, including Mr. Boehner's, and Tea Party  groups circulated remarks  from Mr. Reid in which he appeared to be dismissive of cancer-stricken children. (In fact, he was ineloquently making a point about the need to fund the entire government, not just parts that Republicans have selected for special appropriations bills as a way to ameliorate the effects of the shutdown.) [NY Times, 10/3/13 ]
Politico's Byers: "Even If You Got Rid Of Sen. Schumer's Remark, You'd Still Run Into A Little Thing Called 'Context.'"From an October 2 blog post by Politico's Dylan Byers:
I can't imagine the intellectual leaps and bounds you'd have to go through to arrive at the conclusion that Sen. Reid doesn't care about cancer patients. Even if you got rid of Sen. Schumer's remark, you'd still run into a little thing called "context." After getting rid of context, you'd probably run into the inconvenient fact that Sen. Reid's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer just two years ago.
The problem with separating quotes from context is that the effort usually comes back to bite you. Before you know it, you end up being depicted as someone who has to invent controversy because you're no longer capable of debating on substance. [Politico, 10/2/13 ]
The Atlantic: "It's Clear That Reid Was Responding To The Point Brought Up By Schumer." From an October 2 article inThe Atlantic:
In the video, it's clear that Reid was responding to the point brought up by Schumer -- why fund kids with cancer, while ignoring, say, other vulnerable kids, or other populations impacted by the shutdown? Why choose? This has been the Democrats' stock response to variations on this question, usually from Republicans on the House floor. But Reid's answer, with a testy tone and a follow-up insult to a reporters' intelligence, caught on. [The Atlantic, 10/2/13 ]