Fox omits Republican role in Sebelius confirmation delay

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Reporting that "President Obama went golfing and the Department of Health and Human Services is short a secretary, so other U.S. officials took the controls" dealing with the swine flu, FoxNews.com omitted Senate Republicans' role in delaying Kathleen Sebelius' nomination as HHS secretary.

In an April 26 article on the government response to the swine flu, FoxNews.com omitted the fact that Senate Republicans have delayed a vote on the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of Health and Human Services and misrepresented an exchange during an April 26 White House press briefing to suggest the administration may have held the briefing to distract from President Obama's golfing that day.

Fox News.com reported that "President Obama went golfing and the Department of Health and Human Services is short a secretary, so other U.S. officials took the controls Sunday as the Obama administration ramps up efforts to find and isolate U.S. cases of swine flu." Referring to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's recent announcement that the government was declaring a public health emergency regarding the swine flu, the FoxNews.com article further reported, "Ordinarily, such an announcement would have been made with the secretary of Health and Human services present. But Obama's nominee, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, is still awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Senate, which is expected to vote this week." The article added: "[White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs said the effort to get a team in place to respond to the health scare has not been hindered by the lack of a secretary at HHS, a vacancy in the surgeon general's post or the acting roles for the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and CDC." But FoxNews.com did not note that Sebelius is "awaiting confirmation" because Republican senators objected to holding a vote on her nomination on April 23. Indeed, the Associated Press reported that day: "The head of the Republican Party called on President Barack Obama to withdraw Kathleen Sebelius' nomination as health secretary unless she answers more questions on abortion." A Senate vote is currently scheduled for April 28 with 60 votes needed for confirmation.

The FoxNews.com article, headlined, "White House: Obama Updated Regularly, Despite Golf Outing," is similar to a headline from that day's Drudge Report, which linked to an April 26 AP article that reported that "[b]efore he left for the [golf] course, Obama received an update on the swine flu virus, said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin."

Moreover, the FoxNews.com article misrepresented an exchange at an April 26 White House briefing, during which Napolitano made the emergency announcement, to suggest the briefing may have been held to distract attention from Obama's golfing that day. The article stated: "Gibbs denied that the rare weekend White House briefing was designed to minimize attention that otherwise might have been paid to a presidential golf outing during a public health scare." The article then continued: " 'I'm not sure I would draw a direct conclusion between the news today and the president's golf,' Gibbs said. 'The president has been updated regularly on this and will continue to do so as we will continue to regularly update you.' " But Gibbs was not responding to a question about whether the administration scheduled a press conference to deflect attention from Obama's golf outing. Gibbs was in fact asked, "[W]hat if anything are we meant to read into the fact the President Obama decided to go golfing today? Is this part of your effort to reassure Americans that there's no need to panic?"

From the press briefing:

REPORTER: Robert, how concerned are you about the potential for this outbreak to set back the hopeful economic recovery both here in the United States and globally? And secondly, what if anything are we meant to read into the fact the President Obama decided to go golfing today? Is this part of your effort to reassure Americans that there's no need to panic?

GIBBS: I'm not sure I would draw a direct conclusion between the news today and the President's golf. (Laughter.)

I think as Mr. Brennan said, the President has been updated regularly on this and we'll continue to do so as we will continue to regularly update you.

In terms of anything that is affected economically both here and worldwide, I think it's probably far too early to determine whether that will be a case or whether that will have some factor. We just want to ensure that people understand the steps that are being taken both here and throughout government to address the situation, as well as, as each of these speakers have said, understand the individual responsibilities that people have. If you have questions, go to the CDC website at cdc.gov. And as the doctor mentioned, there's also a Spanish version of that site.

From the April 26 FoxNews.com article:

President Obama went golfing and the Department of Health and Human Services is short a secretary, so other U.S. officials took the controls Sunday as the Obama administration ramps up efforts to find and isolate U.S. cases of swine flu.

During a White House briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that HHS will issue a public health emergency warning that will free up resources to address the outbreak that has hit 20 Americans in five states.

[...]

Meanwhile, as Napolitano, Besser, presidential homeland security adviser John Brennan and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs addressed reporters, Obama golfed with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Trade Representative Ron Kirk and White House aide Marvin Nicholson.

The White House permitted journalists no opportunity to video Obama golfing. Gibbs denied that the rare weekend White House briefing was designed to minimize attention that otherwise might have been paid to a presidential golf outing during a public health scare.

"I'm not sure I would draw a direct conclusion between the news today and the president's golf," Gibbs said. "The president has been updated regularly on this and will continue to do so as we will continue to regularly update you."

Napolitano said the emergency announcement is designed to increase preparations to combat and isolate swine flu, not to create public alarm. She said such health emergencies had recently been issued to deal with flooding in Minnesota and North Dakota and for Obama's inauguration.

"That sounds more severe than really it is," Napolitano said. "This is standard operating procedure and allows us to free up federal, state and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation and allows us to use medication and diagnostic tests that we might not otherwise be able to use, particularly on very young children, and it releases funds for the acquisition of additional anti-virals."

Ordinarily, such an announcement would have been made with the secretary of Health and Human services present. But Obama's nominee, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, is still awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Senate, which is expected to vote this week.

Gibbs said the effort to get a team in place to respond to the health scare has not been hindered by the lack of a secretary at HHS, a vacancy in the surgeon general's post or the acting roles for the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and CDC.

"I think this notion somehow that if there's not currently a secretary that there's not the function that needs to take place in order to prepare for either this or any other situation is just simply not the case,"Gibbs said.

"I think these guys have given you a pretty good indication of the response mechanisms that are in place and that have been activated relating to this, so, I think it's all-hands-on-deck and we're doing fine.

"I would say we're hopeful that we have a new secretary very shortly," he added.

Despite the opening at the top of HHS, Napolitano's role as homeland security chief gives her the top authority in nationwide coordination.

Napolitano said reports from the Agriculture Department show no threat to the U.S. food supply. She reminded Americans that swine flu cannot be transmitted by eating pork.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.