"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
As media outlets across the political spectrum continue to assess the implications of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) contentious behavior toward reporters, much of the analysis does not explore what irritated the presidential candidate in two recent interviews -- the observation that support for unconditional abortion bans and fetal "personhood" laws cannot be reconciled with support for exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Almost immediately after announcing his candidacy, Paul's condescending behavior toward female reporters was widely criticized as sexist, when he "simplistically and condescendingly" refused to acknowledge his reversal on foreign policy toward Iran to Today Show host Savannah Guthrie -- a position that even the conservative National Review's Rich Lowry labeled a "flip-flop." Subsequent coverage of Paul's Today interview focused on his rudeness toward Guthrie, and even when outlets also noted he "bristled" and "ducked questions" in other interviews about his inconsistent record on exceptions to abortion bans, the extent of that contradiction was unexplored.
The questions about his support for abortion ban exceptions originated in an interview with the Associated Press on the same day as his Today interview, when Paul "dodg[ed] a central question about abortion: What exceptions, if any, should be made if the procedure were to be banned?" Paul's refusal to answer whether or not his broad support for abortion bans includes an accommodation for rape, incest, or the health of the mother continued on CNN's The Situation Room. In one exchange, Wolf Blitzer directly asked whether Paul supported an exception for victims of rape and incest. In response, Paul claimed that "there will be extenuating circumstances, and I've supported legislation both with exceptions and without exceptions":
Mitt Romney's decision to not seek the Republican Party's presidential nomination set off a cavalcade of commentary regarding the political repercussion. One popular angle was that Jeb Bush would benefit because of his appeal as a moderate. At least what he is according to the Beltway press.
The day Romney dropped out of consideration CNN's Wolf Blitzer explained Bush's positioning as a "right of center, moderate Republican." The next day, NPR's Ron Elving suggested Bush had more room to run on the "the center-right moderate establishment side." This week, The Christian Science Monitor labeled Bush "the moderate former Florida governor," while the New York Times suggested he was "out of touch" with the Republican Party because of his moderate ways, and that Bush would fit a pattern of Republicans selecting "relatively moderate presidential nominees."
Note that for years, "moderate" has been media shorthand for candidates who enjoy national appeal; the ones with enough fortitude to stand up to elements of their own party and forge a path to the middle.
The Bush narrative had been in the works for months. "Jeb Bush Charts Moderate Path to the White House," read a December headline at MarketWatch, the same month the Times announced Bush would seek the coveted "middle ground" with his possible candidacy. Yahoo News columnist Matt Bai tagged Bush as a "moderate Republican" last month, while NBC stressed his "centrist" path to the nomination.
The narrative for the former Florida governor is easy to follow: Eager to run as his own man, Jeb Bush the candidate won't abandon his core, common sense beliefs (i.e. he won't "bow down"). Instead, he stands ready to battle far-right cranks within his party.
It's true that on a vast array of issues, including taxes, climate change, abortion, repealing Obamacare (it's "clearly a job killer"), civil rights, right-to-die, gun control, relations with Cuba, legalizing marijuana, and crime, among others, Bush remains a far-right politician. (He once bragged he was "probably the most pro-life governor in modern times.")
And that's why veteran Bush watchers in Florida remain confused by the "moderate" chatter. "A lot of the politicos and lobbyists and long-term reporters are kind of baffled by this idea that he is a centrist or a moderate," Matt Dixon, a reporter in the Scripps-Tribune capital bureau and former statehouse reporter for the Florida Times Union of Jacksonville, told Media Matters' Joe Strupp. "His record as governor reflects some conservative and really Republican philosophies."
Yet according to D.C. media elites crafting the 2016 storyline, Bush yearns for the "middle ground" of American politics. If this heavy-handed Bush branding sounds familiar -- complete with the softened edges -- it should. Think back to 2000.
CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline's proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL's environmental risks.
Oil Pipeline Leaked 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Into Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into the Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:
A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination.
However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]
CNN host Wolf Blitzer challenged Washington Times columnist and potential 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson for past comments comparing the US government to Nazi Germany and the Affordable Care Act to slavery.
On the December 3 edition of his CNN show, Wolf, Blitzer asked Carson about his presidential ambitions and to clarify a controversial comment Carson made in March comparing the United States to Nazi Germany. Blitzer criticized Carson's comparison, explaining that it "struck an awful tone":
BLITZER: You've got to explain that, because when I heard the comparison of the United States of America, the greatest country in the world -- the greatest country ever - to Nazi Germany, I said, "What is he talking about?"
CARSON: Well, see what you were doing is allowing words to affect you more than listening to what was actually being said. And that's part of the problem --
BLITZER: All right, so please explain, because you know I greatly admire you and what you've done over the years, but to make the comparison of the United States and Nazi German,that just struck an awful tone.
Later in the interview, Blitzer asked Carson to explain "another controversial" analogy the presidential hopeful made, comparing the Affordable Care Act to slavery in October 2013:
BLITZER: Since you're thinking about running for president of the United States, you need to explain another controversial comment you made back in October of last year. The analogy between Obamacare and slavery. Listen to this.
BLITZER: So I know you don't like Obamacare. A lot of people don't like Obamacare, but "the worst thing that has happened in the United States since slavery"? You need to explain that.
CARSON: OK, well, thank you for the opportunity to explain that. Because, you know, I've seen particularly in the left-wing press a lot of people who said that Carson equates Obamacare with slavery. I think perhaps those people need to go back to school and learn English. It said the worst thing since slavery. That does not say that it is the same as slavery. Slavery was a horrible thing and affected many people in horrible ways, some of those effects still present today. So, no, it is not the same as slavery. However, what needs to be understood here is that the way this country was set up, the people -- we the people -- were set up at the pinnacle of power in this nation. The government is supposed to conform to our will. By taking the most important thing you have, your health and your health care and turning that over to the government, you fundamentally shift the power, a huge chunk of it, from the people to the government. This is not the direction that we want to go in this nation.
Two recent snapshots nicely capture the commentary class and their bulwark on behalf of Republicans this campaign season.
Lamenting the "pitiful" state of the 2014 election season, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni this week denounced what he saw as the vacuous condition of political debate. Claiming America's raging problems were akin to a burning house, Bruni claimed "None of the candidates have spoken with the necessary urgency or requisite sweep."
Oh, what the columnist wouldn't have given to hear some "real substance" on the campaign trail. The beseeching seemed odd because Bruni later announced the "defining moment" of the election season came when Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined to answer a question, during a newspaper editorial interview, about whether she had voted previously for Barack Obama, who is very unpopular in the Bluegrass State. The question had nothing to do with the burning issues facing America, as Bruni described them. Instead, it was an exercise in optics: How would a red-state Democrat deal with a sticky question about her White House allegiance?
Nonetheless, joining an army of pundits who expressed horror at Grimes' clumsy response, Bruni announced the Democrat had "tossed character, honesty and any kind of mature conversation with voters to the side." Left unmentioned by Bruni? Grimes' Republican opponent simply refused to answer any public policy questions posed by the same newspaper editorial board that hosted Grimes; the same board that heard the Democrat answer queries for an hour about the environment, gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the government sequester, abortion rights, and coal mining.
So much for the absence of campaign substance.
Still, Bruni's column illustrated a certain Beltway media symmetry this year: Pundits lament a lack of campaign seriousness, and then treat a trivial gotcha question as being deeply serious. Count that as a win for Republicans.
Meanwhile on CNN, during her interview with Vice President Joe Biden that aired Monday, and while discussing the midterm elections, Gloria Borger insisted Americans are "frustrated" and "fearful" and "angry" about key events, including the administration's handling of the Ebola virus' scare. Borger's point has been a favorite among Beltway pundits in recent weeks as they parrot Republicans: Ebola's just the latest Big Government failure.
But it's not true.
Conservative media have sought to legitimize the House's new select committee on Benghazi by claiming only it could answer questions about Benghazi that have already been answered, a tactic that appeared to spill over to CNN on May 22.
Anchor Wolf Blitzer hosted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a newly announced member of the House committee, and pressed him on why Ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi on the day of the attack. Even though this matter has been repeatedly investigated in the public record, Blitzer asserted, "Maybe you'll get the answer" as to why during the House's latest investigation:
CNN's Wolf Blitzer distorted comments by Hillary Clinton to criticize her for "compar[ing]" Russian President Vladimir Putin with Adolf Hitler, even though Putin is not engaged in genocide. But Blitzer ignored Clinton's reported statement that while similarities to Hitler's actions are "what's gotten everybody so nervous" about Putin's recent actions, she believes Putin isn't "as irrational" as Hitler and that a diplomatic response is appropriate.
Clinton addressed Russia sending troops into Ukraine at a March 4 California fundraiser for the Long Beach Boys and Girls Club. According to the Long Beach Press Telegram, whose reporter attended the event, Clinton explained that Putin has been issuing Russian passports to people with Russian ethnicity who live in other countries in the region, including in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and has claimed that he sent Russian troops to the region to protect those Russians who are supposedly in danger. Clinton reportedly explained that the similarity between this move and steps taken by Hitler in the 1930s is "what's gotten everybody so nervous":
Now if this sounds familiar, it's what Hitler did back in the 30s... All the Germans that were ... the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous.
Clinton went on to say that "while that makes people nervous, there is no indication that Putin is as irrational as the instigator of World War II," according to Harry Saltzgaver, the executive editor of a California newspaper chain who also attended the event and spoke to Buzzfeed.
The former secretary of state also reportedly called for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine:
"So everybody is hoping that there will be a negotiation but a negotiation that respects Ukraine and doesn't ratify a reoccupation by Russia of Crimea," she said. "So it's a real nail-biter, right now, but nobody wants to up the rhetoric. Everybody wants to cool it in order to find a diplomatic solution and that's what we should be trying to do."
On CNN Newsroom, Blitzer criticized Clinton for comparing Putin to Hitler, while failing to note Clinton's full remarks. Blitzer said that "it is always a mistake to make these comparisons with Nazi Germany," adding that Putin "clearly he is not engaged in any activities at all along the lines of what Hitler was doing, including genocide, mass murder, and all of the occupations that he was engaged in." Neither Blitzer nor CNN's Brianna Keilar, who was featured in the segment, addressed Clinton's reported statements that Putin is not as irrational as Hitler and that she believes a diplomatic approach is appropriate.
It's too soon to tell whether Ted Nugent's noxious career as a conservative pundit reached a tipping point this week, but the moment he called in sick to CNN and backed out of a scheduled interview with Erin Burnett as Republican politicians denounced him might soon be seen as a flash point for the fading rock star and the incendiary brand of hate rhetoric he's been cashing in on for years. It might also be viewed as a key stumbling moment for the conservative media, which have been unable in recent years to establish any sort of guardrails for common decency within the realm of political debate.
Increasingly reliant on bad fringe actors like Nugent to connect with their far, far-right audience, the conservative media have built up Obama-bashing personalities who no longer occupy any corner of the American mainstream. Yet Nugent enjoys deep ties with Republican campaigns all across the country. When those ties receive media scrutiny, they cannot be defended.
National Rifle Association board member Nugent found himself at the center of a campaign controversy this week when he was invited to two public events for Texas Republican Greg Abbott, who is running for governor. Of course Nugent, a former Washington Times columnist who now writes for birther website WND, recently called President Obama a "communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel" and has a long and vivid history of launching vile attacks on women. (He's called Hillary Clinton a "toxic cunt.")
Following waves of condemnations for the association, and a torrent of critical media coverage, with reporters and pundits wondering why a gubernatorial candidate would voluntarily campaign with someone who spouts "insane and racist talk," as CNN's Jake Tapper put it, Abbott claimed he wasn't aware of Nugent history of racist and misogynistic comments. If so, Abbott's campaign staff is utterly incompetent. (The "subhuman mongrel" comment, unearthed last month by Media Matters, was highlighted by a number of outlets at the time, including on MSNBC.)
It's likely Abbott and his staff did know about Nugent's dark rhetoric, since that's all he traffics in. But because that kind of hate speech has become so accepted and even celebrated within the bubble for right-wing media, they failed to see the danger of embracing it.
Hillary Clinton's name doesn't appear in the bipartisan portions of the Senate review of the tragic September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, but you would not know that by looking at the media.
The report, released earlier in the week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been a Rorschach test for the media, and as is almost always the case with Hillary Clinton, they are stretching to see something nefarious.
According to the Post, the report "is likely to provide fodder" for Clinton's political opponents, even though the Post acknowledged that the only references to the former Secretary of State came from partisan Republicans in an addendum, not from the review itself.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer said the report was "fueling heated debate, partisan debate, about her leadership," while correspondent Elise Labbott insisted that Clinton would "have to address Benghazi during" any 2016 campaign.
Inexplicably, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin accused media of being too "incurious" when it comes to Clinton and called Benghazi Clinton's "drip, drip, drip problem." Partisan Republicans are certainly happy that the media is carrying their water. Almost on cue, Sen. Marco Rubio said the report should justify further investigations ... into Clinton.
The question of "leadership," however, has been a lopsided one as it played out in the media's campaign to use the Senate report as an indictment of Clinton.
Clinton has "deflected questions" about Benghazi, according to The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, who argued that Clinton "does not come out well" in the Senate report -- again, a report that never mentions Clinton. Davidson's explanation? "The State Department made mistakes when [Clinton] was its leader."
Clinton herself has acknowledged ultimate responsibility for any bureaucratic shortcomings that played a role to the tragedy in Benghazi. "I do feel responsible," she said under questioning by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously."
So everybody agrees that Clinton had ultimate responsibility for leading the State Department.
That makes the question of what that leadership looks like critical, particularly since the media seems determined to parrot the right-wing narrative that Benghazi is a singular reflection on the former Secretary of State.
What is problematic about the way the media has used the Senate's review as a reflection on Clinton's leadership is that the reports ostensibly exploring Clinton's leadership make no mention of the fact that one of her last acts as Secretary of State was to fully accept and begin implementing the findings of the Accountability Review Board, an independent, nonpartisan review panel that looked into what went wrong and how to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
That review, like the Senate report that led to the latest bout of Benghazi mania, also singled out bureaucrats, not the Secretary of State, for scrutiny over diplomatic security failures. Four mid-ranked department officials were suspended for those failures; according to Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the chairmen of the ARB, their "future career[s]" are "finished."
One of the pillars of the right-wing's Benghazi hoax has been to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of the tragedy during her Congressional testimony when she asked "what difference, at this point, does it make" what led the attackers to target the diplomatic facility on that day.
Often left out of the sound bite is what Clinton said next: "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."
The Accountability Review Board laid out dozens of recommendations as to how to prevent future tragedies, recommendations largely in line with those contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report. Those recommendations are being implemented.
It's woefully inadequate to leave that fact out of a discussion of leadership.
How out of whack, at times, was CNN's coverage of the GOP's radical move to shut down the government and to flirt with defaulting on American's debt? So puzzling that when news broke on October 16 that a deal would be struck to avoid a catastrophic default, CNN's Ashleigh Banfield turned to her guest, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn, and blamed him for the two-week shutdown [emphasis added]:
BANFIELD: Forgive me for not popping the champagne corks, because while we're celebrating this breaking news that there's a deal, it's just a temporary deal. We're still nowhere near a solution to the crisis that the United States of America finds itself in because of people like you and your other colleagues on the Hill.
It's well known that when confronted with political turmoil created by Republicans, the Beltway press prefers to blame both political parties. (i.e. "Congress" is dysfunctional!) That way journalists are not seen as taking sides, and they're inoculated from cries of liberal media bias. But if ever there were a test case for when it was plain both sides were not to blame, the shutdown was it.
Engineered entirely by Republicans, Democrats like Clyburn were forced to become spectators as they watched a civil war unfold within the Republican Party between its far-right Tea Party allies, who insisted on adopting a radical strategy, and the rest of the GOP. Or course, several prominent Republican politicians pinned blame squarely on their colleagues for the recent mess.
The shutdown was a crisis orchestrated by Republicans. Period.
Congressional Democrats played virtually no role in the procedural sabotage, except as shocked observers. Yet there was Ashleigh Banfield blaming a Democrat (as well as all Democrats and Republicans) for causing so much turmoil inside Washington, D.C. The skewed commentary fit in with the fact that CNN regularly suggested President Obama was a central cause of the tumultuous shutdown because he wasn't willing to just sit down and work out a deal with his political foes.
CNN occupies an important place within the media landscape. Priding itself on a down-the-middle approach to news and political commentary, the channel helps shape conventional wisdom and sets the common boundaries for news events. But by so effortlessly adopting the Republican spin that Obama and Democrats shouldered all kinds of blame for the shutdown, CNN became part of the media problem.
From the October 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
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From the September 27 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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Rushing to claim Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick of Rep. Paul Ryan had immediately "altered" the White House race by making it seem "more consequential," as the New York Times framed it, reporters and pundits quickly coalesced around the claim that Ryan's presence would usher in a more "substantive" phase of the campaign.
Pointing to Ryan's work as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and his authorship of the Republicans' budget blueprint, which has become a rallying point for movement conservatives, the press generously insisted that not only is Ryan a serious player and important public policy wonk, but that his inclusion in the campaign would quickly elevate the level of the debate, as well as how the press covers the campaign.
The new narrative, which must have pleased Romney aides, was born nearly the moment word of the VP announcement was leaked Saturday morning. CNN's Wolf Blitzer quickly reported the race was about to get "much more substantive," while colleague Gloria Borger agreed, suggesting, "the debate is going to shift onto a very substantive ground."
Over at Fox News, Carl Cameron assured viewers the arrival of Ryan meant the debate "will be a more substantive one than a lot of back-biting and name calling that we've seen in the last few weeks."
And Fox's Ed Henry echoed the same point, stressing that the press would soon be able to shift gears in terms of its coverage:
HENRY: We've spent a lot over the last few days talking about some of these attack ads and who's been going after who on personal, negative attacks. This Ryan addition to the ticket might focus it in a bit more on some of those substantive policy issues that Mitt Romney's been saying he wants to focus on.
See, thanks to Ryan the press will finally be able to cover substance! This, from the same process-obsessed press corps that spent weeks treating as news the trumped-up claim that Obama had dissed business owners on the campaign trail?
Excuse me, but was anyone stopping the press from covering substantive issues prior to the Ryan pick? The whole premise that up until Saturday the 2012 presidential campaign had been void of substance and it's only the arrival of Ryan n that will rescue the race from triviality is absurd.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threw cold water on the right-wing media narrative that President Obama is anti-Israel, praising Obama for doing "more" for Israeli security than any other U.S. president.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer that aired yesterday on CNN's The Situation Room, Barak responded to a question about the state of the current U.S.-Israeli relationship by saying, "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past."
BLITZER: You've studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?
BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.
BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?
BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.
Barak's praise for Obama on Israeli security flies in the face of the right-wing media's false narrative that Obama is hostile to Israel, a narrative that goes as far back as 2008. These bogus attacks include claims that Obama and members of his administration are anti-Semitic and that Obama may use military force against Israel.
Just yesterday, conservative media figures added to this narrative by remarking that Obama, as president, hasn't visited Israel.
During an appearance on Fox News' Special Report, Fox contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol praised Romney's recent visit to Israel while noting that "President Obama has not been in Israel as president of the United States." Fox's Sean Hannity similarly said that it is an "alarming fact that after nearly four years in office, President Obama has yet to visit our closest ally in the Middle East in what is now a very troubling time."
In fact, Obama visited Israel as a candidate, just like Mitt Romney, and it is not unusual for a president to not make a trip to Israel during a first term. Furthermore, none of the previous three Republican presidents made trips to Israel at this point in their presidencies, and neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush traveled to Israel as president at all.