The press crucified Obama for Ebola, gives Trump a pass for coronavirus

Different media rules for Democrats

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The coronavirus health crisis has suddenly caught the media's full attention. Monday's stock market crash, with the Dow Jones industrial average plunging 1,000 points, was fueled by investor fear surrounding the possible pandemic, as infections spread globally. This, while a Harvard University epidemiologist this week predicted the coronavirus "will ultimately not be containable."

Trump's slow-motion response to the mounting epidemic? He tweeted on Monday that "coronavirus is very much under control in the USA." He also blatantly lied, claiming a vaccine would be available "soon." Meanwhile, his administration sent wildly contradictory messages about the looming public safety crisis.

As the debacle spreads, I've been struck in recent weeks by the press coverage of coronavirus, and specifically Trump's ineffectual response, compared to how the 2014 Ebola scare in the U.S. under President Barack Obama was covered by the same Beltway press corps. As you may recall, prompted by partisan hysteria voiced by Republicans, the press lost its collective mind covering Ebola and crucified Obama for months, hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent. By contrast, the press has spent weeks sleepwalking through the Trump coronavirus coverage.

Context: In 2014 there were two cases of Ebola in the United States, total. Already, there have been 14 confirmed cases of coronavirus here, according to the CDC. Yet to date, the coronavirus coverage has produced just a fraction of the Ebola media attention from 2014.

During the height of the Ebola story, in a single week the topic was mentioned nearly 4,000 on the cable news channels, according to By comparison, over the last week, "coronavirus" has been mentioned approximately 500 times on the same cable news channels.

Weeks into the coronavirus story, the Washington Post this week finally put a story on its front page about how the spreading epidemic might pose a political problem for Trump, as his administration tries to play catch-up on the health crisis. The media's slow-footed response fits a larger, well-known pattern that has defined the Trump era, where his shocking behavior routinely produces a fraction of the coverage and condemnation as compared to a Democratic administration. (For instance, do you think if the Obama White House had canceled all White House press briefings the move would be met with shrugs?)

As time has passed, I think lots of people forget how often unfair Obama's press coverage was during his eight years in office. The Ebola scare certainly represented one of the most extreme examples of the D.C. press completely losing its moral compass, as journalists did Republican bidding for weeks with unhinged reporting and commentary.  

"The major broadcast and cable networks ran nearly 1000 evening news segments about the Ebola virus in the four weeks leading up to the midterm elections in November, tracking the diagnosis of a handful of U.S. patients," Media Matters reported in 2014. You read that number correctly — "nearly 1000 evening news segments about Ebola" in four weeks.


Incredibly, the not-so-subtle theme for much of the Ebola coverage was that Obama wasn't protecting Americans and that 'big government' was putting the population at peril. In other words, Ebola was, inexplicably, a political story. Why? Because Republicans went all in during the fall campaign season to turn Ebola into a political story by ginning up wild claims that a Democratic administration could not keep Americans safe from the disease. From Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): Ebola is "incredibly contagious." (Hint: It's not.)

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza dubbed the Ebola virus the “October surprise” of the 2014 election season and stressed that the panic and anxiety associated with the story was bound to swing votes.

But guess what? It turns out the news media completely lost interest in Ebola right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after November's midterm elections. In May of 2015, when the World Health Organization announced the Ebola health crisis was officially over, most American news outlets covered the story only in passing, compared to the orgy of coverage they produced just months earlier.

In terms of sheer fear mongering, Fox News, of course, led a parade of right-wing media idiocy. Elisabeth Hasselbeck suggested the country be put on lockdown. Steve Doocy suggested that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention was lying about Ebola because it's “part of the administration.” Andrea Tantaros claimed that people who traveled and showed symptoms of Ebola will “seek treatment from a witch doctor” instead of going to the hospital.

That dark, irrational paranoia then became embedded in the mainstream media coverage, too. “Here's What Should Scare You About Ebola” read one overexcited New Republic headline. The Boston Globe announced that Ebola had “moved closer to becoming the next great American panic -- an anthrax or SARS for the social media age,” while CNN's Ashleigh Banfield famously suggested that Ebola was the ISIS of biological agents and raised the specter of suicide attackers brandishing Ebola. And then there was Bloomberg's inexcusable magazine cover, featuring “Ebola is Coming,” ominously portrayed by swaths of dripping blood on a wall.

So why, for weeks and weeks, was the press so quiet about coronavirus and Trump's non-response?

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Trampled by Turles, "Our Town"

Iris Dement has always been a favorite folk/country singer of mine, with her unique prairie-style singing voice. Here, Trampled by Turtles does a wonderfully warm cover version of Dement's signature 1990s song, "Our Town."

It's here I had my baby's and I had my first kiss
I've walked down Main Street in the cold morning mist
Over there is where I bought my first car
It turned over once but then it never went far