Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Voter Suppression: The Midterm Election Story that Doesn’t Fit the Media Narrative


(Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

The media are spending enormous amounts of time and energy speculating over who’s responsible for the Democratic midterm rout—Obama, the Dems running from Obama, angry voters, apathetic voters—and clearly they all play a significant role. But barely a blip has been devoted to the one thing we actually do know diminished the Democratic, and especially the African-American, vote: the various forms of voter suppression that have been enacted into law in twenty-one states. As Ari Berman writes, based on number-crunching by the Brennan Center for Justice, “The number of voters impacted by the new restrictions exceeded the margin of victory in close races for senate and governor in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Florida…”

But you won’t hear a lot about voter suppression; it doesn’t fit the dominant media narrative, which largely revolves around the personality of Barack Obama. In fact, in MSM circles it’s considered downright impolitic to link voter restrictions to election results.

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You can, however, hear Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, explain more about just how the votes came down, literally, here, from today’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC:

Read Next: “This Is How Fox Reacts When Democrats Talk About Racism in the South

Last Night’s Consolation Prize: Seeing Karl Rove Earn His Nickname ‘Turd Blossom’

Karl Rove

(Photo: Fox News)

How bad was last night? It was so bad that, for me, the only emotional consolation prize was the small and admittedly puerile pleasure of seeing Karl Rove squirm, again on an election night. It had nothing to do with who won or who lost, but it was the only media moment that made me smile, a piece of spinach caught in the teeth of wall-to-wall Republican gloating.

I say this even as I acknowledge that Rove’s discomfiture paled next to that of 2012, when he infamously insisted on Fox News that Romney had won Ohio, despite the network’s calling it for Obama. Rove’s intransigence forced Megyn Kelly to walk with camera in tow to Fox’s “brain room” for confirmation, where she shot the ham-headed GOP op down on national TV.

Kelly was there again last night when Rove, who should have been doing a victory dance, instead invited the viewer to imagine him bending over for a rectal exam.

As the scale of the GOP victory started to register, Chris Wallace asked Rove what it felt like to lose a midterm election badly, because Rove had experienced George W. Bush’s midterm massacre in 2006, when the Republicans lost thirty House seats, six Senate seats, and both chambers of Congress. How did Bush’s Brain think Obama felt after being hit by this wave?

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Every president is “idiosyncratic,” Rove started off and then, looking pained, he added, “It’s like going to a proctologist without an anesthesiologist.”

“Thanks for the metaphor,” Wallace said, wincing, as Megyn said something like “Eeeew!”

Actually, it was the second time Rove, whom W. had long ago dubbed “Turd Blossom,” has publicly likened presidential politics to proctology. In a 2012 Wall Street Journal column, he called getting vetted for the vice-presidential slot on Romney’s ticket (in the wake of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin four years earlier) “a political proctology exam.”

Yes, I’m not proud of it, but seeing “the Architect” being embarrassed on TV was my desperate little crumb of solace.

There are of course more substantial, electoral forms of solace—Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota voted to raise the minimum wage; Scott Brown lost, Tom Wolf won. And The Nation’s Zoe Carpenter details them here.

But for the moment, I see the glass 90 percent empty. Nunn and Orman didn’t come close, the “hairless serpentine” in Florida topped Charlie Crist. Scott Walker and even Sam Brownback survived. The Dems’ would-be Southern firewall, Kay Hagan, went under after a solid year of street demonstrations against her opponent. Voter suppression, which a couple of late court decisions limited for this election, will only get worse next time, when the delayed laws take effect, and the media will largely ignore the issue, again. How much of the vote yesterday was lost to voter ID, missing voter registrations and malfunctioning machines we’ll probably never know.

But at least Megyn Kelly thinks Karl Rove is kinda gross. That’s something. Isn’t it?


Read Next: People Voted for Republicans Last Night—That Doesn’t Mean They Like Them

Why the Media Are Ignoring the Dangerous Ideas of Joni Ernst and Other Extremists Now on the Cusp of Power

Joni Ernst

(Photo: Joni Ernst/YouTube)

Joni Ernst, who may become Iowa’s next senator, denies climate change, supports a personhood amendment and says she’d use her “beautiful little Smith & Wesson” to defend herself “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” She’s also seriously flirted with a John Birch Society–backed conspiracy theory about an evil plot called Agenda 21.

But all you’d know from the corporate media is that Ernst made a really catchy ad about castrating pigs and that she is supposedly (but not really) the victim of a sexist remark made by outgoing Democratic senator Tom Harkin.

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Norman Ornstein, the pundit who was once quoted all over until he dared to say that Republicans are the real obstructionists, explains such grand omissions brilliantly:

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.


Of course, this does not mean that the press has a Republican bias, any more than it had an inherent Democratic bias in 2012 when Akin, Angle, and Mourdock led the coverage. What it suggests is how deeply the eagerness to pick a narrative and stick with it, and to resist stories that contradict the narrative, is embedded in the culture of campaign journalism. [My italics] The alternative theory, that the Republican establishment won by surrendering its ground to its more ideologically extreme faction, picking candidates who are folksy and have great resumes but whose issue stances are much the same as their radical Tea Party rivals, goes mostly ignored. Meanwhile, there was plenty of coverage of the admittedly bonehead refusal by Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to say she had voted for Obama—dozens of press references to NBC’s Chuck Todd saying it was “disqualifying”—but no stories saying that references to Agenda 21 or talking about terrorists and drug lords out to kill Arkansans [as Republican senatorial candidate Tom Cotton does] were disqualifying.

Read Next: “The Real Poop on Pig-Castrating GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst”

John Oliver: The Real Shadow Government Is in the State Legislatures, Where ALEC Calls the Shots

John Oliver has gotten a well-deserved rep lately for doing investigative comedy on Last Week Tonight, and this weekend he made an excellent point about state legislatures and ALEC, the Koch-supported legislation mill. While we’re all focused on how control of the US Senate could be determined by the midterm elections tomorrow, we ought to remember that the gridlocked Congress has passed a mere 185 bills so far this session. But the state legislatures, which are staffed by folks Oliver believes are downright weird (and he had the tapes to prove it), passed a whopping 24,000 laws in the same period.

And many of those bills are written by ALEC. Like, literally. Oliver shows a clip of a Democratic legislator pointing out on the floor that a bill submitted for passage seemed to be printed off the conservative group’s website, down to the type font and even the little ALEC logo in the text.

And all this goes on under what little radar is left in local media markets. Watch Oliver try to make up for that.


Read Next: This Is How Fox Reacts When Democrats Talk About Racism in the South

This Is How Fox Reacts When Democrats Talk About Racism in the South

news flash: The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.

And now that some Democrats are daring to point that out, in ads and interviews, the media is grabbing its smelling salts.

Mercy me! they’re crying—it’s unseemly for Southern candidates to mention that black people face discrimination, voter suppression and even violence in the Old Confederacy.

In an interview yesterday, Chuck Todd asked Senator Mary Landrieu, now locked in a tight race in Louisiana, “Why does President Obama have a hard time in Louisiana?” Fossil-fuel hawk Landrieu first cited Obama’s moratorium on off-shore drilling after the BP disaster, which she said put a lot of people out of business. Then, she ventured:

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

“Why is she talking like this?” Fox News host Bill Hemmer asked incredulously this morning. A guest came on to explain, “She is excusing her poor performance by blaming voters.”

It can’t be because it’s true.

Even the host of an Al Jazeera news show today, while not doubting the veracity of Landrieu’s comment, treated it like a gaffe, a bad one, and had an expert on to decide if Landrieu’s campaign was now doomed. (The verdict: maybe.)

More predictably, Republicans are shocked, shocked at Landrieu’s audacity. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called the remarks “remarkably divisive” and “a major insult” to Louisianans. “She appears to be living in a different century,” he said in a statement.

“Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people by questioning and projecting insidious motives on the very people she claims to represent,” State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in a statement. “Senator Landrieu and President Obama are unpopular for no other reason than the fact the policies they advance are wrong for Louisiana and wrong for America.” And of course there’ve been demands that Landrieu apologize. (Do not do this, Mary.)

It’s not that people, left or right, shouldn’t object to Obama’s policies. But the claim that whites in the South, or elsewhere, hate Obama’s policies (many of which are Republican-bred) and are color-blind to his race is ludicrous. But they can get away with it in part because of the persistent myth that this is a post-racial America, the one the Supreme Court decided was so enlightened that it gutted the civil rights voting law and has allowed the voter ID laws in Texas to stand.

Right after making her “inflammatory” remarks about African-Americans, Landrieu went out on another limb and said of the South, “It’s not always been a good place for women to present ourselves. It’s more of a conservative place.” But even if Landrieu were pandering to blacks and women to get them to the polls, so what? Her statements are true and obvious. And this is an election.

The media have been similarly timid in accepting what’s true and obvious when it comes to covering the get-out-the-black-vote ad campaigns that cite Trayvon Martin, Ferguson and GOP hopes to impeach Obama. A front-page story in Wednesday’s New York Times described the various flyers and radio ads targeting African-Americans, especially in the South:

The images and words they are using are striking for how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression….

In North Carolina, the “super PAC” started by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, ran an ad on black radio that accused the Republican candidate, Thom Tillis, of leading an effort to pass the kind of gun law that “caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.”

In Georgia, Democrats are circulating a flier warning that voting is the only way “to prevent another Ferguson.” It shows two black children holding cardboard signs that say “Don’t shoot.”….

In Arkansas, voters are opening mailboxes to find leaflets with images of the Ferguson protests and the words: “Enough! Republicans are targeting our kids, silencing our voices and even trying to impeach our president.” The group distributing them is Color of Change, a grass-roots civil rights organization.

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In Georgia, the state Democratic Party is mixing themes of racial discrimination with appeals to rally behind the only black man elected president. “It’s up to us to vote to protect the legacy of the first African-American president,” one flier reads.

It’s not that the Times story necessarily agrees with conservatives that these ads are “race-baiting”—it’s the tone of strained, he-said/she-said “balance”:

That has led Republicans to accuse Democrats of turning to race-baiting in a desperate bid to win at the polls next Tuesday.

“They have been playing on this nerve in the black community that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican Party….

Democrats say Republicans need to own their record of passing laws hostile to African-American interests on issues like voting rights.

But the story doesn’t cut through the journalistic niceties until the very end.

For many African-Americans, feelings of persecution—from voter ID laws, aggressive police forces and a host of other social problems— are hard to overstate. And they see no hyperbole in the attacks.

“It’s not race-baiting; it’s actually happening,” said Jaymes Powell Jr., an official in the North Carolina Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus. “I can’t catch a fish unless there’s a worm on the hook.”

UPDATE: Good for her: In a statement issued late Friday, Landrieu refused to apologize and defended her remarks. On Saturday’s Fox & Friends, a chryon at the bottom of the screen read that Landrieu “stands by racist, sexist remarks.” Sure, they were referring to her remarks about racism and sexism, but somehow it didn’t come out that way.

Read Next: The Day Chris Christie Lost Any Chance of Becoming President

The Day Chris Christie Lost Any Chance of Ever Becoming President

It was yesterday, October 29, in the shore town of Belmar, New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie had come to commemorate the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Former Asbury Park city councilman James Keady, holding a sign that read, “Stay in NJ. Finish the job,” interrupted the governor to ask about his miserable record on Sandy relief.

My favorite line isn’t “Sit down and shut up!” It’s the more creative “I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here, buddy, and done the work!”

Or maybe it’s Christie’s comeback after he offered to debate Keady (“Anytime you like, buddy, anytime, anytime you like”), and Keady said, How about at dinner tonight? Revealing that he’s all bluff and no tuff, Christie shot back: “There’s about a thousand things I’ll do tonight. Going to dinner with you is about number 1,001.”

And do not miss Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, to his left, with that tolerant-spouse-of-an-asshole smile. (The Bruce Braley lookalike standing next to Christie, Belmar mayor Matt Doherty, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth.)

Here are more of Christie’s choice words, from NJ.com:

“I’ll be more than happy to have a debate with you anytime you like, guy, because somebody like you doesn’t know a damn thing about what you’re talking about except to stand up and show off when the cameras are here. I’ve been here when the cameras aren’t here, buddy, and done the work…. Turn around, get your fifteen minutes of fame, and then, maybe, take your jacket off, roll up your sleeves, and do something for the people of this state.”

Keady, who said he is a lifelong resident, continued, “I was here for a month after Sandy, and…”

Christie finished Keady’s sentence for him.

” … and there’s been 23 months since then, when all you’ve been doing is flapping your mouth and not doing anything. So listen, you want to have the conversation later? I’m happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.”

Chris Hayes smartly booked Keady for his show last night, where Keady said that of the $1.1 billion allocated to victims of Sandy, “only 20 percent of those dollars have gotten to the people.” He also explained that he took off a month from work to clean up people’s homes and run the clean-up crews. Watch him nail Christie:

OK, let’s give Christie a break: he’s had a rough few days. Kaci Hickox, the nurse he had quarantined against her will, had been kicking his butt public-relations-wise (she’s now out bike-riding in defiance of Governor Paul LePage in Maine); Wisconsin governor Scott Walker had groused that his re-election campaign needed only Christie’s RGA money, and not his presence on the stump); and on Tuesday a Monmouth University poll was released that found 66 percent of Garden State residents are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the Sandy relief efforts.

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Still, Christie’s outburst in Belmar was even less “presidential,” to put it politely, than his long line of earlier tantrums. So far, only the nice moments of that day have made it to the governor’s YouTube channel.

Read Next: “Nurse Kaci Hickox Takes on Bully Governors Christie, Cuomo and LePage”

Nurse Kaci Hickox Takes on Bully Governors Christie, Cuomo and LePage

Kaci Hickox

Kaci Hickox (Photo: ABC News)

When Kaci Hickox stood up to Governor Chris Christie for quarantining her against her will and claiming she was “obviously ill” when she wasn’t, she did more than bring a little sanity to our Ebola-panic politics. She also struck a blow for all the teachers, nurses, public employees, minimum-wagers and workers of all kinds that Christie has bullied, belittled and silenced over the years. It was a sweet sight, and now she may be doing the same to another out-of-control, authoritarian governor, Paul LePage of Maine.

Hickox, a 33-year-old nurse from Fort Kent, Maine, has advantages that so many of Christie’s victims have not: a platform with the whole world’s attention on her for longer than the initial public encounter and, at least for now, widespread public sympathy. She also had photos of the plastic tent that Christie had confined her in, and its outhouse-like toilet. Even some conservatives could relate: her freedom was taken by government jackbooted thugs (though this time they were from New Jersey, not from Obama; he wanted her released). She word-whipped Christie succinctly: “I am not, as he said, ‘obviously ill.’ I am completely healthy and with no symptoms. And if he knew anything about Ebola he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious.”

Facing the possibility that an articulate and courageous nurse might unman him, Christie allowed Hickox to return home to Maine. For that, Rush Limbaugh slammed him for being a serial Obama-hugging weakling: “And so one week before the election, once again New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has caved and is seen as—we need to quarantine Chris Christie, is what needs to happen here, folks.”

Embracing Obama is one viral image that Christie, almost certainly running for president in 2016, simply cannot allow to spread. So he’s been trying to re-he-man up, which in this case he can do only by lying. He’s been insisting that he and his gubernatorial partner, Andrew Cuomo of New York, didn’t cave on enforcing their mandatory twenty-one-day quarantine for healthcare workers returning from West Africa. “Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change,” Christie told Matt Lauer yesterday. To get away with that whopper, he had to lie again about Hickox’s health, offering the medical equivalent of pretending that the George Washington Bridge was closed for a “traffic study.” Josh Marshall dissects the deceptions:

[Christie] said she would only have been forced to remain in isolation, “if she continued to be ill. She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours and she tested negative for Ebola. The reason she was put in the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and she was symptomatic.… The minute she was no longer symptomatic she was released.” [Emphasis added.]

Again, based on everything we know about Hickox’s care, this is false. She was never symptomatic for Ebola and she never had a fever with the exception of one reading which was apparently contradicted a short time later by a more accurate test.

Nor was there any need for her to be symptomatic under the policy that the two Governors announced. The explicitly and expressed goal of the policy was not to hold people who were symptomatic but to hold everyone who’d treated Ebola patients in West Africa in isolation for 21 days in case they became symptomatic. Again, these are Cuomo’s and Christie’s own words.

So Christie is not only lying about the specifics of Hickox case he’s also claiming the policy says something different from what he said it was when he announced it.

The guv went on to insist that he’s not a pandering hysteric, but anybody who worries that stigmatizing Ebola volunteers as unclean might disincentivize health workers willing to fight the epidemic at its roots, is. “I think Dr. [Anthony] Fauci is responding, unfortunately, as are many of the people from the CDC, in a really hyperbolic way,” Christie said, with a straight face.

As for Cuomo, there’s no doubt that he’ll win his bid for re-election next week. But he’s come across as Christie’s indecisive junior partner, flipping and flopping on how to handle the situation day by day. He even flip-flopped within the same lame joke, telling folks who’ve been in contact with infected people to stay at home and “enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, read a book—read my book—you don’t have to read my book, but stay at home for 21 days.”

Cuomo and Christie have a “special relationship,” according to The New York Times, which describes it as coming “across as a nonaggression pact, if not an outright alliance: Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has refrained from commenting on the Christie administration’s role in the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge; Mr. Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association, has declined entreaties to campaign for Mr. Cuomo’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election.”

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(Worse, they may have partnered up in trying to tamp down the Bridgegate scandal. The Wall Street Journal reported last December that Christie called Cuomo to ask to him to rein in one of his Port Authority appointees from investigating Christie’s PA appointees. “A Cuomo spokesman denied the call took place when the story came out, although the Journal stood by its story,” Politico recounts, and little more has been heard about it since.)

Meanwhile, Kaci is standing up to another statehouse bully, Republican governor Paul LePage of Maine, now in a tight race for re-election. Just around the time that Christie went stumping for him, LaPage ordered Hickox to stay at her home, where Maine State Police are monitoring the residence.

She says if she’s not allowed out by Thursday morning, she’ll go to court. “This policy is not scientifically or constitutionally just,” Hickox told Matt Lauer via Skype this morning. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”

If she does develop symptoms, she says she will of course isolate herself, call the health department, and arrange to be safely transferred to a hospital.

But if LePage, Christie, Cuomo, and the rightwing media have their way, even a perfectly healthy Hickox will remain quarantined until November 10—too late to vote, of course.

Watch her here, on today’s Good Morning, America:

Read Next: The Real Poop on Pig-Castrating GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst

The Real Poop on Pig-Castrating GOP Senate Candidate Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Good catch by Mediaite. The Morning Joe crew, practically echoing the GOP rebranding of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) as “Senator Uterus,” decided that the Democrats are losing their gender-gap advantage by focusing too much on reproductive rights. But…

Four minutes later: effusive praise for Republican Iowa senatorial candidate Joni Ernst’s pig-shit ad (her second swine-flavored spot of the cycle), which completes the metaphor of her “cleaning up Washington.” The closest the ad comes to an actual policy is Ernst’s promise to “balance the budget,” though the ad conveniently fails to mention she plans to do that by, for instance, shuttering the Department of Education and the EPA.

“I think women really like that first ad,” host Mika Brzezinski said, agreeing with Matt Lewis that Ernst would probably win the seat largely thanks to the two pig ads.

To sum up: ads about actual policies that the GOP passes and implements: bad. Ads not about any actual policies in any sense, but with a poop gimmick: great!

Ernst might be good at castrating hogs, but the real poop on her candidacy is that she’s chickening out on facing newspaper editorial boards. Perhaps afraid they’ll ask about her support of a personhood amendment to the State constitution, she’s reportedly been canceling meetings all over the state. The Des Moines Register, TPM writes, “called Ernst out on her support of a Personhood measure in a blistering editorial on Tuesday.

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“Specifically, the editorial criticizes Ernst for saying during the last U.S. Senate debate between her and Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA), that a Personhood amendment to the state Constitution that she supported ‘is simply a statement that I support life.’ ”

“Simply a statement that I support life”: Those are the exact same words Colorado GOP Senate nominee Cory Gardner has been using to muddy over his support of a federal personhood bill. Kyle Clark of KUSA in Denver forcefully called him out for dodging the issue during a debate last week against Senator Udall.


Read Next: If the GOP Wins the Senate, Expect a Total Assault on Reproductive Rights

Isolated Cases of Reason at Fox Are Unlikely to Become Epidemic

Shep Smith

You can count on one hand the number of cases in this startling outbreak, and we can predict with near certainty that they will not snowball into a full-blown epidemic. But reports continue to filter in of Fox hosts objecting on-air to their network’s fear-driven Ebola coverage.

How could this happen? Maybe Fox got embarrassed about the extent of the wacko hysteria it’s fueling, like the story of a woman in Louisville who sequestered herself because the plane carrying an Ebola-infected nurse from Dallas to Cleveland may have passed over her roof. Or maybe it’s because Fox News chief Roger Ailes wants to blunt accusations that Fox’s panic-mongering is interfering with public-health efforts to keep people safe.

Whatever the reason, last week it was Shep Smith and Greta Van Susteren who were telling their compadres to cool it; this week it’s Fox Business host Neil Cavuto (reportedly one of Ailes’s best Fox friends) ordering the right to lay off Obama’s Ebola “czar,” Ron Klain.

“I have a message for Republicans who continue to attack Ron Klain: Shut up and save it for issues that matter,” Cavuto said. “Okay, so the president’s Ebola coordinator doesn’t have any medical experience. Neither do a lot of you guys, but that hasn’t stopped you from pontificating as if you were Marcus Welby just the same.”

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Cavuto notes that there wasn’t a peep out of the GOP when President George W. Bush appointed a political insider without a medical background to coordinate the fight against bird flu in 2004. (It’s probable that Cavuto caught this info from Fox nemesis Media Matters, where Eric Boehlert published it a day earlier.)

Still, most of the folks at Fox know the party line on Ebola (or on anything else): it’s not Fox that is sensational—it’s the accusations that Fox is sensational that are sensational. Catch the exchange between Kimbery Guilfoyle and house liberal Bob Beckel toward the end of another cockeyed conversation on “The Five”:

Read Next: How the WHO’s blindness and Western biases let the Ebola epidemic run wild

Should Chuck Todd Be ‘Disqualified’ for Saying the Midterm Elections Don’t Matter?

Chuck Todd

A few developments today in the all-important Kentucky Senate race: Bill Clinton is expected to draw large, enthusiastic crowds for Alison Lundergan Grimes in Owensboro and Paducah; Mitch McConnell is on day two of his three-day fake-enthusiasm bus tour (the state GOP party is giving all-expenses-paid trips to volunteers as long as they “contribute to an enthusiastic atmosphere” at his events, according to an e-mail obtained by The Hill); and Chuck Todd continues to defend his now-infamous declaration that Grimes “disqualified herself” by refusing to say whether she voted for Obama.

As you’ve probably seen by now, McConnell put footage of Todd in a heavily rotated TV ad, and, from what I could tell after spending two days in Kentucky, Chuck Todd has become the face of the McConnell campaign.

Now, I don’t know if this exactly disqualifies Todd from moderating the New Hampshire debate tonight between Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown, but the host of the storied Meet the Press and a self-described political junkie has said that it really doesn’t matter which political party wins the Senate. He made that case in an interview with President Obama on his debut MTP last month, saying, A couple more extra red or a couple more blue seats, what’s the diff? Three billion dollars, he said, is being spent merely “to see if it’s Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell that’s in charge of gridlock in the Senate.”

Todd then turned to panelist John Stanton, from Buzzfeed, to pooh-pooh Obama’s argument that party control of the Senate is actually, uh, important:

TODD: You know, Stanton, he was trying to make the rationale for why the midterms matter. And when you have to say, “I know some people don’t think, but they really do matter.”

JOHN STANTON: You’ve already lost…..

in terms of legislation passing. If Democrats keep the Senate, and they have, what, a two-seat or a one-seat majority, or if Republicans take it and have a two-seat or one-seat majority, you still are left with essentially the same dynamic in Washington.

But surely Todd, if not also Stanton, knows that even if no legislation passes (presumably the Dems would filibuster and Obama would veto GOP bills), a McConnell-led Senate would still affect the lives of millions of people. A one- or two-seat majority would give Republicans all the committee chairmanships, and that, as Norm Ornstein writes, “would undoubtedly stop confirmation on virtually all Obama-nominated judges, and probably on most of his executive nominees. And we would see a sharp ramp-up of investigations of alleged wrongdoing, with Benghazi and IRS redux. If you like Darrell Issa, you will love having his reinforcements and doppelgängers in the other chamber.”

Even Politico says, “No one should underestimate the significance if the GOP captures the Senate in November…”

Mitch McConnell, who would become majority leader if the Senate changes hands, is already promising to load up the appropriations bills with policy restrictions that could raise the risk of another government shutdown if Obama doesn’t sign them.

With both the Senate and the House in their hands, Republicans could put Obama on defense on everything from Obamacare to the administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, the Keystone XL pipeline, education policy and spending priorities.

And even with gridlock, McConnell could reach his dream of repealing Obamacare “root and branch.” Robert Reich warns in a MoveOn video that the R’s could use the Senate maneuver of “reconciliation,” which requires “only 51 votes to pass major tax and budget legislation instead of the 60 votes usually required.” That means, he says, that Republicans could win tax cuts for the wealthy and loopholes for Wall Street and pay for them with cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and education. (The Dems used reconciliation to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place.)

But issues that matter to real people often evaporate in the heat generated by horse-race pundits like Todd. Grimes is “disqualified” for not answering a question (“By dodging the question, did she cast a spell on herself that reverse-aged her to be ineligible for service in the U.S. Senate?” Jim Newell at Salon asks. “Did her incantation strike names from her ballot petitions, putting her below the threshold to qualify for ballot placement?”). But McConnell lies by claiming he can repeal Obamacare while letting Kentuckians keep their Kynect—without acknowledging that Kynect is Obamacare.

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As The Nation’s Reed Richardson writes: “When confronted about his specious reasoning in a subsequent Facebook Q & A, Todd backed off his judgment a bit (‘disqualifying for some voters’ was his new formulation), but still defended his over-the-top analysis as reflecting ‘political reality.’ But for all his cynicism, Todd still tries to have it both ways. For, later in the same Facebook chat he said he was ‘sick’ over the fact the McConnell camp had already stuck his Grimes-bashing soundbite into a campaign ad.”

Todd goes into still longer explanations with Media Matters, saying his wording was “sloppy.” It seems like his judgment that it doesn’t matter who runs the Senate was, at best, sloppy, too.


Read Next: Grimes Beats McConnell in Kentucky Debate

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