Rush, Trish and left-leaning media: Is it opinion or news reporting?

Rush, Trish and left-leaning media: Is it opinion or news reporting?
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Last week, Rush Limbaugh opined on the swine flu, which hit our nation from 2009 into 2010.

“Folks,” he said, “I’m not panicked. I am ticked off like you cannot believe … because I’m mad about the politics of this. … I went back and looked at the stats and I was stunned. … 60 million Americans were infected … 300,000 were hospitalized. … Nobody even remembers it. And why? Well, because we had a different president.”

Limbaugh was inferring that because Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters MORE was president during the onset of the swine flu and beloved by many in the media, the negative coverage of that highly infectious and dangerous virus was minimized and fawning reports regarding Obama’s command of the situation were dialed up.

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Also last week came the removal of Trish Regan’s prime-time show from Fox Business Network. The network said it did so because of staffing needs to cover the coronavirus crisis. But to some it appeared that Regan was removed after giving her opinion on an opinion program. She said in part, with regard to the coronavirus and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE:

“We’ve reached a tipping point. The chorus of hate being leveled at the president is nearing a crescendo as Democrats blame him, and only him, for a virus that originated halfway around the world. This is yet another attempt to impeach the president. … The media’s reaction, with the global town halls … Did they do this during Ebola? No. We didn’t see this kind of insanity during SARS. And SARS and Ebola … were far more deadly. So why the melodrama on such an agitated scale? … I’ll give you two words: Donald Trump.”

Soon after they spoke, both Limbaugh and Regan were criticized by many on the left for their “controversial” statements. Regan apparently paid the higher price by seeing her program suspended, at least temporarily.

Both were ridiculed, but did they have a point? Have partisan politics and personal agendas infected some of the coverage?

A simple internet search shows that, at times, partisan and unhinged politics has taken the coverage hostage.

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For example, CNN regular Rick Wilson, an avowed “Never Trumper,”tweeted “#Beinfected” in response to the White House announcing that first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpMelania Trump urges Americans to wear face coverings in public Trump again tests negative for coronavirus Melania Trump speaks with Canada's first lady following her coronavirus recovery MORE would participate in public health PSAs on the virus. A think tank president said President Trump dying from coronavirus would be “poetic justice.” Talk show host Bill MaherWilliam (Bill) MaherRush, Trish and left-leaning media: Is it opinion or news reporting? Colbert celebrates lack of audience as late night shows suspend production for coronavirus Bill Maher defends Chris Matthews, mocks harassment claim MORE said he’s “hoping” the American economy totally collapses to get rid of Trump. An MSNBC analyst suggested Trump should be prosecuted for “negligent homicide.” Some news outlets reported that Trump called the virus a “hoax” and claimed the White House was “muzzling” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

Numerous others have declared Trump is responsible for the spread of the virus. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Undocumented aliens should stay away as COVID-19 rages in the US The Southern Poverty Law Center and yesterday's wars MORE (D-Minn.) used the virus as a pretext to criticize Ivanka Trump, regarding her father’s immigration policies, although she later tweeted that several of Trump’s orders were “the right response in this critical time.” A growing list of celebrities, such as Debra Messing, Chrissy Teigen and Anna Wintour, have lashed out at the president, his family and his supporters over the virus.

Like Limbaugh and Regan, these liberal voices have every right to express their opinions. But with the coronavirus, some opinion has mutated into criticism with strong and obvious dislike for Trump.   

The media, politicians and all Americans most certainly are entitled to disagree with Limbaugh and Regan. But, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once correctly pointed out: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

One fact is that news coverage of the swine flu a decade ago was a fraction of that given to COVID-19. Was the threat of the highly contagious swine flu dialed down, and positive reports on Obama’s handling of the crisis dialed up, because of bias or politics? That is open to debate — especially because the way news is covered has changed dramatically since then, particularly on social media — but the seriousness of the swine flu outbreak is not. During its run across approximately 70 countries, it infected almost 1.5 billion people and killed 300,000 to 700,000. In the United States, more than 60 million were infected, around 300,000 were hospitalized and more than 18,000 died.

And yet, life in the United States went on as normal. No panic, no closures, no shutting down of sporting events, restaurants, or movie theaters. No cities were locked down, and residents weren’t told to practice “social distancing” or to “shelter in place.” More importantly, the U.S. economy was not decimated. Small businesses did not close because of the flu, and hundreds of thousands of jobs weren’t lost. 

So, the critical questions become: Did the media or the Obama administration irresponsibly underreact back then? Have the media or our government irresponsibly overreacted now? Or is the answer somewhere in between, based in part on differences between the perceived dangers of the two diseases?

With so many in the mainstream media openly declaring their dislike of President Trump over the past three-plus years, is it fair — and responsible — to ask if that bias prejudices some coverage of the president and the COVID-19 pandemic?

During a national crisis, no president should be smeared for political or ideological reasons. The unintended consequences and collateral damage could be devastating. However we got here, we are now in a crisis because of the virus. Hate and partisan politics, from either side, steal from the collective energy needed to defeat this threat to us all.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration. He is the author of "The Forty Days: A Vision of Christ's Lost Weeks."