National Journal’s Ron Fournier is famous, or at least D.C. famous, for taking a problem with the government—immigration reform’s failure, for example—and blaming both Democrats and Republicans for it, even when one side deserves almost all the blame. On Tuesday, Fournier put a new twist on his punditry tactic: Instead of wrongly blaming both sides, he wrongly praised both of them.
Fournier examines the U.S.'s response to the Ebola crisis and finds that, after a couple of mistakes at the beginning, the government responded to it well. “Our leaders got their acts together,” he writes. “President Obama and congressional Republicans, along with the public and private health sectors, deserve credit for positive steps taken since the Ebola crisis's unacceptable start.”
D.C.’s master of false equivalence strikes again!
The government’s successful response to the Ebola crisis was hardly a bipartisan affair. Remember when Scott Brown, then running for the Senate in New Hampshire, warned of Ebola coming over the U.S.-Mexico border? Rep. Phil Gingrey even sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control about it. Those claims were absurd at the time, and even more so in retrospect. Or remember the numerous Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, who called for a travel ban from West Africa? That also looks foolish in retrospect. Republicans even cut Obama’s request for funds to combat the disease.
That’s not to say that all Democrats acted properly during the crisis. Many Democrats supported a travel ban, too. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to set up a 21-day mandatory quarantine for Ebola workers returning from West Africa—an uninformed decision that they quickly reversed after facing pressure from the Obama administration and health officials. And not all Republicans acted irresponsibly. Fournier interviewed Ebola czar Ron Klain, who praised outgoing Rep. Jack Kingston for working tirelessly to make sure that the health care funding appropriations bill passed. But overall, Democrats responded to the crisis in a much more responsible manner, both in what they said in public and policies they supported, than how Republicans responded.
At the end of his piece, Fournier makes another important point: The media failed as well. It overhyped the crisis in the fall, prompting unnecessary panic and undermining faith in the government. When it became apparent that the government had responded competently to Ebola, the media had already moved on to the next crisis. In writing the article Tuesday and talking to Klain, Fournier is at least giving the government its due. He deserves credit for that.
But his insistence on giving both sides credit for the government’s response is another problem with journalism. It lets Republicans off the hook for their outrageous comments and tactics in the fall, and it fails to give Democrats proper credit for taking a political hit to make the right decisions. Fournier closes his piece by writing, “While no single event will reverse or even nudge the trend, on Ebola—of late, anyhow—U.S. leaders seem worthy of our trust.”
That’s not right. Democrats, and Obama in particular, deserve our trust for their handling of Ebola. Republicans don’t. That’s worth remembering when the next crisis strikes—but it won't be, thanks to articles like Fournier's.