The tidy Sunday Morning Narrative suffered some brief disruption this past weekend courtesy of Guardian columnist Ana Marie Cox, who served as a guest panelist on Howard Kurtz's Fox News show, "Media Buzz." The issue, as Kurtz presented it, was the disparity in coverage of "gubernatorial types" -- the casus belli being that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" woes and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's indictment on federal corruption charges had received a bevy of media stories, whereas New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's scandal had not.*
The open question, of course, was whether or not liberal media bias played a role in downplaying coverage of a Democratic governor facing controversy. And the conversation was putt-putt-putting along in tidy fashion, until Cox brought up The Story That Must Never Be Mentioned On Sunday -- the Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia.
(In the video below, Cox's comments begin around the 3:15 mark.)
ANA MARIE COX: The thing is, I actually do see the disparity in coverage between coverage of Republican governors and coverage of a Democratic governor. It's true the two Republicans being covered may have broken the law and Andrew Cuomo said something offensive, so there's a reason for the difference there. But I actually want to bring up one Democratic governor whose scandal is not getting any coverage at all, and that's Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia, who's presided over the destruction of a state because of all this pollution that's happening. There are still people in West Virginia who are afraid to drink their water. This is an ongoing story down there, there is decades of abuse of the environment, and it's been overseen by a lot of Democrats and I wish there was some coverage of this story. We only got a blip of coverage when the actual spill happened.
HOWARD KURTZ: Imagine if it had happened in Manhattan.
LAUREN ASHBURN: I'm surprised you're saying a Democratic governor should have been covered when he wasn't. I thought you would be saying the opposite.
[Note: Ashburn, a regular "Media Buzz" contributor, is not particularly bright.]
COX: No, the Democratic governors should be held accountable. They have let coal companies pollute the waters there, pollute the earth there for a long time. There are studies that have shown if you live in a coal-producing county in West Virginia, your children are 26 percent more likely to have birth defects. These statistics are not getting talked about, and I think that --
JIM GERAGHTY: Some of this you can explain as being part of the New York/Washington Beltway axis.
GERAGHTY: If it's close to them, they're really interested. I guess Cuomo being up in Albany is too far away from them to notice, but obviously in a case like this, West Virginia isn't that far away, and the consequences are certainly big enough to make it worth --
"Well, we've agreed on that," interrupted Kurtz, wresting away control of the conversation and steering it back to Chris Christie. Had we agreed on that, though? Seems to me that for a brief second there, Cox and National Review's Geraghty were threatening to stage a substantive conversation.
Democrats can do a lot of things to run afoul of the Sunday morning chat show scolds, but sticking up for corporate power at the expense of their own constituents' safety and well-being isn't one of them. Could this change? Well, The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach planted this red flag deep down in his Jan. 19 story about the Elk River Spill (emphasis mine):
Noah Sachs, professor of law and director of the Center for Environmental Studies at the University of Richmond, said Virginia does a poor job of monitoring potentially hazardous chemicals, and lawmakers haven’t paid enough attention to the problem.
“We’ve got a whole suite of toxic chemical problems,” Sachs said. A new report he prepared says that in 2011, companies released 39.23 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, water and land of Virginia -- legally in most cases.
“We are exposed to a constant barrage of chemicals, both from air pollution and water pollution,” Sachs said. “We should be worried that Virginia has fish consumption advisories for all the major rivers. We should be worried that people in Fairfax and Arlington in Northern Virginia are breathing air that doesn’t meet federal air quality standards.”
If these problems are to be found in the affluent Beltway suburbs of Northern Virginia, then it's possible that enough of the people who produce Sunday shows will end up poisoned to spur coverage of the issue. Fingers crossed anyway!
*What is Andrew Cuomo's "scandal," by the way? He gave an interview to Susan Arbetter on WCNY, during which he said this:
"The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It's more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans. And the moderate Republicans in Washington can't figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans. And the moderate Republicans are afraid of the extreme conservative Republicans in Washington, in my opinion.
"You're seeing that play out in New York. There's SAFE Act [a New York state gun control law passed last year]. The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act. It was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate. Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York because that's not who New Yorkers are. If they're moderate Republicans, like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate -- moderate Republicans have a place in this state."
Oh, dear, clutch pearls! Oversensitive types have wheedle-deedled a round of pout-rage over this, suggesting that Cuomo is calling for some sort of pogrom. But he's just describing a fact of life: New York is not a favorable political climate for extreme conservatives to run in, just as there is "no place in the state of Mississippi" for a middle-of-the-road Democrat like, say, Andrew Cuomo, to run.
So I think it's fair to say that the disparity in coverage here is a product of the fact that there is potential or alleged criminality at hand in the cases of Christie and McDonnell, while Cuomo just said a sort of mean thing. Cuomo could have probably expressed his opinion in a way that hurt fewer feelings, sure! But I imagine he was probably taking his cues from the media, who have lately asserted that brusque, Northeastern "straight talk" is a paramount virtue that should be emulated by all. I guess we now know that this exclusively applies to Chris Christie.
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