Cover for Biden’s Swine Flu Gaffe: 'Not Terrible Advice,' Reaction 'Very Informative'

CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson tried to provide cover Thursday night for Vice President Biden's gaffe about the swine flu threat, which forced two cabinet secretaries and the White House spokesman to correct his advice to avoid planes and subways, as Couric asked an expert to confirm “that's not terrible advice in certain situations, is it?” and Johnson spun it into a positive, proposing: “In an ironic way, the reaction -- the information that has come out in reaction -- has been very informative.”

Talking with Dr. Jennifer Ashton, Couric pointed out how “the Vice President created a bit of a brouhaha when he said he would tell his family to avoid confined public spaces, but that's not terrible advice in certain situations, is it?” Ashton supported Couric's premise, suggesting “common sense precautions apply here,” so “people who have weakened immune systems, who have cancer, are HIV-positive,” if they would avoid people “a week ago, they should do it today.” But Biden was not warning just those with such vulnerabilities.

This wasn't the first time Couric helped Biden. Last year, when candidate Biden declared in a taped interview with Couric that “when the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on television,” she ran the soundbite in which he had cited FDR to denounce Bush's handling of the economy, but failed to point out his historical error: FDR was not in office at the time of the 1929 crash and his “fireside chats” were on the radio.

She wasn't so forgiving with Biden's opponent, Sarah Palin, as recounted in my September 30 NewsBusters item, “Couric Patronizingly Challenges & Lectures Palin; Coddled Biden.”

On ABC on Thursday night, Gibson played a clip of Biden from Thursday morning's Today show on NBC, then asked Johnson: “Is he overreacting?” Johnson made clear Biden was off-base, but then pivoted to spin the gaffe into a positive:

Unfortunately, the Vice President sounded like he knew what he was talking about when he really didn't. But in an ironic way, the reaction -- the information that has come out in reaction -- has been very informative so I think it'll pass and we'll be all right.
From the Thursday, April 30 CBS Evening News:
NANCY CORDES: But that's [wrong to think it's unsafe to travel] exactly what Vice President Biden seemed to suggest this morning when he implied that trains and planes should be avoided.

BIDEN ON NBC'S TODAY SHOW: I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now.

CORDES: It prompted this assertion from the Mayor of New York:

MAYOR BLOOMBERG: The bottom line is I feel perfectly safe on the subway.

CORDES: And a walk-back from the White House.

ROBERT GIBBS: I think the Vice President misrepresented what the Vice President wanted to say.

CORDES: Even the Transportation Secretary came forward to say it is safe to fly and he urged Americans not to cancel flights unless they suspect they have the flu. Katie.

....

COURIC: Meanwhile, as we saw, the Vice President created a bit of a brouhaha when he said he would tell his family to avoid confined public spaces, but that's not terrible advice in certain situations, is it?
 
DR. JENNIFER ASHTON: Right, you know really common sense precautions apply here, Katie. For people who have weakened immune systems, who have cancer, are HIV-positive, are on  steroids, who would ordinarily avoid those in general -- if they would do it a week ago, they should do it today.

COURIC: Alright, but otherwise, maybe follow Mayor Bloomberg's advice.

ASHTON: Exactly.
From ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: I want to play some remarks that the Vice President, Vice President Biden, made this morning. He was asked whether he would, what he would tell a member of his family if that person was about to travel. Let's listen.

BIDEN ON NBC'S TODAY: I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not going to Mexico. It's you're in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the entire aircraft.

GIBSON: Is he overreacting?

DR. TIM JOHNSON: Unfortunately, the Vice President sounded like he knew what he was talking about when he really didn't. But in an ironic way, the reaction -- the information that has come out in reaction -- has been very informative so I think it'll pass and we'll be all right.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center