Disgraceful Media Coverage of Sen. Tim Johnson’s Medical Condition
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s drop the partisanship for a second and recognize that the media coverage of Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D-SD) sudden illness has been nothing but disgraceful.
The first reports I heard on this issue came early yesterday on CNBC, and immediately the discussion was about how this could change the balance of power in the Senate. I was disgusted. (Update follows with how the network evening broadcasts covered the story.)
As my daughter and I left the gym in the early evening, she questioned me about the Senator, and how this would impact politics. I was a bit shocked, and asked her where she had heard about his malady. She said that it was on the television in the ladies’ locker room, and the announcers were discussing how this might hurt the Democrats.
Let’s get a grip for a second here, folks. A man is fighting for his life right now, and that should be much more important than how this impacts who will control the Senate. Yet, just moments ago, this was the headline of an Associated Press article: “GOP governor has the power to appoint Senate replacement.” These were the first two paragraphs:
Control of the U.S. Senate could be determined by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds if a replacement must be named for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
State law would allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for a vacant Senate seat until the next general election in 2008, when Johnson's term expires.
How disgraceful. Our thoughts and prayers should be going out to this man and his family without any discussion about the balance of power…unless we really have lost all sense of decency, morality, and humanity in this country.
Get well soon, Senator!
*****Update: The broadcast networks were all over this Wednesday night. NBC's Brian Williams teased at the opening of the "Nightly News": "A South Dakota senator, Tim Johnson, a Democrat, suffers a stroke. And if it's serious, will it change the balance of power in the Senate?" The opening segment went as follows:
We're going to begin an unusual way tonight because of a developing story out of Washington this evening. A member of the US Senate has suffered a stroke. Tonight, South Dakota Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, who is just days away of turning 60 years of age, is in a Washington hospital being treated for a stroke. And tonight, while our thoughts and prayers are with the senator and his family, of course, in Washington, with control of the US Senate decided by a single vote for the Democrats, this could affect the balance of power. Tim Russert is here with us in the studio. Chip Reid, who covers Capitol Hill, has been working on this story since first word arrived this afternoon.
After Reid's report, this is what Russert had to say:
Brian, if the Republicans capture control of the Senate one more time, profound impact on the war in Iraq, Supreme Court nominations, environment legislation, tax policy. This is very, very significant if, in fact, a vacancy would occur. We're a long way from that, but people on--in both parties are thinking about it.
ABC's "World News Tonight" also lead with this story:
CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) Good evening. We will get to our headline stories in a moment, but there is late news breaking in Washington tonight that could have enormous political implications. There is word today that Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, has suffered a stroke. No indication yet if, if it might force him to resign from the Senate. But if he should have to do so, the Democrat's control of the Senate could be in peril. Our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos is joining us. George, obviously personal concern for the Senator. What do we know about his condition?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) Charlie, that he took ill on a conference call with reporters about noon today. That after that he went to see the Senate physician who said we had to get him to the hospital by ambulance. Senator Johnson has been conscious, but several congressional sources say he has suffered a stroke. That it is serious, that doctors are still evaluating his condition. But they do not believe, right now, that it is life threatening.
CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) All right. But I mentioned it could have enormous political implications. And you should explain what those are.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) Well Charlie, right now, everyone is talking about this because Democrats control the Senate, 51-49. If Senator Johnson, for some reason, were forced to leave the Senate, his replacement would be picked by the governor of South Dakota, a Republican, Mike Rounds. He would likely pick a Republican. That would mean that it would go back to 50-50. Vice President Cheney breaks the tie. Republicans would control the Senate if Senator Johnson is forced to leave.
CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) So the narrow control that the Democrats have the Senate, would disappear, if, and I underline if because we don't know yet, if he should have to resign from the Senate. And as I understand the new senator appointed would then serve for almost two years.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) That's right. He would serve until the next general election, 2008, Charlie. But Charlie, if you look at history, it is very, very rare, in fact, no senator has ever been forced out for something like this. And several senators have served for several years even after they suffered from a stroke.
CHARLES GIBSON (ABC NEWS)(Off-camera) All right. George Stephanopoulos reporting from Washington. The story, as we say, it is just breaking at this hour.
This is how the "CBS Evening News" handled the story:
KATIE COURIC, anchor: Meanwhile, a big change may be coming in the balance of power on Capitol Hill. Senator Tim Johnson, a 59-year-old Democrat from South Dakota, may have had a stroke. He's being evaluated right now at George Washington University Hospital. We want to turn now to our national political correspondent Gloria Borger. Gloria, what might this mean for the new Senate?
GLORIA BORGER reporting:Well, Katie, first of all tonight, everyone in Washington is hoping for the best for Senator Johnson, but they also understand that his condition could really determine control of the Senate. Right now, the Senate is controlled by the Democrats by one seat. If Senator Johnson is unable to serve in any way, then the Republican governor of the state of South Dakota would have to appoint a replacement for him. He would likely appoint a Republican. And, Katie, that would send control of the Senate back to the Republican Party. It would be 50-50. Dick Cheney, the vice president, would be the deciding vote, and the committee chairmen would all be Republicans again, and that would control the congressional agenda.
COURIC: But as you said, Gloria, we all wish Senator Johnson well, just 59 years old. Gloria Borger in Washington. Thank you, Gloria.