This past weekend, CNN and MSNBC found themselves in the awkward position of having to defend Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), who on Saturday afternoon pulled a House office building fire alarm during a vote. While some journalists on these networks have uncomfortably questioned Bowman’s excuse that he pulled the alarm by “accident,” the more partisan among them have been trying everything they can think of to spin the story.
On multiple occasions, talking heads on both liberal cable networks uncritically read Bowman’s official statement aloud. MSNBC host Yasmin Vossoughian was the first to do so on Saturday, during a quick aside which reeked of damage control.
Her colleague Alex Witt later followed suit, going on to complain to Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA)that Republicans were criticizing Bowman: “What do you say to Republicans who just jumped on this, saying, ‘Oh, he should face an ethics investigation for creating a delay in voting and be expelled,’?”
The eternally insufferable Mehdi Hasan joined Witt in framing the incident as a “Republicans pounce” story:
We’ve seen Republicans freak out over John Fetterman wearing shorts in the Senate. And this weekend they freaked out over Jamaal Bowman allegedly pulling a fire alarm to stop a vote on the continuing resolution bill, which Jamaal Bowman has denied. He says it was an accident.
CNN hosts were less uniformly defensive of Bowman. On Sunday’s State of The Union, host Jake Tapper sounded unconvinced by the Congressman’s excuse: “I’ll be honest, it doesn’t really make sense to me, his explanation.”
But others, such as CNN Newsroom Live Sunday host Laila Harrak, were rather uncritical: “The New York Democrat says that it was an accident, telling reporters that he was trying to get through a closed door and mistook the alarm for a way to open it.” She added that Bowman was “facing backlash” from Republicans.
This story was supposed to be a slam dunk for the media: a chance for them to demonstrate their supposed even-handedness by criticizing a Democrat who had clearly acted improperly. Instead, it was a tortured scene of political damage control — the kind one might expect to play out in Bowman’s DC office, rather than on national television.