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Fake Transparency and the Consequences of Denying the Real Thing
Two political stories of profoundly bad judgment.
Last week we learned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy granted Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to about 44,000 hours of January 6, 2021 security footage from the U.S. Capitol.
McCarthy says it’s about “accountability.” “I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment,” he told the New York Times.
It’s hard to imagine anyone (other than Carlson’s most gullible marks) actually buying that explanation. After all, if McCarthy were truly concerned about Jan. 6 accountability, he wouldn’t have protested or killed every single congressional effort that tried to achieve it (including the bipartisan ones he himself originally called for). And if your aim is to bring “sunshine” to an issue in order to let “everybody make their own judgment,” Tucker Carlson is one of the last people you’d put in charge of the operation.
The Fox News host has spent the last two years spreading wild, thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories about that day, suggesting that U.S. law enforcement agencies provoked the attack at the Capitol, and did so to persecute conservatives. And according to Carlson, the attack itself wasn’t really all that big of a deal — a “forgettably minor outbreak” of violence, subject to endless examples of whataboutism and even mockery of the Capitol police officers who were brutalized that day.
With the recent release of the Dominion Voting Systems legal-brief, we’ve also been reminded that Carlson knowingly promotes false narratives to his viewers. Not to mention he has a history of selectively editing video to conceal true, inconvenient narratives, like when he refused to air or even acknowledge the antisemitic remarks and other unhinged statements Kanye West made during their interview last year.
At the time, many on the right viewed West as an anti-woke culture-hero, which is why Carlson brought him onto his show. But when the musician began spewing bigotry and other shocking rhetoric, Carlson decided it was best to pretend the objectively newsworthy oratory never happened, and not upset the preconceived notions of his viewers. The explosive footage was left on the cutting-room floor, and West’s right-wing cred was preserved for another day.
No, “sunshine” is definitely the wrong phrase to describe Carlson’s shtick. Shadow-puppetry feels much more appropriate.
If transparency were the real goal, McCarthy would have released the footage publicly, or to any media outlet that was interested in it.
I’m not sure putting it out there for anyone would have been responsible, given valid security concerns including the locations of the Capitol cameras themselves, but granting Carlson exclusive rights all but assures a highly deceptive, unanswerable presentation on his program — something that McCarthy is fully aware of, and is probably even counting on.
I’m guessing the Speaker is also hoping the move will buy him some good will with Carlson, who’s been known to attack McCarthy on his show with bizarre corruption allegations.
Either way, “sunshine” and “transparency” aren’t in the cards on this one.
Politics Aren’t Worth This
Speaking of a lack of transparency, a months-long mystery during the 2022 midterms was the health of John Fetterman, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Pennsylvania who suffered a stroke over the summer.
Fetterman’s campaign grossly downplayed the seriousness of his condition, which finally became apparent in late October, shortly before election day, when the candidate debated Republican nominee, Mehmet Oz.
Politico described Fetterman that night as “struggling at times to effectively communicate — missing words, pausing awkwardly and speaking haltingly.” And many others who watched the debate would probably call that a very charitable assessment.
Coupled with journalist Dasha Burns’ observation during an interview earlier that month, after which she expressed doubts that Fetterman had understood her questions, it was pretty clear why the campaign had been so reluctant to release Fetterman’s medical records, including the results of his cognitive tests. They were assuredly worried that if Fetterman’s true condition were known by Pennsylvania voters, concerns over his fitness for office may well cost Democrats an important Senate seat (maybe even the Senate majority).
Fetterman did go on to win the election, but his adjustment to the Senate has been a profoundly difficult one, not just in getting used to all the special technology (including monitoring equipment) helping him perform his job, but also in his lack of physical and mental stamina.
In the few weeks since being sworn in, he’s spent days in the hospital after feeling lightheaded during a Senate retreat, and more recently checked himself into the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for clinical depression — a reportedly previously-existing condition made measurably worse by the lasting effects of his health episode and the political pressures he continues to struggle with.
In a New York Times piece earlier this month, Fetterman’s stroke was described as “near-fatal,” and he was said to be dealing with “serious mental health challenges.”
“He has had to come to terms with the fact that he may have set himself back permanently by not taking the recommended amount of rest during the campaign,” writes Times reporter Annie Karni.
Karni also quotes Fetterman’s chief of staff Adam Jentleson, who said, “What you’re supposed to do to recover from this is do as little as possible,” and that Fetterman “was forced to do as much as possible — he had to get back to the campaign trail. It’s hard to claw that back.”
An obvious question, that it doesn’t appear Karni asked, was who exactly “forced” Fetterman to continue campaigning. Was it his party? His family? Himself?
The only responsible and humane alternative, after Fetterman suffered a near-fatal stroke, would have been to end his campaign, focus on resting and recovering, and let the Democratic party figure out the next steps into regard to the election.
Instead the choice was made for him to continue, while others — including in the media — ran interference for his health situation. Those questioning Fetterman’s fitness were framed as ableist (prejudiced against individuals with disabilities). Some may remember Dasha Burns even being raked over the coals by media colleagues for having the gall to voice her personal observations of Fetterman from their interview. The narrative largely parroted by Democrats and liberal-media figures was that Fetterman was making a strong, steady recovery. The only thing needed was a little patience.
But that wasn’t the case. What was needed was Fetterman properly resting and recovering. And because that didn’t happen, as Karni reported, he may have suffered needless permanent damage.
It’s hard to place all or perhaps even most of the blame on Fetterman himself. He’s been dealing with serious mental challenges since the stroke. His judgment assuredly isn’t what it once was. I have a much easier time placing blame on those around him, from his family to the Democratic machine, for not insisting he do what needed to be done for his short-term and long-term health.
Politics simply aren’t worth what the senator has been going through. And if everyone had been transparent with his condition from the get-go, the political pressure pushing him forward likely would have lost out to the public pressure of voters fully recognizing his unfitness, and compelling him to take the proper time to recover.
Either way, let’s hope Fetterman gets the treatment he needs now, politics be damned.
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