Mike Pence’s Bigoted Attack on Secretary Pete Was a Disgrace — And So Was the Coverage of It

1 Mike Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence’s vile and bigoted remarks about Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg were only slightly more disgraceful than the way they were covered by reporters who were in the room, and the outlets they serve.

I wasn’t on the clock Saturday night when a source contacted me to flag Pence’s remarks at the Gridiron Club Dinner, an annual white-tie rubber chicken political dinner that’s never televised but always good for a headline or two. But I fully expected the “jokes” to be one of the headlines, if not the headline, to emerge from the dinner:

“When Pete’s two children were born, he took two months’ maternity leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways.”

“Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression.”

But when I looked for reports on the dinner, I was shocked to find that many did not mention the remarks at all, including a CNN report from Kaitlan Collins and Aaron Pellish.

The few who did report the remarks did so as an afterthought, under headlines hyping Pence’s remarks about former President Donald Trump. Politico wrote in their footnote that the comments “caught some listeners as meanspirited,” while the AP’s Zeke Miller wrote “Even before the dinner was over, Pence was facing criticism for his jokes” about Buttigieg and his children.

Aside from LGBTQ+ publications like The Washington Blade, the attack was a footnote if it was reported at all. And after White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement condemning the remarks, the outlets that covered it treated the episode like a political dispute. Politico took readers “Inside the Pete-Pence duel.”

There are a multitude of sins to be covered here, chief among them Pence’s disgusting attack on a man who took paternity leave when his sons were born and experienced complications and distress that included a week on a ventilator for one of them. Chasten Buttigieg pointed this out in a Twitter post addressed directly to Pence on Monday:

Pence also made light of a condition that millions of women struggle with, and many die from. His remarks are an affront to human decency that, in my estimation, should have been the only headline from that dinner.

Yet CNN not only didn’t cover the remarks in its reporting on the dinner, there were also no mentions of them on the air Sunday or Monday. I contacted several individuals at the network during this time, and none of them replied. On Tuesday morning, CNN This Morning covered the issue by reporting on Jean-Pierre’s statement:

Not exactly a profile in courage.

And that’s not to let Fox News, who also did not cover the remark, off the hook. But I think CNN would agree there’s a separate universe of expectations at work there.

MSNBC, somewhat to its credit, did cover Pence’s attack on women and gay people repeatedly. But the bulk of their coverage was overwhelmingly about Pence’s Trump remarks.

But before I move on to the third sin, let me say that this is a monumental failure of the people these institutions are supposed to serve, a longstanding failure that is only going to get worse as a set of bigoted views becomes normalized as legitimate political postures.

The third sin is that these outlets ignored Pence’s bigotry in favor of allegedly “news-making” remarks that Pence has actually been flogging for months.

This is from November:

“The President’s words that day at the rally endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building.”

He’s said that shit about Trump being “wrong” a bunch of times.

And in November, in front of cameras on CBS, he had this exchange with Face The Nation host Margaret Brennan:

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think President Trump needs to be held responsible in his events — in the events that led to January 6 and the violence of that day?

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, I think everyone that perpetrated the violence at the Capitol needs to be held to the strictest account of the law.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what about those who fed it? What about those who gave it oxygen, the lie oxygen to mislead people?

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I’m confident that the American people will hold all those responsible, at the end of the day, and history will be their judge.

So the “news” that outshined a bigoted attack on millions of Americans is that Pence delivered a slightly more direct version of remarks he has been making for months in an attempt to promote his book, but he made them in a camera-less basement that, as Jen Psaki pointed out, can’t be used in a campaign ad against him.

And even that quote — “History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6” — doesn’t really mean anything, especially given Pence’s lost-cause attempts to avoid testifying to anyone who could provide that accountability. What’s “history” going to do about it, add a chapter in a book Ron DeSantis III will ban someday?

The motive behind this coverage is pretty clear. People trashing Trump is good for clicks and eyeballs, even if the trashing isn’t new and it’s being done in near-secret and it’s literally less than the bare minimum that has ever been said by a guy who another guy almost got hanged about the guy who almost got him hanged.

But the effect of this coverage was to ignore a bigoted attack that actually was newsworthy in favor of rehashed comments that were not, and that gave news consumers a misleading impression.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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