Why does the White House allow Vice President Biden to speak when words really matter?
When I turned on the Today show this morning and found that the Obama administration had drafted gaffe machine Joe Biden to speak on the growing swine flu pandemic, I knew no good would come of this appearance.
The vice president did not disappoint.
When asked by Today anchor Matt Lauer what he would tell a relative who planned to take a plane to Mexico, Biden did exactly what public officials have been trying to avoid: encouraging the public to avoid all mass transit everywhere, threatening a weakened airline system and tourist areas around the country where no swine flu has been seen (including Florida). In doing so, he leaves a jittery public struggling to make sense of this health emergency.
Here's what he said on Today: "“I would tell members of my family – and I have – I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now. It’s not that it’s going to Mexico. It’s [that] you’re in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That’s me.”
"On the Today Show this morning the Vice President was asked what he would tell a family member who was considering air travel to Mexico this week. The advice he is giving family members is the same advice the Administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the Vice President has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week. As the President said just last night, every American should take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick.”
Let me do my part to curb the madness by suggesting you check out this wiki on the swine flu, which offers a lot of clearheaded information on the crisis.
I also did a story four years ago about the challenge of covering the possibility of pandemic -- back then, it was the concern about a bird flu epidemic -- noting that reporters are stuck trying to avoid alarmism while facing the sober reality that many experts in communicable diseases believe a serious pandemic is inevitable.
Check out Biden's appearance below and decide for yourself what the VP was actually saying.
You can also judge whether the person who decided the vice president should be on morning TV -- ensuring any gaffe would clog the newscycle for at least a day -- should keep their job. *