CNN Keeps the Facts (and Views) Off the Table on HIV/AIDS Funding

Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s “The Situation Room,” had Angelina Jolie on yesterday. After a discussion on the Katrina disaster and her reaction to the newly discovered “poverty” there, the topic shifted to her relief work in Africa and HIV/Aids issues, and eventually, of course -- to funding. Wolf Blitzer, jumping on an opening, had the following line ready to go [emphasis added] - brief disussion followed:

BLITZER: Bono, another star who has been deeply involved in trying to help people around the world. He was quoted in "Time" magazine in June as saying, "the most important and toughest nut is still President Bush. He feels he's already doubled and tripled aid to Africa, which he has, but he started from far too low a place."[Here is the point from which the interview should develop. Clinton admin. was doing way too little, now we are doing much more. How much more?]
Are you getting involved in the politics here in Washington, as well, trying to excite people, Democrats and Republicans?

JOLIE: I didn't mean too, but this morning I ended up in it just because this morning I found my questioning -- and genuinely questioning, not trying to have an opinion in Washington, but I found myself genuinely questioning when it was brought up how much was spent.

Like I said then, I don't have an opinion. I am not saying for or against war, but the amount that is spent every month, Abizaid said $5 billion. And to sit there and to kind of suddenly realize that if we're spending $15 billion on AIDS, for over what is it, three years.

TREVOR NEILSON, GLOBAL BUSINESS COALITION: In fact, we actually haven't spent nearly that much. [enlightenment – the President’s Aids initiative proposal was 5 year - $15 billion proposal, which congress did approve in 2003.]

JOLIE: We haven't even spent that, we have spent 2.5 [billion] -- which isn't -- which is what, two weeks? That's what we've spent on AIDS? Is that what's really so -- so I didn't mean to start to get into it, but I suppose you can't help it when you kind of have to ask those questions.

BLITZER: When you feel passionate and you're in Washington, D.C., you've got to do it. Angelina Jolie, thanks very much.

As is the usual path – Blitzer chose to quote a negative passage from Bono, who is also on record acknowledging what the media has not wished to share with the voter - a pro-active funding agenda by the Bush administration.

Blitzer had many choices here to consider, before he fell into the “make Bush look like the problem” lane. The reality is, of course, that President Bush’s lead on massively increasing HIV/Aids funding for Africa and Indonesia, was historic. Sec. General Koffi Annan has pleaded with Europe to follow Bush’s lead. President Clinton referred to initiative as “historic”. And may I suggest, that indeed it is absolutely OK for the media, in pushing it’s agenda, to use accurate information, and then push for an administration to spend more money on the issue. Blitzer might have used Bob Geldof’s more pertinent remarks in that Times Mag. Interview:

GELDOF: “ America doesn't have a lack of empathy; they just don't know the issues as well. Actually, today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he [Bush] has actually done more than any American President for Africa. But it's empirically so”. Or Geldof’s earlier comments: "Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk but does deliver," and, "You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy..."

Blitzer could have shown this quote:

Bono, lead singer of the Irish band U2 and longtime activist for aid to Africa, echoed Geldof’s praise for President Bush as he told an American television interviewer June 26, “[Bush] has already doubled and tripled aid to Africa . I think he has done an incredible job, his administration, on AIDS. 250,000 Africans are on anti-viral drugs; they literally owe their lives to America.”

Blitzer, , in an effort to heal the Atlantic divide, might have highlighted the following quote:

“President George W. Bush visits Africa this week having seized the moral high ground in the fight against HIV/Aids. His January State of the Union pledge to spend an unprecedented $15bn to combat the disease represents a tenfold increase in previous US spending. Congress swiftly authorised the programme. At the Group of Eight summit in Evian, the president touted his success with Congress and used the commitment to put European leaders on the back foot. Even France's President Jacques Chirac conceded that Mr Bush's pledge was "historic" and that Europe "must do more" on HIV. 07/07/03: (The Financial Times)

Blitzer might have enhanced the debate by comparing Bush’s success to the failure of his predecessor, Bill Clinton; and whose words are more appropriate to quote than the liberal icon The Nation’s, David Corn.

By the end of 2000, as Clinton was packing up, 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were estimated to be infected with AIDS, and six to seven thousand were dying daily from it. Clinton had raised the U.S. government’s global AIDS budget to $340 million. But the United Nations was then calculating that a program designed to prevent and treat AIDS in Africa would cost $3 billion a year... A cynical guess at Clinton's motivations: AIDS in Africa, it doesn’t poll well.” From: Too little, too late - How many times is Bill Clinton going to apologize to Africa? 07.22.02

Mr. Blitzer, instead of highlighting the fact that the United States has turned the corner and has now taken a great leap towards what so many have pleaded for, you missed the opportunity to give some credit where credit is due, but more importantly to challenge the rest of the world to join in the effort and to match Koffi Annan’s challenge to adequately fund the HIV/Aids crisis. If Bono, Geldof, Annan, Clinton, Chirac, Mandela, and Richard Gere can recognize it, why can’t CNN?

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