What Corporate Media Don't Want You to Know About Joni Ernst

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What Corporate Media Don't Want You to Know About Joni Ernst

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) as she delivered the official Republican Party response to President Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday. (Image: screengrab)

"Meet Joni Ernst, The Republican Senator Responding to Obama's State of the Union Address," offered ABC News (1/20/15).  After ABC's introduction, you'll know that she's "the first woman to ever represent the state in Congress," who "catapulted to political stardom with an ad about castrating hogs, making 'Let's make 'em squeal' a hallmark of her campaign." And that she "touted herself as a Harley-riding Sunday school teacher, who also serves as a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa Army National Guard."

But can we learn a little more about her? Who is Joni Ernst? Well, a CNN report (1/20/15) promises to explain just that: Turns out "she's an Iraq war combat vet, and the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa." And "her castrating hogs campaign ad made her the standout star in the last election."

That's still not very much to go on. How about the Christian Science Monitor (1/20/15), which declared her a "Good Choice to Rebut State of the Union"–so it must know something about her, right? Turns out she's a

GOP political unknown who broke through a crowded field of primary candidates and then trounced the "shoo-in" Democrat in November–all launched by her ad featuring hogs, her down-on-the-farm castrating skills, and a promise to cut pork and "make 'em squeal" in Washington.

Anything else?

She's also Iowa's first female senator, and the first woman senator with combat experience. Ernst ran convoys from Kuwait into southern Iraq when she was serving with the Iowa Army National Guard in 2003.

You really don't learn too much else about Ernst from profiles like these, nor do you get the impression that corporate media think you need to know much. The only thing ABC tells you about her politics is that she plans to "host an event called 'Hogs and Harleys' for Republican presidential hopefuls in June."

CNN offered just a tiny bit more, saying that "she was a tea party favorite for her positions on everything from abortion to the federal minimum wage"–on the latter, "she doesn't believe in a 'one-size-fits-all approach'"; her position on abortion, and on everything else, went undescribed.

The Monitor, which bills its profile as a "DC Decoder," tells us she's a "conservative trailblazer" who favors "lower taxes, less regulation, and repeal of Obamacare."  It reports she wants to eliminate the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, and spells out her position on abortion: "that life begins at the point of conception, which has all kinds of restrictive implications for abortion rights." And her Iraq experience "gives her authority to speak on foreign issues."

If you need any more decoding of DC, though, you're on your own–the Monitor's Francine Kiefer seems less interested in what Ernst is likely to say than in how she's going to say it. Kiefer pumps drama into the "challenge" of "speak[ing] to a faceless camera for minutes on end": Will she look at the wrong camera? Reach awkwardly for water? But Kiefer concludes that Ernst may be up to the task:

On the campaign trail and in her ads, Ernst appeared to be near pitch-perfect. She exudes a contagious positive energy. She leans forward, and speaks plainly and clearly, expressing a sort of down-home-ness that connects with people.

Similarly, CNN's Dana Bash stressed Ernst's personability:

She seems nice. Not New Jersey nice or California nice, but Iowa nice, which anyone who has ever stepped foot in Iowa knows is really, really nice.

(Bash described this as "another trait that drives Democrats crazy," because, as everyone knows, Democrats hate niceness.)

Ernst's down-home niceness was clearly seen as more relevant to these profiles than some of her not-so-nice policy positions (FAIR Blog, 11/4/14)–like saying that Obama had "become a dictator" (Yahoo News, 7/8/14), a stance that would seem germane to Ernst being picked to rebut the president's speech. Or her endorsement of legislation that would "authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement" the Affordable Care Act (Talking Points Memo, 10/3/14). Or that she carries a "beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter," in her purse in part to protect her "from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important" (Huffington Post, 10/22/14).

This is aside from her conspiracy theory (Mother Jones, 9/25/14) that the United Nations is planning on

moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don't have property rights anymore. These are all things that the UN is behind, and it's bad for the United States and bad for families here in the state of Iowa.

These are the sort of things you would tell people if you thought it was important to know the worldview of the person picked by the Republican Party to provide an opposing view to the president. But corporate media's interest in the content of her rebuttal didn't go much beyond whether she "comes up with another witty 'Make 'em squeal' line."

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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