COMMENTS: Supergerm Patientís Strange Tie to Brideís Father

For the third straight day, the tuberculosis supergerm was the Story of the Day. The bridegroom patient was identified as Andrew Speaker, a 31-year-old personal injury lawyer from Atlanta. CBS and NBC both led with the coincidence connecting Speaker to his new bride's father, Robert Cooksey. ABC led with publicity for its own scoop: Good Morning America anchor Diane Sawyer grabbed an Exclusive interview with Speaker in his isolation ward at National Jewish Hospital in Denver.

Cooksey, it turns out, is a microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, whose "life's work," according to ABC's Lisa Stark, is research into the same rare strain of tuberculosis with which Speaker is infected. Yet Cooksey's study and Speaker's infection had no causal connection: Cooksey asserted that he tests negative for tuberculosis and the strain that infected Speaker did not originate at the CDC labs. "Cooksey also said he was not involved in any decisions his son-in-law made to travel," Stark reported--which makes him an unusually detached Father of the Bride.

As for the CDC themselves, "how is it that the nation's premier agency that is meant to stop or prevent the spread of disease allowed a man it knew had a dangerous and contagious disease to simply go free?" NBC's Martin Savidge (at the tail of the Gregory videostream) inquired. Speaker himself insists that is what happened, according to GMA's Sawyer: "There is a tape recording of the meeting that he had with health officials." The newlyweds told her that "it confirms completely their view it was all right for him to travel." Jason Vik, a fellow passenger on Speaker's flight from Atlanta to Paris, blamed the patient not the public health professionals. He characterized the sick man to CBS' Kelly Cobiella as "some selfish guy that just was not willing to give up his wedding." NBC's Robert Bazell quoted this soundbite from father-in-law Cooksey: "Please try to refrain from uninformed anchor-desk chitchat about this."

GMA's Sawyer said Speaker was at "the center of this anger, this outrage." Her lead for ABC was more like publicity and promotion than reporting. For example, she explained that Speaker "wants everybody to know how he made the decision" to fly after he was informed of the severity of his condition, "why he felt so strongly that it was not endangering anybody else"--yet she refrained from telling us what his answers are. Sawyer conducted her hourlong interview, she told us, wearing a mask, which "by the way, we did not technically have to wear." So why did she? By doing so does the mask not unfairly inflame his status as a reckless pariah?


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