If you only watched the press’s coverage the week before suspected Ebola carrier nurse Kaci Hickox determined to make a martyr of herself by refusing to abide by even voluntary quarantining regulations in her home state of Maine, you would have thought she was a political prisoner of the aspiring Caesar, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Hickox became a media celebrity when she insisted that her mandatory quarantine amounted to a violation of both her human and constitutional rights, and that Christie, her implicit abuser, could be subject to legal action as a result. The press, as they are wont to do when dubious accusations of malicious conduct involving Christie arise, ate it up.
Responding to the conventional wisdom inside the nation’s newsrooms that Christie had committed a blunder, Today show anchor Matt Lauer pressed Christie to consider whether he had met his match in Hickox.
“Is it possible that you’re the wrong side of science here but the right side of public opinion?” Lauer pressed. The Today anchor and his producers might have laughed along with Jon Stewart who reflexively insisted that Christie’s decision to prevent Hickox from taking public transportation after arriving in the United States from West Africa was just an example of him being “such a dick about everything.” New Jersey’s voters were not laughing along.
While only 26 percent of New Jersey voters believe the spread of Ebola is a major threat to the state, according to a poll conducted by the University of Monmouth, 37 percent believe the federal government has appropriately responded to the spread of Ebola to the United States. That figure includes 56 percent of self-identified Garden State Democrats and another 69 percent of Republicans. Moreover, a full two-thirds back Christie’s decision to isolate Hickox whether she approved or not. Only 19 percent disapproved of this action.
“Gov. Christie has made a good read of how uneasy the public is with the seemingly uncertain response from the feds,” said Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray. “The Ebola issue has offered him an opportunity to take on the mantle of leadership.”
Republicans (84%) and independents (71%) are more likely than Democrats (49%) to agree with this move. Garden State voters are more divided on the action taken a few days later to allow the nurse to return to her home state of Maine – 38% support this subsequent move and 40% disapprove. Republicans are more likely to disapprove (56%) than approve (25%) of allowing the nurse to return home whereas more Democrats approve (45%) than disapprove (29%). Independents are split between those who approve (42%) of releasing the nurse from her New Jersey quarantine and those who disapprove (39%).
Whatever you think of the Garden State’s governor, and many on the right and the left have a strong and unfavorable opinion of Christie, it is hard not to concede that the press is guilty of uncritical like-think whenever Christie is embroiled in a controversy. The press underestimates him. They believe he is diminished after L’Affair Bridge, and conservative politicians thrive under those conditions.