News networks pounced on the announcement of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison Thursday morning, as well they should — it’s been a huge story since the Phoenix Mercury WNBA player was detained on Feb. 17.
The announcement seemingly came without warning (though CBS News reported that they knew the deal was in the works for a week), smack in the middle of the networks’ morning shows, and coverage was generally positive, with a large dose of relief mixed in.
“I can barely speak, I’m so excited about this news today,” Gayle King said on CBS.
That word — that attitude, that vibe — punctuated all the coverage from the initial breaking news onward.
But … what about former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested and charged with spying in 2018 and is still detained in a Russian penal colony?
But … what about the deal that was made, a prisoner swap, Griner for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, whom Fox News called “the merchant of death” so often in its coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking the man had changed his name?
Paul Whelan's family said the swap for Brittney Griner was 'the right decision'
It was remarkable, really — I can't remember any breaking news of a positive development so leavened with qualifiers. And while the “Fox & Friends” crew seemed reluctant to characterize Griner’s release as a victory for President Joe Biden — though they qualified it with reminders that this was overall good news — it wasn’t just that network. CNN and MSNBC’s coverage was similarly themed.
This is not to say that these are not legitimate aspects of the story. They absolutely are, and should be covered. It was just strange to see the story framed this way from the start. It’s kind of like saying, “You won the lottery!” and following up with, “Now let's talk about all the people in need who didn't win!”
Whelan’s brother David made this statement: “There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”
Naturally this did nothing to prevent social media from rapidly devolving into a cesspool of bad takes; for a while “national anthem” was trending on Twitter alongside “Brittney Griner.”
Griner told The Arizona Republic in 2020 that she didn’t believe the anthem should be played before WNBA games and that she would not be on the floor for it.
Clowns like Maria Bartiromo and Nick Adams chose to attack Griner
Twitter never forgets. Neither does Maria Bartiromo, the increasingly loony host who had this to say on Fox Business minutes after the announcement of Griner’s release: “I wonder if her stance on America, freedom and liberty changes after what she went through, the horror show that she had to face. Of course, she did attack the national anthem back in the day.”
No, she didn’t. Griner exercised her First Amendment rights, nothing more. What isn’t reported as much is what she also told The Republic about her stance: “I don't mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country.”
Of course that doesn’t fit the narrative, so it’s ignored.
Clowns like Nick Adams, the MAGA-loving conservative flamethrower, could barely contain their idiocy. “Brittney Griner should be required to sing the national anthem and recite the pledge of allegiance as soon as she steps foot on American soil,” Adams tweeted.
Good luck with that. Sadly, Adams' tweet was indicative of much of Twitter on Thursday.
The story continues, on all fronts. Griner will eventually land in the U.S. She'll grant someone an interview and it'll be, rightfully, big news. During a brief appearance Biden said his administration continues working to free Whelan. That is a big story.
But on Thursday, it wasn’t the biggest.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Brittney Griner's release is great news. Why can't media let it be?