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Nothing Idle or Trivial Here: A Fact Check on First Lady Melania Trump’s Opioid Town Hall

So First Lady Melania Trump was in Las Vegas earlier this week to talk about the opioid epidemic. At a town hall style event hosted by a former Fox News pundit, Melania Trump lambasted media coverage of “idle gossip or trivial stories”.

I actually can’t argue with the First Lady on her point itself, but I can and must point out how her own husband’s administration and his media allies are contributing to the very problem she complained about on Tuesday.

First, let’s address the “idle gossip [and] trivial stories” the First Lady complained about.
Photo provided by the White House and licensed under Creative Commons

On Tuesday First Lady Melania Trump spoke at a “Be Best” event sponsored by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a company that’s become notorious for pressuring local affiliate stations (including our own Las Vegas NBC affiliate) to craft their news coverage to Sinclair bosses’ ideological likings. The event was hosted by Eric Bolling, a far-right pundit who had to part ways with Fox News in September 2017 after The Huffington Post reported of Bolling sending lewd “sexting” text messages to a dozen coworkers. Prior to his Fox News departure, Bolling had already attracted controversy due to his repeated peddling of race-baiting conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.

Against this backdrop, Melania Trump declared, “I challenge the press to devote as much time to the lives lost and the potential lives that could be saved by dedicating the same amount of coverage that you do to idle gossip or trivial stories.”

Though Bolling’s own family has been tragically affected by the nation’s opioid epidemic, it’s nonetheless odd for Ms. Trump to be complaining about the national media’s obsession with “idle gossip [and] trivial stories” at an event sponsored by a media outlet that specializes in such, and at an event hosted by a pundit who himself specialized in baseless gossip and engaged in the kind of bullying that her “Be Best” campaign is supposed to fight against.

Opioid addiction is a serious problem, but a border wall is anything but a serious solution.
Photo provided by the White House and licensed under Creative Commons

So let’s get into the actual declared subject matter of Melania Trump’s event: According to a report that the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services published last June, there were 408 opioid addiction related deaths in 2016 while the rate of opioid prescriptions remained slightly above the national average. Nevada has made some progress in curbing both opioid abuse and opioid related deaths, and a program that’s come in handy in delivering needed treatment is a little thing called Medicaid. And yet, the Trump administration has continually tried to undermine and/or repeal the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) that both expands Medicaid and requires mental health parity that ensures access to substance abuse treatment.

In addition, as U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) recounted here in Henderson last June, Republican leaders refused to consider a proposal she and other Democrats put together to launch a $100 billion over 10 years comprehensive program to curb opioid abuse. According to Warren, when she pitched her proposal to Republican colleagues, they countered, “That sounds like a good idea, but we don’t have any money.”

And yet, Melania’s husband Donald Trump is now attempting to sidestep Congressional budget authority by raiding various budget accounts to build over 250 miles worth of U.S.-Mexico border wall. Neither “The Wall” nor other anti-immigrant actions the White House has already taken do anything to curb opioid addiction, but they have had quite the effect in tarnishing this nation’s human rights record and calling into (further) question this administration’s alleged commitment to “law and order”.

Instead of criticizing journalists, the First Lady should look closer to home in getting to the root of this problem.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Over the past month, we’ve noted several issues that are far more deserving of the “emergency” description than Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall and make American taxpayers pay for it: gun violence, climate change, human rights abuses targeting immigrant communities, Trump’s own abuse of power, and the much larger societal crisis of abuse of power that’s sparked today’s #MeToo movement.

On this note, Melania Trump has a point about the opioid crisis and the larger issue of America’s health care system deserving more attention from the national media and policymakers. However, her own husband and his own administration undercut Melania Trump’s argument by pushing “trivial stories” on social media and basing actual policies on “idle gossip”. And when it comes to her criticism of national “mainstream media” paying more attention to salacious gossip than serious news, she should start with her husband’s loyal allies at Fox News and Sinclair.

Cover photo provided by the White House and licensed under Creative Commons.

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