Saul: Roseanne Barr And President Trump Just Distracted All Of Us From An Incredibly Important Week Of News

While most people focused on Barr's tweets and Trump's pardons, several far more impactful stories broke this week.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

It was a busy week for President Donald Trump: he went to bat for Roseanne Barr, pardoned Dinesh D'Souza, and continued to attack his own attorney general. But these were all minor stories compared to what we missed.

While television news outlets obsessed over Barr's firing and President Trump's tweets, some of the biggest stories of the year received far less focus. So I want to make sure you saw them.


The one that got the most traction might have actually popped up on your feeds or in your print newspaper: the new Puerto Rico death toll from Hurricane Maria. The New York Times and BuzzFeed both reported on a new study that estimates roughly 4,600 people died after Hurricane Maria, most due to a delay in medical care. Independent researchers at Harvard published the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, where the group added that their final estimate was closer to 5,740 people when taking into account Puerto Ricans who lived alone and could not be accounted for.

Officially, Puerto Rico's government has only confirmed the death of 64 people. President Trump infamously celebrated the number when it was 16, saying that the low death toll was proof Puerto Rico had avoided a real catastrophe.

"Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands," Trump said in October. "You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what's been taking place in Puerto Rico."

Now, we know the number was at least 280 times that, largely due to a slow and error-filled response by the United States. 

And while plenty of people may have heard about Hurricane Maria's updated death toll, far fewer heard about the other important stories this week. 

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that preserved Obamacare's individual mandate, requiring all New Jerseyans to buy a policy or pay a tax. The mandate was repealed in the tax bill passed by the Republican-led Congress and was set to end in 2019. Experts have said ending the mandate would disrupt the market and cause an increase in the cost of premiums. Virginia, Maine, Utah, Idaho, California and Illinois have all taken action to preserve the mandate, according to health care expert Andy Slavitt.

In global news, the White House announced it would be implementing steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union that it had previously delayed. The tariffs are expected to escalate an already dangerous trade war that will prompt retaliation from some of our closest allies. Retaliatory tariffs are already having an impact on global markets, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 252 points, and the E.U., Mexico and Canada are expected to go after Bourbon whiskey, Harley-Davidson and Levi's jeans, among others, when they return the tariff volley. 

New York, NY - April 29, 2018: Roseanne Barr interviewed by Dana Weiss during 7th Annual Jerusalem Post Conference at Marriott Marquis Hotel. Shutterstock / lev radin

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, a study was released investigating another splashy claim from President Trump: that thousands of people had voted illegally in the state, some of them by arriving on buses from different states. After an exhaustive review that included comparisons over voter information with 27 other states, "virtually no evidence of possible voter fraud" turned up, according to local news outlet WMUR. It took 817 work hours from members of the attorney general's office to find that, as previous studies have shown, voter fraud was extremely rare. 

"There doesn't appear to be any widespread pattern of voting fraud in New Hampshire," Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said during a hearing, according to The Boston Globe. "I do believe there are times when people misunderstand where they should vote, which still fascinates me, but they do."

In California, the state Senate voted on Wednesday to reinstate net neutrality rules that were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission last year. 22 state attorney generals have sued the FCC. Washington and Oregon have also passed laws to reinstate net neutrality, and about 20 other states have drafted legislation that's in committee or has been tabled would reinstate net neutrality laws. At the federal level, the Senate approved a resolution to restore FCC Net Neutrality rules that will now go to the House.

Back east, in Illinois, the Equal Rights Act was ratified, making Illinois the 37th state to do so. The main clause of the amendment, which died in the 1980s, reads as follows: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Even in the internet world, there was some important news. On Wednesday, Parkland, Florida teen Emma Gonzalez signed in on Twitter and was greeted by videos of the teenager who murdered her friends.

"I've been off twitter for a couple days," Gonzalez tweeted. "First thing I see when I log back in is the person who killed my friends. Please do us a favor and Listen to us when we say we don't want his Fucking Face plastered everywhere we look, thank you have a good night because none of us will be."

Gonzalez's tweet once again brought the issue of media contagion back into the limelight, the idea that media coverage of mass shooters, including the publication of their names and motives, can help encourage copycat shootings. (A Plus does not published the name or faces of mass shooters.)

All of this, in the last week, seemed to be muted or swept under the rug entirely thanks to the far less important news around the president's pardons or Barr's tweets. While neither, certainly, should be ignored, it's worth thinking about the value of giving attention to those stories when so many seemingly more important things are going unnoticed.

Perhaps, as a nation, we should do our best to read past the headlines and share the stories that matter most. 

Cover image via  Drop of Light /


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