When President Obama offered a nine-page plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday, he was met with political outrage — and media clearly distracted by the campaign to choose his successor.
On this day, at least, Guantanamo was captive to the latest news of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Even Spike Lee endorsing Sanders seemed to get more traction within several hours.
For sure, Guantanamo may go down in history as one of the most unseemly American actions ever — morally corrosive and, as Obama and others maintain, a recruiting spur for terrorists. But, for now, it clearly takes a backseat to the campaign, generating scant public attention and fleeting interest by the press.
On CNN, one found solid initial discussion of the move but the omnipresent graphic reminders in the bottom right corner when it comes to the overriding coverage priorities: “CNN Republican President Debate 2 Days” and “Democratic Presidential Town Hall 6:30:14.”
“SUPER TUESDAY ROAD TRIP STARTING TOMORROW AT 1 P.M.” flashed MSNBC with a giant image of reporter-anchor Chris Jansing, who plans to hit seven states in seven days.
Over at Fox News, the hard-to-avoid boxes reminded: “4 days to SC Democratic Primary,” “7 Days to Super Tuesday,” “Nevada Caucus Doors Close 10 H 28 M 22 S.”
But there was some discussion of a very sober subject, which in the aftermath included a firm grasp of the obvious: Obama will get nowhere in Congress in changing relevant laws and closing the prison.
“The politics are tough,” said CNN’s ever-reliable Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. The Defense Department is not likely to spend money to transfer detainees to the U.S., which is prohibited by law now, anyway. And it maintains that some sort of new facility to hold them would have to be built in the U.S., which underscores the confounding essence of the whole matter, given how much space there is readily available in existing federal facilities.
Other graphics underscored the melancholy realities that exist 15 years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, which inspired the prison. Those include 34 men cleared for transfer to another country, 10 expected to at some point undergo military tribunals and 47 others who could now be sent home or to another country. In all, CNN and the others underscored, more than 700 detainees have been held since it opened in 2002, with at least seven dying while in custody.