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For much of the past six weeks, political campaigns were reluctant to focus too heavily on the coronavirus outbreak. Though some outside groups started to criticize President Trump’s handling of the crisis, the virus was largely considered off-limits to many campaigns, which worried about politicizing the unending tragedy.
That, however, has changed.
Now, more than 50 percent of all political ads on TV are about the coronavirus, the first time that a majority of ads were focused on the outbreak, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. There were 33 unique ads centering on the virus that aired last week, spanning the presidential, Senate and congressional elections.
Of course, some groups have been advertising about the pandemic for weeks. But five weeks ago, as states like New York, New Jersey and California shuttered schools and announced stay-at-home orders, less than 2 percent of ads touched on the coronavirus. Now, 54 percent are about the coronavirus.
For Democratic candidates and liberal-leaning groups, one issue has dominated recent ads: the lack of personal protective equipment — commonly referred to as P.P.E. — for front-line medical workers. Those ads have characterized the shortage as a failure of the Trump administration.
Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, spent roughly $380,000 last week on an ad that spliced Mr. Trump’s past statements dismissing the need for more personal protective equipment with pleas from medical professionals begging for masks, gowns and other supplies.
The ad, which aired in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, is part of a $7.6 million campaign by the group to “continue to air the facts and the truth and hold the president accountable,” as Guy Cecil, the chairman of the group, said when the ads were released. Priorities USA has also pledged $65 million in initial buys through November.
Majority Forward, one of the leading outside Democratic groups focused on the battle for the Maine Senate race, spent $150,000 last week on ads highlighting equipment shortages in the state’s hospitals, with a narrator referring to Maine’s Republican senator and lamenting that “once again, Susan Collins defends the president.”
Republicans are also fighting to claim the mantle of protecting health care workers. In North Carolina, a group called the Taxpayers Protection Alliance began airing an ad supporting Senator Thom Tillis that thanks him for “caring for the doctors that care for us.”
And Ms. Collins, who has aired six different ads on the coronavirus, has one ad dedicated entirely to thanking the “real heroes of the coronavirus crisis,” which makes absolutely no mention of her campaign or political efforts.
Larry McCarthy, a Republican ad maker who is running the ad campaign for Ms. Collins, said that the lag in coronavirus-related advertising could partly be attributed to simple production times.
“Usually, the ads that viewers are seeing this week on their TV sets were made a week or two or four weeks ago,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Now, because of all the stay-at-home restrictions, you’re seeing ads shot on iPhones and Zoom and everything else because you really can’t go out and take a big crew around a given state.”
Ms. Collins’s Democratic opponent in Maine, Sara Gideon, is airing a 60-second ad that features highlights from a recent forum, conducted over Zoom. The grainy desktop camera resolution and awkward angles have come to define so many meetings happening these days.
While many campaigns have focused on the front-line workers, the groups working to re-elect Mr. Trump have a different focus: Joe Biden.
The Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action made its first foray into the election this month by announcing a $10 million buy, and spent just under $350,000 on two ads that seek to paint the former vice president’s past statements on China as problematic, with shaky allusions to the virus’s origins.
There is, however, a brief defense of Mr. Trump in one ad, praising his decision to close travel from China in January, when a narrator proclaims, “President Trump took action.”
Two seconds later, however, the ad’s focus returns to Mr. Biden.
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Ad of the week: One photo, 30-seconds
It’s a relatively candid shot of Senator Mitch McConnell, a black-and-white image of the Republican majority leader emerging from behind a door, likely somewhere amid the Capitol complex. For 30 seconds, it is the only image the viewer sees. A very slow zoom crawls forward, as dramatic, ominous music tracks a narrator in the background.
With many Democrats focusing their criticism squarely on the White House, Mr. McConnell is also up for re-election. And his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, is attacking the majority leader for the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
The message: Being majority leader is an immensely powerful position, and Ms. McGrath is making the argument that Mr. McConnell has squandered his power in response to the coronavirus outbreak. As a narrator infers that Mr. McConnell is taking a “victory lap” on the response to the outbreak, the estimated death tolls and job losses scroll across the bottom of the screen.
The takeaway: The single photo and black-and-white tone evoke an aura of the Washington “back room deal” and infer that it wasn’t one made with the goal of combating the coronavirus. And in a media environment where continually scrolling doomsday headlines flash across the screen in a constant loop, pausing to focus on just a single picture could actually break through.
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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
U.S. senator slams Apple, Amazon, Nike, for enabling forced labor in China
A U.S. senator on Thursday slammed American companies, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Nike Inc, for turning a blind eye to allegations of forced labor in China, arguing they were making American consumers complicit in Beijing’s repressive policies.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang region, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said many U.S. companies had not woken up to the fact that they were “profiting” from the Chinese government’s abuses.
“For far too long companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” Rubio said. “These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.”
Senator Ed Markey, who led the hearing with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, said a number of U.S. technology companies had profited from the Chinese government’s “authoritarian surveillance industry,” and that many of their products “are being used in Xinjiang right now.”
Thermo Fisher Scientific said in 2019 it would stop selling genetic sequencing equipment into Xinjiang after rights groups and media documented how authorities there were building a DNA database for Uyghurs. But critics say the move didn’t go far enough.
“All evidence is that they continue to provide these products which enabled these human rights abuses,” Rubio said of Thermo Fisher, noting that he had written the Massachusetts-based company repeatedly about the matter.
“Whenever we receive proof of forced labor, we take action and suspend privileges to sell,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
Coca-Cola declined to comment. The other companies mentioned did not respond immediately to Reuters’ questions.
U.S. lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation that would ban imports of goods made in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor.
Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some western lawmakers say Xinjiang authorities have facilitated forced labor by arbitrarily detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps since 2016.
The United States government and parliaments in countries, including Britain and Canada, have described China’s policies toward Uyghurs as genocide. China denies abuses, saying the camps are for vocational training and to counter religious extremism.
Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told the Senate panel that Beijing’s “extreme repression and surveillance” made human rights due diligence for companies impossible.
“Inspectors cannot visit facilities unannounced or speak to workers without fear of reprisal. Some companies seem unwilling or unable to ascertain precise information about their own supply chains,” she said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, Richa Naidu, Aishwarya Venugopal and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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