Politics & Policy

Business Insider, Daily Beast Politicize Death of S.D. Governor’s Grandmother

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks during Republican National Convention in Washington, D.C., August 26, 2020. (RNC via Reuters)

The Daily Beast and Business Insider tried to spin the nursing home death of Kristi Noem’s 98-year-old grandmother into a political hitjob, despite the fact that the death was not COVID-related and the nursing home enacted strict protocols for visitors.

“Shameful,” was the reaction of Noem’s policy director Maggie Seidel to National Review.

Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Daly — who has bashed Noem in five articles since August, but has yet to cover New York’s deadly COVID nursing home policy — tried to juxtapose the death of Aldys Arnold with Noem’s “downplaying of the pandemic and her continued refusal to impose a statewide mask mandate.”

“On Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem buried her grandmother, who was among 13 to die over a two-week period at a top-rated nursing home swept by COVID-19,” Daly’s lede reads, before clarifying that Arnold actually tested negative for coronavirus in the second line of the piece.

“The 98-year-old grandmother, Aldys Arnold, is said by Noem’s office to have tested negative for the virus, though no cause of death was given,” he explained (Noem’s office said in an email that Arnold “died in her sleep,” while Daly didn’t return a request for comment on whether he actually reached out for more information).

According to Daly, Mike Ward, the administrator of Estelline — Arnold’s former nursing home — said that “all but one” of the 13 deaths between Nov. 14 and Nov. 28 at the facility were “COVID-related,” though Daly did not clarify Ward was speaking about Noem’s grandmother. In a brief phone call with National Review, Ward confirmed that he told the Daily Beast Arnold’s death was not due to COVID.

“They were just asking me questions and I answered the questions,” he continued. “That’s it. I really haven’t really even had time to read it, and so I have no idea how they worded it. So, it really doesn’t make any difference to me one way or another what they put in there. I never read it. Nobody I know reads it, and who cares.”

Later in the piece, Daly was forced to note that Ward didn’t want to make the story political, after he “declined to comment on Noem’s views and policies.”

“We’re doing all we can to fight COVID and we don’t need to be fighting amongst ourselves,” Ward told the Daily Beast. He echoed the sentiment to National Review, despite losing an additional three residents over the past two days.

“They were trying to get something on Noem. But I’m not going there,” he said. “ . . . We’re just doing our thing to fight the COVID virus here. It doesn’t need to be political.”

Daly also noted further down in the piece that Estelline enforced strict visitor protocols — including a mask requirement and meetings with residents “in a separate room partitioned by Plexiglas and plastic sheeting” — and that Ward told him “he believed that an asymptomatic staffer brought the virus into the facility from the outside.”

“We’re certainly not trying to put any blame on him or this home,” Seidel told National Review.

Daly’s piece was subsequently laundered by Business Insider reporter Kelly McLaughlin, with a headline reading “Kristi Noem’s grandmother died in a nursing home hit by COVID-19 as the South Dakota governor continued to downplay the virus.”

The coverage resembles CNN’s decision to give a South Dakota ER nurse an interview last month, during which she claimed that dying COVID-19 patients were refusing to admit the virus is real. National Review subsequently reached out to several nurses and hospital administrators in the state, none of whom were able to verify the viral claim.

“No one else has gotten that statement back from a patient, specifically,” Kim Rieger, a spokeswoman for the Huron Regional Medical Center — one of the hospitals which employed the nurse in question — said.

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