Washington Post opinion: The media needs to be nicer to Joe Biden

It would be easy to be outraged about special pleading like this, i.e. an opinion writer for a major paper arguing that his fellow journalists need to be nicer to his political party and its leader. But in this particular case the author’s combination of dishonesty or incompetence is so transparent that I’m not sure he isn’t doing more harm that good.

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The thrust of Perry Bacon Jr.’s argument is that negative coverage of Joe Biden has a been a media plot from the beginning. They looked for some way to attack Biden and that turned out to be the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

One of the sharpest dips in Biden’s approval rating — which has dropped from 55 percent in January 2021 to less than 39 percent today — happened last August, when it declined almost five points in a single month. There wasn’t a huge surge in gas prices, nor some big legislative failure. What caused Biden’s dip was the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — or, rather, the media’s 24/7, highly negative coverage of it.

To be clear, Biden deserved criticism. The early stages of the U.S. exit were tumultuous, with desperate Afghans clinging to U.S. military planes and massing outside the Kabul airport. The Taliban took control far more quickly than the administration anticipated. But for much of August, the homepages of major newspapers and cable news programs were dominated by Afghanistan coverage, as if the chaotic withdrawal was the only thing happening in the world.

Okay, pop quiz for news junkies. Thinking back on the Afghanistan withdrawal, what would you say were the worst moments, let’s say the top three? I think the desperate Afghans clinging to the outside of planes is certainly one of the worst moments. But what about the deaths of 13 US service members? Here I have to give credit to Jerry Dunleavy who noticed this before I did that Perry Bacon never mentions that in his screed about the coverage.

Yes, the death of service members and all of the people we left behind, including some Americans, who were facing the real possibility of being murdered by the Taliban also probably deserved a mention in a piece about why the withdrawal garnered a lot of negative coverage. Then there was the general chaos at the airport itself which British troops who were there said was the worst thing they’d ever seen. Remember the scenes of a baby being passed along by the crowd? And during all of this, the White House kept claiming Americans were able to get to the airport while Americans on the ground were reporting they were not able to get there.

Other things, Perry Bacon didn’t mention: Biden attended a transfer ceremony for the remains of those 13 service members during which he was seen checking his watch multiple times as if he had something else to do. The media initially covered for him but belatedly admitted he had in fact checked his watch more than once. And it wasn’t just outside critics who panned Biden’s response. Families of the fallen soldiers also did not have a lot of nice things to say about Biden.

And in an attempt to prevent another suicide bomber from killing more service members our military tracked a man and fired a drone that wound up killing him and a bunch of children. The military eventually admitted he was an aid worker not a terrorist. Again, Perry Bacon doesn’t mention it but if you want to know why the withdrawal was regarded as the moment the White House started having a crisis of competence, that’s another reason why.

The omissions aren’t incidental. The whole point of Bacon’s opinion piece is that the media has been unfair to Joe Biden but rather than spell out all the reasons for that negative coverage, Bacon just says the withdrawal was “tumultuous.” Back to Bacon:

Biden’s poll numbers plunged, closely tracking the media hysteria. As The Post’s Dana Milbank wrote in December, data analysis showed a marked increase in negativity in media coverage of Biden that started last August. After the withdrawal, the media lumped other events into its “Biden is struggling” narrative: infighting among Democrats over the party’s agenda, Democrats’ weak performances in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, rising inflation, and the surge of the delta and omicron variants. Biden’s role in these issues was often exaggerated — there are many causes of inflation besides Biden’s policies; presidents can’t stop the emergence of coronavirus variants. This anti-Biden coverage pattern remains in place.

The claim that the media was unfair would be a lot more convincing if candidate Biden hadn’t promised he would shut down the virus not the economy. Remember this?

I’ve said a couple of times that there’s not much Biden can do about inflation. Coronavirus variants aren’t under his control either. But after progressives repeated on a daily basis that Trump was responsible for every death it’s a bit hard to see this as unfair. Here’s another tweet where candidate Biden set a standard he couldn’t meet.

We’ve now had more coronavirus deaths under Biden’s watch than under Trump’s. Funny the progressives don’t seem as interested in reminding people about that on a daily basis anymore. Eventually, even Bacon sort of admits Biden set himself up for failure.

By making reduced political gridlock a metric of his success, Biden positioned himself to look bad when congressional Republicans and Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) blocked his proposals.

He concludes, “Yes, I am calling for the media to cover Biden more positively.”

The problem isn’t that the media has been unfair to Biden. The problem is that Americans were promised certain things by Biden, including a return to boring competence, which he has not been able to deliver. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan may have been the turning point when most people and many journalists noticed that competence was not going to be the best summary for this administration.

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David Strom 10:40 AM | April 12, 2024
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