A collage of a picture of Biden with raindrops over the image filled with text from newspapers

Gage Skidmore

Pressing Issues

Gage Skidmore

Why Is Legacy Media Dumping on President Biden?

CNN, the New York Times, Politico, and the Washington Post seem determined to ignore Biden's triumphs and compare his foibles to Trump's disasters. And it could doom our democracy.

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Have you heard how often President Joe Biden goes to Delaware?

Here, let CNN tell you:

A CNN analysis of Biden’s public schedule indicates the President has spent a significant amount of time away from the White House, particularly on weekends, since his January inauguration. Including this weekend’s trip to Delaware, Biden has taken 35 personal trips and spent all or part of 108 of his first 276 days in office at one of his Delaware homes or at Camp David in Maryland.

That’s more time away than former President Donald Trump had taken by this point in his tenure! They even made a graphic to show us. It’s purple.

In the 27th paragraph of that story, CNN’s crack number crunchers get around to telling us what Biden actually does on his weekends away:

Both at or away from the West Wing, Biden, a White House official told CNN, is “constantly strategizing with staff, being briefed on the economy and national security, speaking with lawmakers to advance his legislative agenda, and more.” Modern technology, the official added, makes it “easier than ever” for a president to do the job fully from anywhere, with many staffers working remotely at the start of the administration.

Joe Biden working at home or visiting his late wife’s and son’s graves is not the same as Donald Trump flying off to Mar-a-Lago on the taxpayers’ dime to play golf with randos, crash weddings, and tweet angry story ideas at FOX News while the pandemic grew unchecked. The fact that we even have to point this out is demonstrably ludicrous.

What the president is spending his time on matters more than where he is. Being president is an all-consuming position, and if you can do it from a KFC, why not work where the biscuits are? It’s the 21st century. Zoom works everywhere. If Trump had spent his Florida sojourns reading his security briefings and not doing the Electric Slide with dead-eyed car dealers who’d shelled out thousands for a glimpse of presidential power, people would have complained a lot less about his time off, too.

Reporters, editors, and headline writers make the same distortions in stories about the two presidents’ ages. Biden’s is characterized as a symbol of outdated, out-of-touch rule whereas Trump? Surprisingly spry for his years!

Joe Biden, 78, will lead an American gerontocracy,” blared the Washington Post’s “Style” section. Its opinion page had characterized Trump, 72 at the time, as “The First Digital-Age president.”

Biden’s tendency to misspeak, substituting a word or phrase that doesn’t quite fit the situation, is a national crisis. Donald Trump, meanwhile, destabilized international relations every time he unlocked his phone, but his constantly vicious tweets “captivated America.”

Biden curses like a grandpa watching college football, and Politico calls him a “potty mouth.” Trump, who was credibly accused of violent rape and bragged about sexual assault, also had a “potty mouth”  His boasts of grabbing women by the pussy were mere “vulgarities,” like saying “damn” when you drop a hammer on your toe.

It was easy to predict based on past performance that legacy media coverage of the most recent Democratic president would eagerly slip back into scolding for perceived missteps for which Republicans are somehow never held accountable. Nevertheless, it’s been incredibly depressing to watch reporters note the banana peel ahead of them and step on it so gleefully.

The Biden administration missed its benchmark for COVID vaccinations last July, by a whopping 4 percent, and ABC News reported it as if this was the final nail in the nation’s coffin. A resurgence in coronavirus cases and the deadly Delta variant were similarly framed as challenges for Biden. Republican obstruction and obstinacy that let the virus rage and mutate from one red state to another were merely a “relaxed approach.”

Trump’s first 100 days in office, during which he banned Muslim immigrants and faced a government shutdown attempt from a Congress his party controlled by a wide margin, were analyzed thusly by ABC:  “How Trump accomplished so little yet so much in first 100 days.”

Biden spent 100 days staffing the government Trump neglected, getting vaccines delivered across the country, reversing the worst racist excesses at the southern border, and ABC used the benchmark to trumpet his “low-end approval.”

That “low-end approval,” by the way, was ten points higher than Trump’s at the same point.

And you’d think Trump’s social media behavior would have put paid to any possible outrage about what any other government official tweeted until the end of time, but you’d be wrong, because Vice-President Kamala Harris caused days of crabbing when she wished Americans a happy Memorial Day weekend:

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also took to social media and pointed out, “Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember and express our gratitude to the men and women in uniform who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It’s NOT just a long weekend,” Forbes eagerly transcribed.

Never mind her predecessor mainly used the internet to help his boss demonize women, immigrants, protesters, Black people, non-Christians, and anyone else who personally bugged him. At least he didn’t extend well wishes for a good barbecue!

After a week full of triumphs for Biden, following passage of his signature infrastructure bill, more than 750,000 jobs added, and the stock market roaring up 40 percent, one would expect the kind of glowing coverage Trump earned every time he used a complete sentence. Yet the New York Times’ premier op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd quite literally compared Biden unfavorably to his predecessor, saying “Many who were sick of Trump chaos and ineptitude are now sick of Biden chaos and ineptitude.”

The asymmetric coverage isn’t limited to the presidential administration. Democrats are, by and large, fighting over the best ways to improve society, even if one or two of them seem to think the returns from trickle-down economics are still gonna come. You generally don’t have to argue with someone with a D after their name about whether we should teach children to read or cure diseases, and the vast majority of the party appears to believe racism exists.

The GOP, meanwhile, is fighting over how fast they can ban books and outlaw masks and protect vigilantes who drive through crowds of unarmed people protesting injustice. Yet we still talk about how “both sides” have become radicalized by their base of supporters.

Despite the presence of 263 Republicans in the 117th Congress, all of whom oppose every single item on the president’s agenda, the Democratic party is responsible for not advancing Biden’s signature legislation fast enough, and it’s killing his presidency.

If Biden’s approval rating is falling, he’s got himself to blame,” admonished the headline at MSNBC, and the accompanying story ripped Biden for failing to “get things done” while mentioning Republican obstruction … not even once.

Everything is the Democrats’ fault now, even things that aren’t true, like CNN’s recent broadcast featuring a family struggling with rising grocery bills. CNN’s staffers admitted to leaving out information that would have reflected favorably on the president’s agenda, like the benefit they saw from the child tax credit, instead focusing on the cost increase of milk. That increase, as numerous commenters pointed out, was a fiction, but the reporter responded with hostility to the very idea that his sources might have been wrong.

Republican wins are good for Republicans, and so are Democratic ones. Republican “parents” are justifiably outraged about whatever the FOX fiction of the week is, while Democratic “activists” are always suspected of ulterior motives.

In a Washington Post story, reporter Lisa Rein characterized outbursts from Trump supporters as evidence of political division that, apparently, just happened all on its own. “Culture wars and the pandemic have cleaved the community into two camps,” the paper tweeted.

When readers asked if she had even one single example of Democrats or liberals behaving provocatively, heckling or otherwise tormenting Republicans, Rein responded, infuriatingly, “Lol.”

At the New York Times, reporters angrily dismissed accurate complaints from readers that they’d quoted longtime Republican activists as “independent voters” in stories leading up to Virginia’s gubernatorial elections last week.

This is the reporting from which other journalists take their cues. These are the reporters other reporters read to find out what’s going on, and their steadfast refusal to accept the dominant political reality in America creates a narrative from which it’s very difficult to escape, no matter the balance of facts on one side.

For four years under Trump there was a constant crisis to put on the air, a show to cover, daily briefings that turned into jousting sessions that made for great TV and reams of copy. It’s tempting to ascribe the need to make Biden a failure as bias toward ratings, readership, or Republicans, but we should never attribute something to prejudice without considering the dual forces of laziness and stupidity.

America media isn’t a monolith, of course, but legacy media and especially political media often can be. It’s an ecosystem in which people see the same colleagues and rivals, attend the same events, drink at the same bars, and read one another’s work. Journalists are as susceptible to propaganda as any other human being, and Republicans have a 24-hour propaganda network that seems as aimed at the Washington press corps as it does at viewers in the Midwest.

Once a general impression—that Democrats are always disorganized and ineffective, that voters want Republicans in a crisis—takes hold, interrogating that requires calling out one’s colleagues, the fellow members of the club of elite journalism that will ride to the rescue of their fellows and mercilessly scorn outsiders who ask if they’re, you know, full of it.

It requires courage, in other words, and a willingness to face potential mistakes publicly and openly. It requires valuing accuracy and transparency over the faux-objectivity that lets many mainstream journalists escape right-wing criticism. It requires ambition to something higher than the convenient political shorthand of the day.

It requires that journalists question not only their sources but one another, and prioritize necessary contradictions over needless comity.

Unfortunately far too many members of our elite legacy media are so horny for the status quo they’ll invent balance where none exists, just to avoid even tugging slightly on the party line. And when called on it, they’re beginning to act like the belligerent politicians they cover.

Maybe when we’re done tallying up the days Biden takes calls on the airplane that contains an entire Oval Office and comparing them to days Trump verbally sharted all over an international dignitary’s whole family while at the beach, we can begin to talk about that.

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