By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Politics Page 1 of 76

Lester Holt inadvertently provides Biden with his best moment since the debate

In case you missed it, Lester Holt really got under Biden’s skin and inadvertently did the president a big favor in  Monday night’s interview. It was Biden’s best moment by far since June 27. Not such a great moment for Holt, though, as he was aggressive, which was fine, but also asked questions that were dumb and repetitive.

My favorite part was when Holt kept asking Biden if he had watched video of the debate, which became a point of contention after Biden told George Stephanopoulos that he couldn’t remember. Biden’s exasperated response to Holt: “I was there!”

Biden offered some pointed media criticism as well, flashing some anger and demanding that Holt explain why he and other members of the media weren’t doing more to hold Donald Trump to account. Overall, a good night for Biden.

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The stench of corruption

Judge Aileen Cannon throws out the stolen-documents against Donald Trump because, well, she just feels like it. The stench of corruption emanating from her courtroom would nauseate a jackal.

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After the shooting: Security questions, loathsome rhetoric and attacks on the press

There is still so much that we don’t know about the assassination attempt on Donald Trump, which claimed the lives of an innocent bystander as well as the suspected gunman. What a lot of us want to know is why the building where the shooter apparently stationed himself wasn’t secured by the Secret Service. Michael Biesecker of The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating how a gunman armed with an AR-style rifle was able to get close enough to shoot and injure former President Donald Trump at a rally Saturday in Pennsylvania, a monumental failure of one the agency’s core duties.

From the moment that the shootings took place, right-wing figures, including elected officials, have been blaming this on anti-Trump rhetoric from President Biden and his supporters, as if Trump himself was any stranger to dangerously incendiary attacks on his opponents. David Corn has a roundup for Mother Jones, writing that “MAGA was out in full-force to blame President Joe Biden, Democrats, and progressives for this shooting by stirring up anti-Trump sentiment.”

Probably the two worst have been U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., who demanded that Biden be arrested and charged with “inciting an assassination,” and U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, who tweeted:

Today is not just some isolated incident. The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs. That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.

I’m also appalled at some of the comments on social media that I’ve seen from liberals and progressives who, from the moment that the shots were fired, felt compelled to declare that it was a fake aimed at ginning up sympathy for the insurrectionist former president. But I’m not both-sides-ing this — the right-wing outburst has come from name-brand Republicans, whereas on the Democratic side virtually all commentary from elected officials, from President Biden on down, has either been sympathetic or has stressed the need for greater gun control.

Another angle that bears watching: rising hatred for the media. In his eyewitness account for The Boston Globe, James Pindell writes that not long after the shooting, some members of the crowd began targeting the reporters who were there to cover the rally:

After Trump had been escorted to his car and people sensed the rally was over and they were safe, the crowd turned on the media.

The crowd was angry. Middle fingers were everywhere. They asked the press if they were happy and blamed the media.

“You did this,” they said to reporters.

I wasn’t sure of their rationale for such a statement, but they were looking for someone to blame. For a moment, it felt like a growing mob. I was separated by a temporary steel fence, but that wouldn’t help much if things turned violent.

That was my cue. I took off my press credentials, unplugged my equipment, and packed everything into my backpack.

If you watched live coverage Saturday night with a skeptical eye, you were wise. Here, if you haven’t seen it before, is “The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook” from the public radio program “On the Media.” In the days ahead, stick with trusted mainstream news sources, and understand that even they’re not going to get everything right.

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One more on Biden, the media and the news conference

President Biden speaking at the NATO summit on Thursday. Photo via WhiteHouse.gov.

I joined my Northeastern colleagues Costas Panagopoulos and Nick Beauchamp in analyzing President Biden’s news conference and the media’s performance for Northeastern Global News. My take: The state of Biden’s cognitive condition is a huge and legitimate story, but it’s been marred by a journalistic feeding frenzy:

Looking back at the last several weeks, Kennedy says it’s almost as if “we’ve forgotten that anything else is going on in the entire world.”

“At some point when we look back on this, we’re going to say that there was a really important, substantive issue that had to be dealt with — that is, the question of whether the president is in cognitive decline — and yet the media still didn’t acquit itself very well,” Kennedy says.

Panagopoulos’ and Beauchamp’s assessments of the news conference itself: Biden was strong enough to help himself a little, but not strong enough to change anyone’s minds about whether he should stay in the race.

“It’s unlikely to silence calls for him to step aside,” said Panagopoulos. Added Beauchamp: “I don’t know if that’s going to be enough of a difference for people who are counting on his abilities. But I think he went out there and delivered what he was there to do.”

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The state of the race is grim

I’m using up my free New York Times links pretty quickly, but I want to share this horrifying look at the state of the race. The likelihood of President Biden’s recovering and winning is nil — and that’s assuming he doesn’t have any more senior moments.

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Biden helped himself a little. So what happens next?

If President Biden had handled himself in the debate the way he did at his news conference Thursday night, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He was OK — far better than in the debate and better, too, than he was in his interview with George Stephanopoulos.

He navigated the weeds on foreign policy, rambling on in a way that demonstrated his deep knowledge of the international scene. I don’t care that he mixed up a few names — he always has. But he faded toward the end and lost some of his earlier coherence. I think he helped himself a little. And that creates a dilemma. It’s one thing if he’s clearly unfit to run and to serve. It’s quite another if he comes across merely as low-energy and perhaps not up to the challenge of defeating the authoritarian menace that Donald Trump represents. What do you do then?

Writing on Threads, media observer Brian Stelter put it this way: “Millions of Democratic voters watched Biden’s press conference, and now some of them are wondering, ‘why are the chattering classes trying to force this man out of office?’”

If Biden had helped himself a lot, maybe we could exhale. If he’d melted down, well, the next steps would be obvious. But by helping himself a little, he left himself in a tenuous position, insisting he’s in the race to stay while much of the media and a rising tide of Democratic officials insist that the time has come for a new candidate.

Ah, yes, the media. They’ve been providing tough coverage of a story that’s of paramount importance — and they’ve been overdoing it, too. This has especially been true of The New York Times and CNN, which have been overloading us with stories about whether Biden is still fit to serve while playing down other news. Yes, that’s a hard accusation to make stick against the Times since it publishes so much about so many topics. But, day after day, its homepage has been dominated by upwards of a half-dozen stories about the latest on whether Biden might step aside. The Times is guilty of one serious misstep as well, botching a report that the president might be under evaluation for Parkinson’s disease.

So on we go. I suggest that we all calm down. If Biden needs to step aside, it doesn’t have to happen immediately. One option is to resign, making Vice President Kamala Harris the president. That’s the cleanest solution, presumably answering any questions about ballot access and campaign funds. A short sprint to Election Day might actually help her.

In any case, there was no reason to feel especially good or bad about what happened Thursday night.

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Great moments in anonymous sourcing

I generally am not one who feels faint when the media use anonymous sources. It’s often necessary, although it’s overdone. But a story posted shortly after noon by NBC News is just egregious. It begins:

Several of President Joe Biden’s closest allies, including three people who are directly involved in efforts to re-elect him, told NBC News they now see his chances of winning as zero — and the likelihood of him taking down fellow Democratic candidates growing.

“He needs to drop out,” one Biden campaign official said. “He will never recover from this.”

Further down there’s this:

All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they don’t want to be seen as further damaging a candidate they appreciate for his victory over then-President Donald Trump in 2020 and his policy wins in the White House.

By remaining anonymous, they’re doing the damage but making it less likely that they’ll accomplish what they say is their goal, which is to replace Biden with a more electable candidate. Time to show some courage.

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A horrifying but dubious story about Trump is making the rounds once again

Donald Trump. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

From the moment that President Biden started coming under fire for his disastrous debate performance of June 27, Biden’s most vociferous supporters on social media have demanded that the press focus on Donald Trump’s undemocratic and sociopathic behavior.

No doubt that Trumpworld is a target-rich environment. He is an insurrectionist and a felon. He’s been found in a civil case to have committed rape. He is accused of illegally taking classified documents from the White House and of attempting to rig the election results in Georgia. He and his allies are planning an authoritarian takeover through an agenda known as Project 2025.

Recently, though, we’ve also seen the resurfacing of an allegation that, if found credible, could shake Trump’s support even among his most devout supporters: accusations that he sexually assaulted two young girls, ages 13 and 12. It is by far the most disturbing accusation he has faced, and is obviously the sort of thing for which people go to prison for the rest of their lives.

But even though this horrifying story is being told anew, and even though some elements of the anti-Trump movement on social media have been demanding to know why the press isn’t covering it, the reality is that this is an old allegation lacking in credibility. Journalists should be looking into this again, and maybe some are. But there are good reasons that you’re not reading about it in The New York Times or The Washington Post. As Tom Nichols wrote for The Atlantic on Monday, “credible news outlets rarely treat a single deposition as adequate sourcing for incendiary accusations against any individual.”

Nichols was so leery of giving the story any oxygen that he didn’t even explain what he was talking about. Well, I will. The Trump allegations were reborn as the result of a Florida judge’s recent decision to release 150 pages of transcripts regarding the late Jeffrey Epstein. According to The Associated Press, “The transcripts show that the grand jury heard testimony that Epstein, who was then in his 40s, had raped teenage girls as young as 14 at his Palm Beach mansion. The teenagers testified and told detectives they were also paid to find him more girls.”

Trump, as you no doubt know, liked to pal around with Epstein. So did many other prominent men. Only Trump, though, has ever been accused of raping young girls procured for him by Epstein.

The release of the transcripts prompted Ed Krassenstein, a harsh Trump critic, to post on Twitter/X a page from an affidavit containing the allegations. “So many people didn’t even know that Donald Trump was accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl with Jeffrey Epstein,” Krassenstein wrote. “They pretend that this complaint never happened.” The affidavit is date-stamped April 26, 2016. Krassenstein’s July 2 tweet, as of this morning, had been liked 34,000 times.

There’s even a fake AI-generated photo of Trump, Epstein and a teenage girl that’s making the rounds.

Both girls are identified by pseudonyms — Katie Johnson, who was the 13-year-old, and Maria Doe, who was 12. Johnson’s allegations were actually investigated in some detail back during the 2016 campaign. In fact, if you take a look at Vox right now, you’ll see that its own 8-year-old story about Johnson’s allegations is currently the seventh-most-viewed story on the site.

In case you’re not familiar with Vox, it’s a high-quality outlet that specializes in fact-checks and explainers. To cut to the chase, what Vox’s Emily Crockett found in 2016 was not just that Johnson’s accusations couldn’t be verified, but that there was some reason to believe that she doesn’t even exist. As Crockett wrote after Johnson failed to appear at a news conference:

It was the end of an incredibly strange case that featured an anonymous plaintiff who had refused almost all requests for interviews, two anonymous corroborating witnesses whom no one in the press had spoken to, and a couple of seriously shady characters — with an anti-Trump agenda and a penchant for drama — who had aggressively shopped the story around to media outlets for over a year.

Crockett notes, too, that even the Hillary Clinton campaign wouldn’t touch the story, writing:

It’s true that the allegation is explosive, and could make voters see Trump’s many disturbing comments about young girls over the years in a new light. But it’s also very dubious and uncertain, and there’s no real need to promote a case like that when a dozen women have come forward with much more credible stories, using their own names and making themselves available to reporters for scrutiny.

Not that any of it mattered on Election Day.

Both the affidavit and the Vox stories I’ve linked to are full of lurid, disturbing details that I needn’t quote here, and the latter should give you a clear understanding of why the mainstream media have not touched this.

Those of us who fear the authoritarian threat that Trump poses to our democracy would like every possible negative story about him to be true, or at least to get a thorough airing in respectable news outlets. But this particular rancid tidbit doesn’t rise even close to the level that journalistic ethics demand.

To repeat: I hope that some reporters are sifting through this even now in order to determine whether there’s anything they missed the first time. Absent that, though, we ought to concentrate on the very true Trump stories that really matter.

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A few Biden updates

With the prospects of President Biden’s remaining in office still uncertain despite his insistence that he’s not going anywhere, here are three updates:

• The Wall Street Journal posted a five-byline story Monday night headlined “How Biden’s Inner Circle Worked to Keep Signs of Aging Under Wraps.” It’s a well-reported reprise of a piece that the Journal published a month ago that was widely dismissed at the time because of its reliance on partisan Republican sources. Now that earlier article looks prescient (free links).

• What you might call a mini-feeding frenzy broke out Monday afternoon when The New York Times, CNN and others reported that a specialist in Parkinson’s disease had visited the White House eight times over the past eight months. Hours later, the story looked like a cautionary tale in not getting ahead of the story, as we learned that the doctor had almost certainly been called in to see other patients, and that his service at the White House goes back a dozen years.

• Josh Marshall is always worth reading when you’re trying to make sense of complicated political stories. On Monday he wrote that he’s less sure than he was a week ago that Biden would step aside, mainly because, well, he hasn’t stepped aside. “By the end of the weekend,” he wrote, “I was back to near total uncertainty about where any of this was going.”

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Not a game-changer

We were at a Worcester Red Sox game Friday night, so we watched George Stephanopoulos’ interview with President Biden when we got home. I don’t think it moved the needle. Biden was neither strong enough to put the doubts to rest nor weak enough to accelerate calls for him to step aside.

Stephanopoulos did an admirable job of asking tough questions while maintaining a respectful tone. As for his repeated queries about whether Biden would agree to take a cognitive test, I was surprised that Biden didn’t answer that he would if Donald Trump would. But whatever.

Biden’s flat-out denial that he’s behind in the polls and that his approval rating is very low wasn’t great, but that seems to be his approach: dig in, even if it means contradicting reality. It would have been better if he’d said, “Yes, I’m behind, and here’s how I’m going to overcome it.”

And let me join with other commentators who were appalled at his answer to how he’ll feel next January if he loses to Trump: “I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.” No. The challenge we are all facing is how to beat authoritarianism. The Democrats need to meet that challenge with their strongest candidate, whether it’s Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris or someone else.

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