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Media notes: Will Lewis’ unethical ask, Biden is still old and Hub Blog is back

Photo (cc) 2016 by Dan Kennedy

Once the mishegas over the shake-up at The Washington Post dies down, we are left with a question: Is publisher Will Lewis the right person to set a new direction for Jeff Bezos’ money-losing, reader-hemorrhaging newspaper? The New York Times has some disturbing news (free link) on that front.

According to Times reporters Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, executive editor Sally Buzbee clashed with Lewis over a story about new developments in the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal. Lewis had some involvement as an executive in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and he reportedly told Buzbee that he didn’t want the story to run. Buzbee ran it anyway. The Times reports that the exchange was a factor, though not the decisive one, in Buzbee’s decision to leave the Post rather than accept a reduced role under Lewis’ plan to reorganize the staff into three newsrooms.

And lest we forget, Max Tani of Semafor reported a couple of weeks ago that the Post’s director of newsletter strategy, Elana Zak, sent out a missive instructing staff members “don’t distribute this story” in its newsletters. At the time, Zak’s email was attributed to some sort of internal mix-up, but the Times story casts that in a new light.

Buzbee, at least, stood up to Lewis and his ethically inappropriate demand. The problem is that his handpicked new editors, Matt Murray and Robert Winnett, may prove to be more malleable.

A flawed WSJ story

The Wall Street Journal has published a lengthy inquiry (free link) into President Biden’s mental acuity that has inflamed liberal critics. I read it with an open mind, but the story, by Annie Linskey and Siobhan Hughes, is based almost entirely on the observations of partisan Republicans like former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who’s quoted on the record, and current Speaker Mike Johnson, who isn’t.

The article, we’re told, is based on interviews with 45 people — but apparently six of those interviews were devoted to what Johnson had told people about a meeting he had with Biden in February. The story also contradicts earlier reporting about McCarthy, who has privately praised Biden’s mental sharpness even while mocking him in public.

One of the most fair-minded, nonpartisan media observers out there is Tom Jones of Poynter Online, so I was curious as to what he would have to say about it. Here’s his take:

Is it a fairly reported story on a pertinent topic? Or is it a pointed piece based pretty much on quotes and opinions from those who don’t want to see Biden elected to a second term?

I’d go with the latter — considering the money quote is from McCarthy, another key anecdote was reported by current Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, and other tales suggesting Biden’s decline are flimsy, at best. (For example, he sometimes talks quietly, he uses notes, and he relies on aides.)

That “money quote” from McCarthy, by the way, is this: “I used to meet with him [Biden] when he was vice president. I’d go to his house. He’s not the same person.”

Despite Murdoch’s ownership, the Journal’s news coverage is generally superb. It was the Journal’s reporting, after all, that led to Donald Trump’s 34 felony convictions last week. You have to wonder how a slanted piece like this passed muster.

Fairly or not, the Journal has raised the stakes for Biden’s June 27 debate with Trump, who, it should be said much more often than it is, is nearly as old as Biden and whose own problems with age-related mental slips tend to play out in public rather than (allegedly) behind closed doors.

Jay Fitzgerald returns

Veteran journalist Jay Fitzgerald, one of the original Boston bloggers, has revived Hub Blog (via Contrarian Boston). It looks like Jay is mainly writing an old-fashioned link blog with a few longer posts on the turmoil at The Washington Post.

I started writing an early version of this blog in 2002, shortly after Hub Blog launched. I was actually doing it by hand — I had no idea there was this thing called blogging software that automated the process of date-stamping, archiving older posts, adding permalinks and the like until Jay asked me, “What are you using.” He led me to Blogspot, though I’ve been using WordPress since 2005.

Anyway, it’s good to have Jay back in harness.

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Guilty x 34

Some notable front pages reporting Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to cover up payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels — payments aimed at keeping their sexual encounter out of the headlines just before the 2016 election.

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Broadcast nets highlight Trump’s latest Nazi dalliance while newspapers fall short

Assert, deny, project. Repeat. Photo (cc) 2016 by Gage Skidmore.

Whenever Donald Trump erupts with rhetoric that is disturbing and offensive, questions are raised as to whether the media should amplify it. My own view: Yes, usually, although it shouldn’t be repeated over and over to the point at which it drowns out all other news. President Biden is struggling to get his own message out, and surely one of the reasons is that Trump is dominating just about every news cycle — not in a good way, of course, but that hardly seems to matter.

Yet how can we ignore the reality that, on Monday, his campaign promoted Nazi rhetoric on Trump’s own Truth Social platform? Among other things, the 30-second video that was posted refers to “the creation of a unified Reich” and says that Trump will reject “globalists,” code for Jews among the far right. The Trump campaign responded with the usual drivel. According to The New York Times (free link), the response was that the video was shared by a campaign staffer who didn’t notice the Nazi content and that Biden, naturally, is “the real extremist.” The post was reportedly left up for many hours, though it was taken down Tuesday morning. Trump himself has not addressed the matter.

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What’s interesting is that, far from giving the story too much attention, our major mainstream newspapers have actually paid little attention to it. Our three national papers, the Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, all published stories about it online. But only the Times saw fit to include it in its print edition, relegating it to page A17 of today’s paper, with no tease on the front. By contrast, there’s nothing on page one or inside the print editions of the Post or the Journal, either today or Tuesday.

Locally, The Boston Globe actually has two stories in its print edition today, as it’s the lead item in its political roundup and the subject of a metro-front story on Biden’s speech in Boston. Neither, though, is on page one.

It seems like a classic case of being caught between news cycles — too late for Tuesday print, too old for Wednesday print. The Nazi story certainly dominated the political conversation on Tuesday, but for casual news consumers who aren’t constantly plugged into social media and cable news, that’s scant consolation. Print still matters, if only as a way for editors to communicate what they think are the most important stories of the day.

The Big Three national evening newscasts actually did better on Tuesday. I downloaded the audio and plugged the files into Otter, which uses artificial intelligence to produce reasonably good transcripts. I also watched a few minutes to fill in the gaps. Here’s what I found:

  • ABC’s “World News Tonight” had a story about 12 minutes into its newscast and stuck with it for almost a minute and a half. It included both the “N”-word (Nazi) and the “H”-word (Hitler) and incorporated Biden’s outraged response. There’s also this straightforward assertion by reporter Mary Bruce: “The Trump campaign is adamant this was not a campaign video, that it was reposted by a staffer who clearly did not see the word while the President was in court. But that video that included three instances of the word Reich remained on Trump’s page for more than 18 hours.”
  • The “NBC Nightly News” actually mentioned the Nazi story three times. Anchor Lester Holt teased it in his opening, and reporter Laura Jarrett referred to it at about the 10-minute mark in beginning her roundup of that day’s Trump-related news before offering a 30-second story at about 11:30. Again, the word “Nazi” is used several times.
  • On the “CBS Evening News,” anchor Norah O’Donnell teased the story about six minutes into the newscast, straightforwardly asserting that the term “Reich” is associated with Nazi Germany. Reporter Robert Costa then offered up some Trump news that provides the most thorough overview of the three networks, pivoting from the post and Biden’s reaction to this: “It’s not the first time Trump has used rhetoric prompting outrage for its echoes of hateful extremists.” That’s followed by some of Trump’s worst comments over the years, from saying that immigrants “are poisoning the blood of our country” to “radical left thugs that live like vermin.”

All of this matters because the three evening network newscasts are the closest thing we have left to a mass medium, with a combined audience of nearly 20 million. By contrast, Fox News, which attracts by far the largest audience of the three cable news stations, has an average of about 2 million viewers in prime time, generally defined as 8 to 11 p.m.

I harbor no illusions that Trump’s latest dalliance with Nazi and antisemitic rhetoric is going to have a lasting effect. It all played out in a manner that we’ve seen over and over: assert, deny and project — and then quietly remove the offending message after it’s accomplished its purpose of assuring the far right that he’s one of them. Stand back and stand by, everyone. It’s going to get a lot worse.

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Mein Gott

From The New York Times: “Trump Posts Video Online With Newspaper Headline About ‘Unified Reich’” (free link)

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How a private equity firm that destroyed newspapers helped Trump in Chicago

Trump’s Chicago tower under construction. Photo (cc) 2006 by JeremyA.

A private equity firm that helped destroy local newspapers was also involved in building Donald Trump’s Chicago tower, a fiasco that was the subject of an in-depth investigative report over the weekend produced by The New York Times and ProPublica. The story, published in the Times, found that Trump may owe $100 million because he used “a dubious accounting maneuver to claim improper tax breaks from his troubled Chicago tower.” That conclusion is based on an Internal Revenue Service investigation whose details the two news organizations uncovered.

The tower, built on the former site of the Chicago Sun-Times, was plagued by cost overruns and overly optimistic estimates of the revenues that would be brought in. But this post isn’t about Trump’s problems. It’s about this:

As his cost estimates increased, Mr. Trump arranged to borrow as much as $770 million for the project — $640 million from Deutsche Bank and $130 million from Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund and private equity company. He personally guaranteed $40 million of the Deutsche loan. Both Deutsche and Fortress then sold off pieces of the loans to other institutions, spreading the risk and potential gain.

Fortress Investment Group is the firm that launched the era of private equity firms’ owning newspapers, described by Margot Susca in her book “Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy,” which was published earlier this year. I reviewed it for The Arts Fuse. As Susca wrote, Fortress paid $530 million in 2005 to purchase Liberty Group Publishing, which it renamed GateHouse Media.

GateHouse built a nationwide network of community newspapers, taking them in and out of bankruptcy twice and slashing newsrooms in order to goose revenues and fuel the acquisition of still more papers. That culminated in 2019 when GateHouse merged with Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain, a $1.1 billion deal that saddled the new Gannett with an enormous pile of debt. Fortress kept right on profiting, Susca wrote, as the firm continued to extract millions of dollars in managment fees. And Gannett kept right on cutting. Susca put it this way in describing what Fortress and other masters of the universe have done to newspapers, and what that has meant for democracy:

Researchers have shown that investments in sustainability, diversity, and community suffer when profit is the only goal; companies involved in those efforts to improve the world around them may actually inspire hedge funds to target them; hedge funds see line items in those businesses that, if eliminated, could lead to more profits….

At a time when government accountability and truth itself are at a crucial nexus, news organizations in the private investment era have failed citizens as these organizations have boosted private investment funds’ bottom lines.

To organizations like Fortress, it makes no difference whether they’re helping to bail out Trump or destroy newspapers. The bottom line is the bottom line, and nothing else matters.

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‘Catch and kill’ isn’t new; plus, Facebook spurns news, and why the WSJ will miss Rupe

Three media tidbits for your Tuesday morning:

• Catch and kill. The National Enquirer’s practice of paying for stories and of deep-sixing articles in order to gain power and influence over someone — known as “catch and kill” — didn’t start with former Enquirer owner David Pecker. Nor was Donald Trump the first alleged beneficiary. I recommend “Scandalous,” a 2019 documentary about the Enquirer that is revealing and highly entertaining. Both Bob Hope and Bill Cosby were caught dead to rights in tawdry sexual affairs, and the Enquirer killed stories about those affairs in order to force them to cooperative in cheery feature stories. Pecker’s innovation was to politicize the practice.

• Facebook and news. Back when I was reporting my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” news organizations desperately sought to use Facebook as a way of distributing their journalism. News publishers liked to talk about “the barbell,” by which they would attract readers on Facebook (one end of the barbell) and try to get them to migrate to their own digital products (the other end of the barbell), where, it was hoped, they would become paying subscribers.

In the years since, Meta executives have decided news just isn’t worth it and have throttled journalism on Facebook and other products, including Threads and Instagram. How bad is it? The Washington Post has conducted a data analysis (free link) showing that “the 25 most-cited news organizations in the United States lost 75 percent of their total user engagement on Facebook” between the first quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2024. It’s further evidence that news organizations’ business models shouldn’t be dependent on giant corporations with their own agendas.

• The WSJ will miss Murdoch. Axel Springer, the right-wing German media conglomerate that took over Politico in 2021, has its sights set on The Wall Street Journal, according to Ben Smith of Semafor. Rupert Murdoch, through his control of the Fox News Channel and other outlets on three continents, may be the most malignant media magnate on the planet. But he’s been a surprisingly good steward of the Journal, which after 17 years of his ownership remains one of our great newspapers. At 93, he won’t be in charge too much longer. And here’s a quote from Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner that you might enjoy: “I’m all for climate change. We shouldn’t fight climate change but adjust to it.”

I’ll grant you that’s something you might see on the Journal’s editorial page even  now. Murdoch, though, has been better about not letting that bleed into the news pages than Axel Springer might be.

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Fish in a barrel: Berliner’s case against NPR is based on false and out-of-context facts

Robert Mueller. Photo (cc) 2012 by the White House.

Nearly 40 years ago I heard a lawyer tell a jury something in court that has stuck with me: If there’s a rotten fish floating around the top of the barrel, you’re under no obligation to reach in to see if there’s something better underneath. He was more eloquent (if no less graphic) than I, but you get the idea. If someone bolsters their argument with false or distorted facts, then you should feel free to disregard their larger point.

That’s why I want to return one more time to NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner’s long essay in The Free Press about what he regards as his employer’s move to the fringe left. Mainly he seems to be worked up about diversity workshops and a change in NPR’s audience from one that was more or less balanced ideologically to one that is overwhelmingly liberal and progressive — which, as I wrote earlier this week, is more a consequence of the great national sorting-out than of anything NPR itself has done.

But there were also three factual assertions he made. One is flat-out false; one is devoid of crucial context; and one is questionable. So here we go.

False. Berliner writes that special counsel Robert Mueller found “no credible evidence” that Donald Trump had engaged in collusion with Russia, writing, “Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.”

Berliner has essentially adopted then-Attorney General Bill Barr’s gloss of the Mueller report, which itself was false. When the full report came out, and when Mueller himself finally testified before a congressional committee, we learned that the truth was more complicated. First, “collusion” is not a legal concept. Second, there was massive evidence of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Third, there was evidence that Trump had obstructed justice and had attempted to obstruct justice only to be stopped by those around him.

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“In his report, Mueller said his team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge Trump, partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted,” according to this detailed fact-check by The Associated Press, headlined “Trump falsely claims Mueller exonerated him.” The AP added that Mueller “deliberately drew no conclusions about whether he collected sufficient evidence to charge Trump with a crime. He merely said that if prosecutors want to charge Trump once he is out of office, they would have that ability because obstacles to indicting a sitting president would be gone.”

Lacking crucial context. Berliner blasts NPR for failing to report on Hunter Biden’s laptop in the waning days of the 2020 campaign and for failing to come clean when it was later found to be genuine, writing: “The laptop did belong to Hunter Biden. Its contents revealed his connection to the corrupt world of multimillion-dollar influence peddling and its possible implications for his father.”

As proof, Berliner links to a Washington Post story that was published in March 2022 — that is, a year and a half after the New York Post published its initial story. That’s how long it took for The Washington to verify at least part of the hard drive’s content as genuine. The story notes: “The vast majority of the data — and most of the nearly 129,000 emails it contained — could not be verified by either of the two security experts who reviewed the data for The Post.” There’s also this:

Some other emails on the drive that have been the foundation for previous news reports could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures. One such email was widely described as referring to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggesting the elder Biden would receive a cut of a business deal. One of the recipients of that email has vouched publicly for its authenticity but President Biden has denied being involved in any business arrangements.

In other words, The Washington Post was not able to find a single verified email tying President Biden to his son’s business dealings, leaving anything beyond that to the he-said/he-said that we already knew about.

In addition, Berliner makes it sounded like NPR was unique in holding back on the laptop story in October 2020. But as The New York Times reported, even the New York Post — which, after all, is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — had trouble getting it out there. The reporter who wrote most of it refused to let the paper put his byline on it “because he had concerns over the article’s credibility.” Another staff member whose byline did appear did little work on the story and didn’t realize her name would be on it until after it was published.

Even worse, Fox News, Murdoch’s 800-pound gorilla, reportedly took a pass on it, according to Mediaite, because the Trump operative who brought it to them, Rudy Giuliani, could not provide “sourcing and veracity” for the emails.

Contrary to Berliner’s complaint, the restraint that NPR showed was no different from that of any other news organization — including Fox News. No more than a small portion of the emails on hard drive have ever been verified, and none of those emails suggest any wrongdoing on the part of President Biden.

• Questionable. Berliner takes NPR to task for accepting without reservation the theory that COVID-19’s origins were most likely from a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, rather than from a leak at a nearby lab, complaining that “politics were blotting out the curiosity and independence that ought to have been driving our work.”

Admittedly, this complaint by Berliner is more legitimate than his other two examples. More than four years after the virus was discovered, we still don’t fully understand its origins, and it’s a fact that the story got caught up in our toxic political environment. As I wrote for GBH News in June 2021, the media — in their haste to dismiss a right-wing conspiracy theory that COVID was created as part of a Chinese bioweapons program — leaned too hard in the other direction, rejecting any possibility that COVID had come from anywhere other than the Wuhan market.

That said, deep dives by the media over the past several years have turned up nothing definitive, and it still seems more likely than not that COVID sprang up from the market rather than from a lab experiment gone awry. Once again, I think Berliner is being too hard on his employer.

Which appears to be the point. By going public with his complaints about the culture inside NPR, Berliner may have accomplished the impossible: He’s made it so that his continued tenure at NPR is untenable while at the same time rendering himself unfirable. I detect a resignation and a fat contract with Fox News in Berliner’s immediate future.

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McDaniel is out. But don’t get your hopes up that network execs have learned a lesson.

Ronna McDaniel. Photo (cc) 2018 by Gage Skidmore.

Ronna McDaniel is out at NBC News. Veteran media critic David Zurawick writes for CNN, “It was two days of the most aggressive, public and passionate pushback by employees against a decision by their bosses that I have seen in 35 years of covering the media.” His lead:

As wrongheaded as it was on so many levels, NBC’s decision to hire former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel as a contributor might actually have done the nation a favor. The highly controversial move has helped drive a crucial conversation about the role of media in our political life at this moment of democratic crisis.

The NBC executives who thought this was a great idea really had no choice. Hosts on MSNBC from Rachel Maddow to Joe Scarborough said they wouldn’t have her on, and she was finished on NBC itself after she was eviscerated on “Meet the Press,” first by Kristen Welker, then in a post-interview commentary by Chuck Todd. It will be interesting to see whether anyone at the network will pay the price for this boneheaded move.

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As I’ve said before, I’m trying to balance two impulses. On the one hand, I don’t think the networks should hire any partisan players to bloviate on their airwaves, Democrat or Republican. Let’s hear from journalists. On the other hand, since they’re going to continue making such hires, I think it’s useful to differentiate someone like McDaniel, who amplified Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, from your run-of-the-mill Trump-friendly commentator. Several observers have pointed out that CNN once hired the loathsome Corey Lewandowski, but that was during the pre-insurrection days when Trump was merely a racist sociopath rather than a budding authoritarian dictator.

Rather than learning the lesson that Zurawick is hoping for, my guess is that NBC executives are probably now going to feel pressured to hire a less toxic Trumper, someone like Marc Thiessen (currently on Fox News) or Byron York (ditto). And no, no one at Fox feels similarly pressured to bring in a liberal Joe Biden supporter. That’s not the way it works.

Earlier:

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NBC News’ hiring of Ronna McDaniel sets off a crisis she may not survive

I did not watch Ronna McDaniel’s appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday. Brian Stelter has a detailed summary on Threads, and that’s plenty for me. It sounds like host Kristen Welker found her voice and really went after McDaniel, who in her previous job as chair of the Republican National Committee regularly lied and engaged in election denialism on behalf of Donald Trump.

What I did see was former “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd’s remarkable takedown of NBC News executives for hiring McDaniel in the first place. Neither Welker nor Todd has a reputation for tough questioning; quite the opposite. But Welker really went after McDaniel, and Todd took the network to task, telling Welker that they “owe you an apology” and that it was impossible to “know what to believe” given McDaniel’s previous lies.

Good for both of them. A previous announcement that McDaniel would also pop up on MSNBC has been rescinded, so it’s hard to see what value she can provide to NBC News given the limited amount of time that it commands the network’s airwaves.

My instinct, as I wrote the other day, is to rip the presence of any partisan players on television news shows, whether Democrat or Republican. Clearly, though, the hiring of McDaniel has resonated in a way that, say, the hiring of Jen Psaki or Mick Mulvaney did not. Tom Jones of Poynter Online put it this way:

There’s no issue with NBC News hiring McDaniel as a contributor based on her politics alone…. However, the problem isn’t McDaniel’s views on, say, the economy or immigration or crime or abortion. The problem is McDaniel has a serious credibility problem. And her actions, most notably around the 2020 election, put the country and our very democracy at risk.

Similarly, Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review said that “the glaring problem with her hiring is not that she was (or is) a partisan hack or anything to do with her policy positions, but her deep complicity in Trump’s election denialism.” But he also offered some optimism, adding:

Perhaps ironically, this desperate episode has given rise to what I see as a very hopeful one: the performances on air yesterday of Todd and, especially, Welker. In the past, I’ve criticized “Meet the Press” (and the Sunday show format as a whole) for letting lying politicians off the hook, but Welker’s interview with McDaniel yesterday was one of the best I’ve seen on any such show in years: it was tenacious, devastatingly so, without being performatively confrontational or rude.

It’s pretty obvious that McDaniel’s hiring has set off a crisis at NBC News, one that may end only with the cancellation of her contract. For instance, Ryan Lizza reports in Politico that Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spoke out against the hiring on air earlier today. I’m not entirely sure what I think about this. As I’ve said, I would lock the revolving door and not hire any of these folks, going right back to George Stephanopoulos, who years ago jumped from the Clinton White House into a cushy job at ABC News. A pox on all of them.

But McDaniel, as Jones and Allsop write, is different. We almost lost the country on Jan. 6, 2021 — and she brazenly told Welker that she saw it as her role to “take one for the team” rather than speak out. As Todd said, if she admits she wasn’t telling the truth then, how can we know that she’s telling the truth now?

More: I want to add that joining Todd on the panel were Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr and Stephen Hayes, editor of The Dispatch, a Never Trump conservative website. They were both excellent as well, with Atkins Stohr pointing out that McDaniel worked with Trump in an attempt to toss out 2020 ballots cast by Black voters in her hometown of Detroit. The entire panel discussion about McDaniel can be seen here.

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Is Ezra Klein’s call for Biden to stand aside realistic or desirable? Probably not.

Then-candidate Joe Biden. Photo (cc) 2019 by Matt Johnson.

You may have heard that Ezra Klein has called for President Biden to pull out of the campaign and let a younger generation of Democrats compete for the nomination. Klein, who hosts a podcast and writes commentaries for The New York Times, is someone I look to for guidance. This isn’t just the Times being the Times; Klein was a prominent thinker and commentator before coming to the Times, and he will continue to be long after he leaves.

You can listen or read what Klein has to say here. There’s not a lot of analysis I want to add except to say that he’s thought through most of the objections. He believes Biden has been an effective president and could continue to be in a second term, but that his age has become a real obstacle to his re-election — and that the stakes are way too high to take the chance that Donald Trump could return to the White House. Yes, Trump is nearly as old, far more addled, and, unlike Biden, faces 91 criminal charges and has all but pledged to rule as an authoritarian. Klein believes that anything that keeps Trump out of power is worth doing, even if it means somehow persuading Biden to call it a career.

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Probably my main objection to Klein’s idea is that it’s so late. If Biden had pulled out a year ago, we could have had a proper primary campaign. So what is Klein’s alternative? Throwing it to the Democratic National Convention in August, a truly risky move. “There is a ton of talent in the Democratic Party right now,” Klein writes, and he offers a long list that, intriguingly, omits California Gov. Gavin Newsom and includes Georgia Sen. Ralph Warnock. I’m skeptical of Newsom, and I have to say that I like the idea of Warnock.*

Another problem that Klein has given some thought to is what to do about Vice President Kamala Harris. His answer is that she is a better and more appealing politician than she’s generally given credit for, and that she could compete at the convention like everyone else. If she wins, she wins; if she loses, that’s not a reason to believe that the party would be torn apart. I’m not so sure about that, but Klein puts it this way:

Could it go badly? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it will go badly. It could make the Democrats into the most exciting political show on earth. And over there on the other side will be Trump getting nominated and a who’s who of MAGA types slavering over his leadership. The best of the Democratic Party against the worst of the Republican Party. A party that actually listened to the voters against a party that denies the outcome of the elections. A party that did something different over a party that has again nominated a threat to democracy who has never — not once — won the popular vote in a general election.

I’d say my biggest objection is that Klein would reward special counsel Robert Hur, who recently cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing in his retention of classified documents but then gratuitously smeared him by suggesting that the president is senile. It was a gross example of prosecutorial misconduct. But that doesn’t mean concerns about Biden’s age aren’t real. As Klein notes, he may be sharp and focused in private (just ask Kevin McCarthy), but he’s slowed down in public, and his own campaign seems to be trying to hide him from scrutiny.

The issues involved are difficult to sort out. In addition to Hur’s actions, which ought to be investigated, there is also the media’s wildly disproportionate coverage of Biden’s age. It’s a legitimate story, of course, but it’s gotten far too much attention when compared with more important stories, many of them having to do with Trump’s dangerous and outrageous pronouncements. In addition, the notion that Biden will stand down is almost certainly wishful thinking — that is, if you’re even wishing for it. “The sky is blue and Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee,” as Josh Marshall puts it.

Anyway, Ezra Klein’s piece is worth a read or a listen at least as a thought exercise. It seems pretty obvious that if we’re going to stop Trump, it’s going to have to be with Biden. But Klein’s counter-factual is pretty interesting.

*Correction: I swear I can’t read. Newsom is on Klein’s list. I’m still skeptical of him, though.

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