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Tag: Joe Biden Page 1 of 11

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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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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Hur lied

Special counsel Robert Hur. Photo (cc) 2021 by Maryland GovPics.

I’m not sure how else we can characterize what happened. Special counsel Robert Hur all but called President Biden senile recently in describing him as “a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Hur declined to recommend charges against Biden for keeping classified information in his possession, essentially arguing that it would be cruel to do that to an 81-year-old man in the early stages of dementia. And, of course, the media fell for it.

Now we know that Hur’s report grossly mischaracterized the reality, revealed in the transcripts of Biden’s deposition with prosectors. CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy has a good roundup of the media mea culpas, writing:

The acknowledgement from some, but not all, news outlets on Tuesday about the true nature of Biden’s deposition marked another embarrassing moment for the national press, which has floundered at pivotal moments in the lead up to the crucial 2024 presidential election.

The deposition transcripts not only indicated that Biden appeared fairly sharp during his testimony, joking with investigators and retelling stories with granular detail, but that Hur was misleading in how he presented some of the information included in his report.

It’s like a rerun in reverse from 2019, when then-Attorney General Bill Barr put out a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties that falsely declared Donald Trump had not obstructed justice. It became clear that’s not what Mueller was saying once his full report came out, but truth, boots, etc.

I especially enjoyed this account of Biden’s deposition, from Charlie Savage’s report Tuesday in The New York Times:

“I don’t remember how a beat-up box got in the garage,” he [Biden] said, speculating that someone packing up must have just tossed stuff into it. He added that he had “no goddamn idea” what was in a tranche of files shipped to his house and “didn’t even bother to go through them.”

Who among us?

Now, it has to be said that it was Attorney General Merrick Garland who named Hur, a one-time Trump appointee, as the special counsel. Given Hur’s predictably mendacious performance, I’d say that chances of Garland’s serving in a second Biden administration, should there be one, are nil. And they should be.

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A passionate President Biden delivers the best SOTU address I can remember

Via the White House YouTube channel

President Biden delivered what I thought was the best State of the Union address I can remember. He was energized, passionate, funny and focused. He mixed it up with Republicans on issues ranging from Ukraine to reproductive rights and, aside from unfortunately adopting Marjorie Taylor Greene’s slur while answering back at her (he referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals”), he escaped unscathed.

For those of us who look back to Barack Obama as the gold standard, well, the SOTU doesn’t often produce a memorable speech. Obama’s two for the ages are his address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and his eulogy at Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. No one remembers his SOTU speeches.

We were also treated an an exceedingly weird performance by House Speaker Mike Johnson, who sat there looking miserable, trying to be impassive, but reflexively nodding from time to time as though he agreed with Biden. I don’t know how to describe Vice President Kamala Harris except to say that she was resplendent and may have improved her political standing through body language alone.

I caught a little bit of the commentary by the “PBS NewsHour” folks afterwards, and the theme they seemed to be settling into was that Biden’s speech was overly political. Good grief. These are the times we live in. Jonathan Capehart put it well, though, calling it “an epic speech” and that Democrats “will be energized by the cranky grandpa.”

Yes, they will. The polling for Biden has been awful lately as the media, and especially The New York Times, have obsessed over the president’s age. Maybe the SOTU will be a turning point.

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How President Biden can overcome the age issue

I talked with the German media outlet DW News about President Biden, the age issue, and how he can overcome it. My answer: Get out there and show the critics that they’re wrong.

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Joe Biden’s news diet

This Washington Post piece (free link) about President Biden’s news and information diet is fascinating — a combination of traditional media, conversations with family and friends, and encounters with ordinary people.

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Josh Marshall to Ezra Klein: Biden isn’t going anywhere

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has written a long response to Ezra Klein’s fantasy idea of persuading President Biden to drop out of the campaign and throw the nomination open to the Democratic National Convention this August. The whole thing is worth your time, but here’s Marshall’s bottom line:

In life we constantly need to make choices on the basis of available options. Often they are imperfect or even bad options. The real options are the ones that have some shot at success. That’s life. Klein’s argument really amounts to a highly pessimistic but not unreasonable analysis of the present situation which he resolves with what amounts to a deus ex machina plot twist. That’s not a plan. It’s a recipe for paralysis.

Klein is smart and thoughtful, and his proposal is not a lazy one-off but, rather, well argued and evidence-based. But it’s not going to happen, and it almost certainly shouldn’t happen. Marshall has found the flaws.

Earlier:

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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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It’s James Comey redux as special counsel Hur clears (and slimes) President Biden

Special counsel Robert Hur. Photo (cc) 2021 by Maryland GovPics.

It’s just incredible that we’re dealing with James Comey redux. I’m sure you remember his efforts to tank Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. He cleared her of criminal wrongdoing over “her emails” and then proceeded to trash her anyway, going far beyond his mandate. Then he reopened the investigation just days before the election only to shut it down again and say, Never mind.

Well, special counsel Robert Hur just did the same thing to President Biden — announcing that Biden committed no crime in his handling of classified information but then gratuitously adding that the president is “a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Prosecutors either charge or they don’t charge. Other than that, their job is to shut up. It was grotesquely unethical for Hur, a Trump-appointed former U.S. attorney, to excoriate Biden right after he’d exonerated him.

We’ll be dealing with the aftermath of Hur’s unethical actions for the rest of the campaign. Meanwhile, I urge you to read this Josh Marshall commentary, which provides some much-needed perspective. Marshall writes:

There’s no crying in baseball. Entirely justified outrage from Biden supporters won’t counter whatever damage these comments will have. The White House will need to get Biden in front of interviewers, where he actually does quite well, and in widely seen venues, to counter it. It’s really as simple as that.

Biden started that process Thursday evening with a contentious news conference in which he vigorously defended himself — and, uh, confused Egypt with Mexico. Look, this guy has been a fumble-mouth for his entire career, and not just because he has a stuttering problem. But in terms of media perceptions, there’s a big difference between blurting out such stuff when you’re 40 and when you’re 80.

And never mind that his opponent is nearly as old, appears to be suffering from dementia, and is an insurrectionist authoritarian besides.

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Biden’s big write-in win shows why Dems should drop their bid to erase the NH primary

Photo (cc) 2014 by Billy Hathorn

I think the biggest story coming out of the New Hampshire primary is that President Biden absolutely kicked butt while running as a write-in. That’s not easy to do, and if Dean “Who?” Phillips had turned in a showing that was even mildly respectable, it’s all the media would be talking about. Since New Hampshire is obviously not going to give up its first-in-the-nation primary, the Democrats might want to rethink their attempts to make it go away.

Beyond that, what can anyone say? It looks like Donald Trump beat Nikki Haley by about 11 points in what just about every political observer believes will be her best state. It’s only going to get worse from here. No one would be surprised if she endorses Trump at Mar-a-Lago by Friday, assuming that can be scheduled around his multiple court appearances.

For many years I had a gig as a weekly columnist for The Guardian and, later, for GBH News. My practice on mornings like this was to round-up morning-after commentary and try to make sense out of it. I am so glad I don’t have to do that this time beyond a few brief observations here. I’ll confess that I didn’t even pay attention to the Iowa caucuses, and only watched a bit of cable news Tuesday night. I should add that I asked my graduate students to come in this afternoon with an example of a story from New Hampshire that they think is illuminating in some way, which I guess makes me a sadist.

One pre-New Hampshire story I want to call your attention to is this article in The New York Times by Michael C. Bender and Nicholas Nehamas. It’s labeled “Political Memo,” which is supposed to signal the reader that the piece combines reporting, analysis and opinion. The headline itself is remarkable (“The Emasculation of Ron DeSantis by the Bully Donald Trump”), but the lead is even more noteworthy:

Donald J. Trump plumbed new depths of degradation in his savage takedown of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a yearlong campaign of emasculation and humiliation that helped force one of the party’s rising stars out of the presidential race after just one contest and left him to pick up the pieces of his political future.

Wow. I often have problems with the way the Times both-sides its day-to-day political coverage, but this is some vivid writing in the service of truth-telling. Here’s a free link, so please read the whole thing. As Josh Marshall wrote at Talking Points Memo, “it suggested to me at least some shift in dropping the pretense of conventional news coverage for conventional politics and approaching the quite unconventional story of what is really on its own visceral and physical terms.”

It also represented a break from the “two flawed candidates” narrative that we’re going to hear over and over (and over) for the next 10 months — as if the contest between Biden and Trump didn’t offer the starkest choice since 1860.

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