The Media and Joe Biden

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 25, 2021

President Joe Biden has held the office for less than a week, and it's becoming quickly apparent that we may be seeing a return to the fawning media coverage of the Obama administration, when both print and digital media saw their jobs to help the nation's first black president succeed. Now it is a duty to somehow heal the nation from Trump, which apparently means Biden can do no wrong.

We can hope this is just what we used to refer to as the honeymoon period—the ardor of which typically varies depending on the political party of the winner—and lasts for the first 100 days or so. However, I'm skeptical.

CNN and Joe Biden

CNN occupies the center-left of the cable news ecosystem. (For the record: many of these characterizations will be based on pre-Trump-era perceptions. The Trump presidency was perhaps the most polarizing one in recent history, pushing nearly all media outlets to extremes, both left and right.) It's nighttime hosts are varying degrees of left of center, but their straight news reporting would generally be considered mainstream.

Just a day into his presidency, CNN reported that an anonymous source in the Biden administration had told them that there was no vaccine distribution plan and they were having to start from scratch.

"There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said.
Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."

CNN went into full outrage mode, featuring numerous segments based upon reporter MJ Lee's piece and mentioning it 47 times before Fauci's appearance at the White House press briefing later in the day.

Q    Okay.  And if I could just ask you about the effort to distribute the vaccines, because, of course, that’s what most people want to know: when are they going to get a vaccine.  Is the Biden administration starting from scratch with the vaccine distribution effort, or are you picking up where the Trump administration left off?

DR. FAUCI:  No, I mean, we certainly are not starting from scratch because there is activity going on in the distribution.

This statement by Fauci created the "Updated" time on Lee's piece, but the headline wasn't changed and the bottom of the story only notes that there has been additional reporting, not what was added or changed.

On his show the next night, Chris Cuomo of all people took a torch to Lee's reporting.

For much of the media, the president's team being contradicted by Dr. Fauci apparently was no longer big news. I encourage you to do your own Google news search using various keywords (Fauci, vaccine, distribution, plan, scratch, etc.) and the sources it turns up are largely right-leaning: National Review, Fox News, and the Washington Examiner. For the non-right leaning sites, you turn up some more mainstream sites, but those aren't featuring the disagreement in their headlines.

Despite being debunked by Fauci at Friday's press conference, Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, repeated the lie on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

CNN reporter MJ Lee then follows up with various Biden advisers throwing shade on Fauci, though his contradiction of her report only shows up if you are displaying all of her threads on Twitter.

You can trash the Trump administration's plan as garbage, insufficient, misguided, etc., but you can't say it was non-existent.

There is certainly a political equivalent to what is called "working the refs" in sports where you try to set low expectations so you can crow about exceeding them down the line. But the willingness of CNN's MJ Lee to be the first person fed this line to continually defend it over a series of days and other news organizations failing push back against what really is a relatively common type of political lie is not holding the powerful to account like they did gleefully when Trump held office.

CNN's middle-of-the-road media reporter

Once upon a time, Howard Kurtz was the host of CNN's weekly program on the media, "Reliable Sources," before leaving for Fox News. Kurtz, for decades, has been a the kind of newsman that the public expected; fair, balanced, critical and someone about whom you could never definitively place on one partisan side or another.

Brian Stelter is not that kind of journalist. Stelter's show would more accurately be called "This Week on Fox News," since so much of his time is devoted to what Fox News, in his opinion, did wrong. This week, Stelter's show featured this chyron, that Stelter admitted he wrote himself—on the plus side, all the words are spelled right.

This is not media reporting or analysis. This is cheerleading. The parenthetical is obnoxious.

By the way, how is White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki doing on that promise?

Fox News White House Reporter Peter Doocy (Yay, nepotism!) asks: "When President Trump was imposing travel restrictions in March, specifically on China, then candidate Biden called it 'xenophobic' and 'fear-mongering.' So, now President Biden is putting travel restrictions on people coming in from other countries. What word do we use to describe that?"

Psaki: Well, I don’t think that’s quite a fair articulation.  The President has been clear that he felt the Muslim ban was xenophobic.  He overturned the Muslim ban.  He also, though, has supported — and himself, even before — or we did, I should say, even before he was inaugurated — steps, travel restrictions in order to keep the American people safe to ensure that we are getting the pandemic under control.  That’s been part of his policy. [Screenshot, rather than an embed, because all of Trump's tweets are no longer viewable.]

Judge for yourself. Is Doocy's question not a "fair articulation" of candidate Biden's position?

Signs of hope?

There are some signs that some journalists may be coming out of their Trump-induced delirium and returning to their historic role as the fourth estate and holding even a Democratic administration accountable.

In a fact check published just two days after Biden's inauguration, CNN's Daniel Dale catches Biden in an easily verifiable lie.

President Joe Biden delivered a factually accurate Thursday speech about the coronavirus pandemic. But then, after he signed a series of executive actions intended to address the crisis, he was asked by a reporter whether the vaccination goal he announced in December -- 100 million doses administered in 100 days -- is sufficiently ambitious.

The question of whether the goal is too modest has arisen in part because the US is approaching a 1-million-doses-administered-per-day level even before Biden gets to implement his plans. The US has averaged 914,000 doses administered per day over the last week, according to data published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Biden defended the 100 million goal. He told the reporter: "When I announced it, you all said it's not possible. Come on, give me a break, man. It's a good start -- 100 million."


Facts First: Biden's claim is false; it's not true that there was an initial media consensus that the 100 million goal was impossible. Some of the early news coverage of the goal did not even question whether it was plausible. Some experts featured in the early coverage, including CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said the goal was achievable. And while some journalists and experts were more skeptical, cautioning that the goal was ambitious, they did not go so far as to say it was impossible.

Kudos to Mr. Dale. But you'll excuse people on the right if they want to wait a little longer before proclaiming you cured of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

On a related note: Over at National Review, David Harsanyi had a great, link and fact-filled piece on Biden's effort to absolve himself of any blame going forward on COVID-19.


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January 2021



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