Biden, the press, and the "unity" charade

Here we go again

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Just days into Joe Biden's first week as president, the Beltway press — reading off GOP talking points — was buzzing about "unity." Specifically, reporters wanted to know when the new president was going to make a grand gesture, or even a policy concession, to Republicans as an expression of his goodwill.

The overeager New York Times noted that in the first "hours" (!) of Biden's presidency, there hadn't yet been any "tangible actions" towards bipartisanship, such as adopting "Republican priorities." Instead, the Democrat's outreach had been "more about words." Days later at a White House press briefing, it was a Times reporter again who pressed the issue, demanding to know, "When are we going to see one of those substantial outreaches that says , 'This is something the Republicans want to do, too'?"

Three days into Biden's presidency and the press was demanding to know when he'd start placating the GOP by pushing "Republican priorities." (Answer: That's not how elections work.) That same day, CNN interviewed Trump supporters in Texas who wanted Biden to be "less divisive."

To date, there's been virtual no news coverage on which "Democratic priorities" the GOP is willing to adopt in the name of unity. As is custom with the D.C. media, the entire onus of bipartisanship is being placed on Democrats, who are responsible for breaking the Capitol fever, which is fueled by obstructionist Republicans. (Example: An overwhelming majority of Americans support further Covid financial relief, which Republican senators steadfastly oppose.)

Over the over, the press insists that Biden's welcomed call for unity following a bloody insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol, now  means that any policy push by him is divisive, because Republicans oppose it. Even if that includes wearing masks during a public health crisis.

Here's what Biden said in his Inauguration Day speech: Americans should unite against looming internal forces which threaten the country. They include racism, nativism, political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Nowhere in that speech did Biden suggest he was going to abandon his supporters and hand over his political agenda to the GOP in the name of "unity" — because that would be absurd.



Still, news reports keeps advancing the GOP narrative that if Biden, fresh off a seven- million vote victory, works hard to turn his campaign promises into reality, he's shattering the dream of unity. It's phony Republican outrage that the press ought to call it out, instead of embracing.

Obviously "unity" doesn't have be about legislation and governance. Unity can be about having a President of the United States who doesn't call members of the opposing party baby killers, and thieves, and demand they be jailed. It can be about having civil, intelligent public discourse. It doesn't mean surrendering the Democratic agenda in order to make Republicans feel good. And it doesn't mean abandoning accountability for the previous president in the form of an impeachment trial.

"As President Preaches Unity, Charlottesville Calls for Justice," read a recent page-one New York Times headline, suggesting there's a built-in conflict between those seeking racial justice and Biden's new term as president. Biden has repeatedly said the reason he decided to run for president was watching Trump praise racist Charlottesville rioters in August 2017. The idea that he doesn't want people there to seek justice isn't rooted in any fact.  Nonetheless, the Times played the "unity" card, suggesting, "Mr. Biden’s desire for civility is at odds with confronting the threat that white supremacy presents to democracy."

We've seen this media trend before. Soon after Barack Obama took office in 2009, the press made it clear that the new Democratic president would be graded based on how many votes he got from the other party.  "The [stimulus] bill will be judged a political success not simply if it becomes law, but if it's deemed 'bipartisan' -- with joint ownership that takes a first step toward the new brand of politics Obama has promised,” wrote ABC News' Rick Klein.

Days into his first term, NBC's Chuck Todd asked Obama if he would veto his own emergency stimulus bill because it didn't not have Republican support. In 2010, when Democrats passed Obamacare without any Republican votes, the Times announced Obama had "lost something for good," by failing to secure any GOP support.

Fast forward to 2017: When Republicans in the House pushed to dismantle Obamacare along party-line votes, The Times claimed the GOP’s vote represented “a remarkable act of political resuscitation.” The D.C. media seemed unbothered by Trump’s lack of bipartisan support, even though he promised he’d work with the other side. Instead, lots of pundits saluted  a major Trump “victory.”

Same when the GOP rammed through a United States Supreme Court pick with just 50 Senate votes. Where was the media teeth gnashing then?

Here's the press’ skewed perspective: When Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million votes, it wasn't seen as a sign of weakness when he couldn't find common ground with other side. When Biden wins the popular by seven million votes, he gets dinged for not being bipartisan.

It’s really time to stop the “unity” charade.

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(photo Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


People often ask me if complaining about the media and publicly pointing out the shortfalls works? Is anyone at news outlets paying attention to liberal critiques? The good news is yes — they hear us and often make changes when the blowback is intense.

Here's a recent, small example of ABC News being forced to change the framing of its Biden polling story, when people pointed out how absurd its first take was.

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