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Clutching their pearls with extra force in recent days, the Beltway media have cranked up the drama, announcing that a missed deadline to vote on the massive infrastructure bill now before Congress represented a defining calamity for the Biden White House. It also marks the ongoing obsession with process journalism, which Beltway reporters love, as they focus on the theatrics of lawmaking at the expense of the substance.
The hyperventilating was widespread. “Chaos” had erupted among “feuding” and “warring factions” of the Democratic Party, and the no-vote last week represented a “humiliating blow to Mr. Biden and Democrats,” the New York Times shrieked. A “civil war” has engulfed the party, The New Yorker announced, which was especially lazy and misguided since there are exactly two Democratic senators standing in the way of Biden, and 48 who support him on infrastructure.
Caught up in the gotcha vibe, a Washington Post reporter on Sunday mocked the president by tweeting, “Biden goes to church and walks through a graveyard in Wilmington as his legislative agenda is dying in Washington.” (She later deleted the post.)
Feeling déjà vu? Back in March there was a similar bout of gotcha stories: Biden travels during the pandemic! Biden rides an expensive exercise bike! Biden wears a Rolex! Biden hasn't given a press conference! Biden hasn't credited Trump for the vaccine! Biden hasn't "united" the nation!
Set aside the fact that the missed deadline for the Congressional vote last week was for an artificial, self-imposed calendar goal, and the only result of not having the vote is that negotiations surrounding the bill will continue for days to come. It wasn’t like the bill was defeated or that President Joe Biden still can’t sign it into law this year. It means that the extraordinarily complex piece of legislation is going to require even further consultation between Democrats as they try to reach an agreement on one of the most sweeping, transformative legislative efforts in decades.
Sure, there’s a chance that the bill ultimately fails and at that point Biden will have to face the political consequences. That’s not what’s in play right now, yet the D.C. media seems anxious to bury the Democratic president with over-the-top hyperbole. “The president has staked his reputation as a deal-maker on the success of both the public works package and a far more ambitious social policy bill, whose fates are now uncertain in a Congress buffeted by partisan divides and internal Democratic strife,” the Times stressed, ignoring the fact that Biden may still bolster his reputation as a deal-maker by getting the bills passed.
The ball’s on the 20 yard-line with two minutes remaining and the press is acting like the clock just ran out.
There have also been clear examples of journalists simply not understanding what’s unfolding — or pretending not to understand. Analyzing a particularly wrongheaded Times piece, which cast the missed deadline as a “humiliating” setback from Biden and basically the Democratic Party imploding, Josh Marshall at Talking Point Memo noted:
The author of the Times piece seems to have the idea that the President is trying to mediate between his party’s ‘moderates’ and ‘progressives’ and things got off track because the ‘progressives’ rebelled. As we’ve discussed a hundred times, that’s not what’s happening. Virtually the entire party is united on a plan and a couple senators and a handful of reps are holding out.
Over at Axios, they published one of the strangest articles of the year, a source-free, quote-free profile of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who, along with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is famously holding up final action in the Senate. The gushing piece — “She doesn’t play by Washington’s rules”; “She's unconventional and a force to be reckoned with”; “Sinema believes in the power of government to help lift people from poverty” —read more like an adoring press release than it did a work of journalism.
Of course, the GOP signature obstructionism has been disappeared. One reason it’s proving so hard to get the bill to Biden’s desk is that Republicans have largely walked away from previous bipartisan support to build roads and bridges. Here was a lengthy CNN update on the state of infrastructure negotiations last week and the word “Republican” was never used — the press now gives them a total pass.
By obsessing over the drama of the negotiations and reporting breathlessly on the jockeying that’s going on, the press all but ignores the contents of the pending legislation; contents which are truly extraordinary, as Biden works to expand what infrastructure means in America. The bill is all about investing in human welfare.
It proposes to spend $350 billion a year for a decade on initiatives like universal pre-K, free community college tuition, extended child tax credit, Medicare expansion, paid leave, and huge investments in reducing carbon emissions.
According to a recent Politico-Harvard poll, when showed a list of provisions that might be included in the infrastructure and social spending packages now before Congress, most voters picked allowing the government to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers as being the most important. That was followed by “increased federal spending to prepare for pandemics, more resources for long-term and home-based care and expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing care.”
But most news consumers have no idea those provisions are part of the negotiated legislation, since there’s virtually no coverage of the contents.
And that’s a win for the GOP.
(Photo Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)
💻 GOOD STUFF:
If you missed the Facebook whistleblower on “60 Minutes” last night:
📺 EXTRA STUFF:
I appeared on Joy Reid’s show Friday to discuss how the press was covering the negotiations, and giving the GOP a pass.
🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Courtney Barnett, “Write a List of Things to Look Forward To”
The talented Australian singer-songwriter is readying the release of her latest album. Here, she delivers an amiable indie-rocker; a melodic love letter to friendship with some bleakly self-aware lyrics.
It’s “deliciously cool.”
Sit beside me
Watch the world burn
We'll never learn we don't deserve nice things
And we'll scream
We did our best, but what does that really mean?
🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via a Spotify playlist.
Click hereto listen via Apple Music.