Dec 30, 2021

How the NY Times covered white, male VP’s before Kamala Harris

Something changed

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Eric Boehlert
Fearless media commentary
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For anyone not convinced that the Beltway press is using a new double standard to cover Vice President Kamala Harris, and has subjected her to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, the proof is in the print.

Here are a sample of New York Times headlines from the daily’s coverage of white, male VPs, taken from their first year in office:

• “The Education of Dan Quayle

• “Cheney Ever More Powerful As Crucial Link to Congress

• “Speaking Freely, Biden Finds Influential Role

• “Amid White House Tumult, Pence Offers Trump a Steady Hand

And then there’s the Times’ recent Harris entry: “Kamala Harris’s Allies Express Concern: Is She an Afterthought?”

In the Times’ view, the white, male VP’s were “steady hands” with “influential” roles who were busy getting an “education” and “speaking freely.” Impressive, right? Harris, the first woman VP and first person of color in that historic role, might be an “afterthought” who, according to the Times article, is “falling short” and “struggling to define herself.”

There’s nothing subtle happening here, folks.

The Times’ recent take-down of Harris was the latest from the genre, as the press piles on. The Beltway media aggressively agrees there’s something wrong with the vice president, even though she’s fulfilling her duties exactly as she’s been asked to, and has represented the United States honorably on the global stage.

Still, there’s something not quite right, the media’s theater critics agree, as they put her vice presidency under the microscope in a way that’s never been done before. It all runs counter to how the press, and specifically the Times, covered previous VPs as they navigated their first year in office.

Just take a look.

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“More than any vice president before him, Mr. Cheney has emerged as a supreme power broker within the Bush administration and between the White House and Capitol Hill,” was how the Times toasted Dick Cheney’s arrival as VP in May 2001, in a puff piece that read like it was written by his communications staff: “As President Bush's consigliere, Mr. Cheney helps connect the dots for the administration as he zigzags all day long from hot-button issue to high-level meeting, discreetly imparting advice whenever his boss asks or needs to know.”

The newspaper’s Mike Pence valentine from 2017 (co-written by Maggie Haberman) was just as effusive, as the Times tried to use Pence’s role in corralling votes for the GOP’s health care initiative at the time as the centerpiece of his administration involvement. But the White House lost that vote in spectacular fashion.

Can you imagine the Beltway coverage if Harris had served as a point-person for a crucial House vote and then lost it? I guarantee you the Times wouldn’t soon run a gentle piece describing her as “an effective wingman” the way the newspaper did with Pence after the White House’s botched health care vote.

According to the Times’ telling in 2017, Pence was practically running the West Wing, “sounding out lawmakers for inside information, providing the president with tactical counsel, quietly offering policy tweaks during negotiations.” That’s because Pence possesses “shrewd political intelligence,” according to the Times reporters, who made sure to harvest lots of glowing quotes from Pence’s pals for the piece — “He’s doing exactly what he should be doing.” This, while the newspaper today portrays Harris as a possible “afterthought.”

We’ve seen this trend for decades. Soon after Dan Quayle was sworn into office, the Times swooped in with a loving profile informing readers that the 42-year-old Republican was devouring serious biographies of historical figures. “The Vice President was particularly struck by the description of Napoleon's military technique in Charles de Gaulle's discourse on war,” the Times reported, stressing Quayle was “keen on self-improvement.” And this was after Quayle had blurted out as VP, “What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.''

For the record, the exception to the Times’ white, male VP rule was its relentlessly negative coverage of Al Gore, which began before he was even sworn into office.

Today, Harris continues to be hit with bad press — The Atlantic has dismissed her as “uninteresting” and “having a hard time making her mark on anything” — even though reporters can’t find substantive defects in her job performance. “Exasperation And Dysfunction: Inside Kamala Harris' Frustrating Start as Vice President,” was the shrieking CNN headline for a recent 5,000-word hit piece that failed to detail meaningful exasperation or dysfunction.

Part of the eagerly negative coverage stems from the media’s beloved Dems in Disarray storyline, where the party has to be perpetually portrayed as being undone by internal strife. It’s also fueled by the media’s need to create drama so they can present current events with a dramatic arc, as a way to keep news consumers tuned in. Reporters are frustrated by the No Drama Biden approach to governance  and have taken it upon themselves to create conflict.

Harris has become a favorite prop in a way that white, male VP’s were never used in the past.

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🗞 GOOD STUFF:

From the Washington Post’sA Local Newspaper Focused on the Black Community is Defying the Odds. It’s Growing”:

Between 2005 and the start of the pandemic, about 2,100 newspapers closed their doors, according to Margaret Sullivan, media critic for The Washington Post and author of the book “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.” Since covid-19 struck, she says, at least 80 more papers have gone out of business, as have an undetermined number of other local publications.

And yet in the past five years, the Informer, which is focused primarily on the region’s Black community, has been undergoing an impressive expansion. Readership for the D.C.-based weekly has nearly doubled to roughly 50,000. Unlike some local newspapers, which have shrunk to the size of a supermarket supplement, the Informer has grown from an average 36 pages per issue to 56 pages.

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FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “High and Lonesome”

This unlikely duo have such a great vocal chemistry together, as Plant features his iconic Led Zeppelin roots, while Krauss shows off her distinct country twang.

Their latest “starts with a grooving little rumble, with some typically blues-rock lyrics and a shuffling undertone generated by sparse guitars,” notes NME. “The rise of Plant and Krauss’ vocal harmonic creates a subtle depth in texture.”

I have the song on repeat.

I shall not rest upon the highway
I will not tire nor despair
I shall conspire, I will be there
I'll make a deal, I'll dance in hell
I'll sing out loud and louder yell
I will open every, every door, yeah

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