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Feigning shock that the final chapter to a 20-year lost war in Afghanistan did not go as planned for the U.S. military, the media remain in overdrive, breathlessly presenting the U.S. troop withdrawal as a presidency-defining failure for Joe Biden.
Thankfully, the dire picture that the press painted over the weekend of the widespread death and destruction that the Taliban would soon unleash on Kabul has not materialized. Instead, the controversial U.S. evacuation has become more orderly and efficient, which is why cable news has pulled back on the story — CNN mentioned “Afghanistan” 30 percent fewer times on Wednesday as compared to Monday, according to TVeyes.com.
Commenting on Biden’s Monday address to the nation and the cultural disconnect between the public and the press, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace observed, “"95% of the American people will agree with everything [President Biden] just said. 95% of the press covering this White House will disagree."
The question is, why? Why is there such a chasm between the public and the press. (Prior to the withdrawal, Americans overwhelmingly supported Biden’s plan to bring U.S. troops home.) Why has the Beltway media covered the Afghanistan story with an unrestrained frenzy that so far outweighs the facts in play?
Laser focused on blaming Biden for a military defeat two decades in the making, while wildly overplaying the evacuation story in terms of historical context, the press seems genuinely eager to echo GOP spin and denounce the White House, as well as demand weird public acts of contrition.
Anxious to prove they’re not part of the “liberal media bias” problem, the media are always on the lookout for ways to make that case. “The media will never admit it, but they've been waiting for an opportunity to harshly go after Biden to prove anew how "balanced" they are. "See, it's not just Trump!"” observed author Larry Sabato. (Yes, Politico called Biden’s Afghan speech on Monday “Trumpian.”)
Writer Dave Roberts concurred: “Looking around, I gotta say the US political press seems practically tumescent over the opportunity to scold Biden for something, thus reestablishing its both-sides cred. It's a frenzy out there.”
Also in play has been the D.C.’s media’s simmering, and oddly personal, distaste for Biden’s “boring,” No Drama approach, and the lack of entertainment value his administration provides. There seems to be an unmistakable media desire to knock the Democrat down a few pegs.
“Kudos to them, they’re very happy with themselves” one anonymous Beltway journalist recently told Julia Ioffe for a piece she did on how D.C. journalists are adjusting to covering Biden, compared to the Trump circus. “You can see it, the coverage across the board from everyone is very, very lame. You never get inside the room and hear how this shit’s going down. Like, how are they managing this elderly man?” Jabbed another journalist, “There’s a sense that Biden’s position is fragile and that he has to be protected, that any unkind gaze might knock him over.”
The press should absolutely hold public officials accountable. But it’s not possible to watch the last several days and suggest the administration has refused to explain and detail what’s unfolding in Afghanistan. Unlike the previous administration, which lied to the press nonstop about every conceivable topic, the Biden White House has been offering serious, specific, and factual responses to all inquiries. It’s just that the press, just like the GOP, doesn’t like the answers.
Many in the media remain utterly convinced they know exactly what the military withdrawal from a largely government-less country where the U.S. has been waging a losing war for 20 years should have looked like.
CNN’s Jake Tapper suggested Biden “didn't listen to military leaders who talked about how quickly, and intelligence officials, who talked about how quickly the Taliban might take over the country, how quickly everything could collapse.” According to that CNN storyline, Biden dismissed the Pentagon and somehow came up with the withdrawal plan all by himself.
The Washington Post stressed it was Biden’s personal incompetence that was to blame for the misguided troop withdrawal. Politico also insisted it was Biden’s “foreign policy expertise” that had failed. (Apparently military planners do not exist.)
In a dopey attempt at gotcha journalism, the New York Times’ Peter Baker posted a 19-year-old Biden quote about Afghanistan and juxtaposed it with a comment he made this week. A Wall Street Journal news headline about Kabul insisted “Biden Now Facing a Long Crisis.” Question: How is Biden “facing a long crisis” now that the U.S. involvement is ending? The Journal headline seemed to reflect more media wishful thinking than it did reality.
“Biden Was Barreling Toward Perilous Political Waters. Then Afghanistan Happened,” read a frenetic Politico headline. And in case readers didn’t get the heavy-handed point, Politico laid it on even thicker in the article: “The cataclysmic series of events over the last several days marked the most devastating period of the Biden presidency.” CNN was in heated agreement: “August Turns Into a Month of Crises as Biden Stares Down a Pivotal Moment in His Presidency.” Incredibly, CNN pointed to the looming passage of a massive, bipartisan infrastructure spending bill as proof that Biden’s August is filled with peril.
This is the exact same “crisis” language the press was using back in May, when scribes were sure Biden stood on the precipice of political disaster, just four months into his presidency.
This is also the same press corps that two weeks ago largely looked away when the U.S. economy shocked analysts by posting nearly one million new jobs. Two of the three network evening newscasts didn’t even bother covering the blockbuster jobs report.
Good news for Biden is often treated as no news by the press, which is far more interested in pushing “crisis” stories. It’s a key reason why they leaned so hard into the Afghanistan story.
(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
⌨️ GOOD STUFF:
Offering some much-needed perspective this week is Heather Digby Parton at Salon and her piece, "No, George W. Bush doesn't deserve a pass on Afghanistan”:
But it's George W. Bush who bears the most responsibility for the mess in Afghanistan. He was the man who started that war to fulfill America's hunger to hit back and set the U.S. and Afghanistan on the road to two long decades of losses in blood and treasure that accomplished almost nothing in the end.
Beyond reportedly saying "that was weird" at Trump's inauguration, Bush was very, very quiet when the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban the timeline for withdrawal last year. He had to know that meant that the U.S. had ceded power to them and was assuming they would be back in power sooner or later. Yet he is now very concerned once again with the plight of women in Afghanistan.
✌🏻 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Los Lobos, “For What It’s Worth”
Once again, I’m double dipping on a new album, this time by Los Lobos, whose latest I highlighted a couple weeks ago. I've since uncovered a new nugget, this hypnotic cover of Buffalo Springfield’s icon 1966 protest song. (“What's that sound?/Everybody look, what's going down”)
I’m hooked probably because the lyrics hit so close to home more than five decades later, as well as the warm, smooth, layered sound that Los Lobos guitars and vocals always produce.
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away
🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via a Spotify playlist.
Click hereto listen via Apple Music.