What a mess — the media's dopey Biden gotcha stories
Return of the Optics Police
If you’d prefer to listen to today’s newsletter, click play.
Note to loyal readers: Please consider subscribing for $6 a month. Thanks for keeping PRESS RUN ad-free!
Leaning hard into the task of creating conflict and controversy where none exists, the Beltway press is trying its best to rustle up gotcha stories that ding President Joe Biden. Struggling to adjust to the new media landscape that does not feature a narcissistic, pathological liar president, and one who does not purposely create outrage, journalists are swinging and missing as they work too hard to manufacture news.
Biden travels during the pandemic! 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! The breathless exercise is already tedious. And it's only March.
In a way this is the Beltway press returning to "normalcy" after Trump's four years of deliberate chaos. And normalcy for the D.C. media is pelting Democrats with gotcha stories about optics and how something the president has done doesn't look right, as determined by journalists. Not that the president has done anything wrong. Just that it doesn't feel right, and that now that gets treated as Important News, just months after a president who ran the White House as a criminal enterprise and tried to demolish free and fair elections in America left office.
Under that Republican president, the daily optics were routinely so horrendous as he tweeted out racist taunts, bullied adversaries, and buddied up to foreign dictators. Faced with an openly corrupt president who didn't even try to hide his misdeeds, the media's optics squad went into hiding and stopped handing out tickets altogether.
Now they're back, as the Beltway press goes searching for infractions, while journalists obliterate all sense of proportion. This double standard has now become commonplace. As a rule, there were no brazen corruption or bouts of lawbreaking when recent Democratic presidents were in office, or running for president. So the press had to lean into optics in order to create drama and allegations of wrongdoing.
Remember during the 2016 campaign when the Boston Globe and other media outlets demanded that the Clinton Foundation, an A-rated global humanitarian powerhouse, be shut down because it didn't look good for it to be operating if Hillary Clinton became president? No such high-level demands were made of the openly corrupt Trump Foundation, or when his tentacles of business dealings created an almost impossible-to-map conflict of interest.
Today, news outlets are straining to create news where none exists, like Biden not yet having a solo press conference with White House reporters. The topic was the very first question asked at a recent daily briefing, signaling how important journalists view the story. It's been the topic of endless cable TV news chatter, especially on Fox News.
In the last week, the Washington Post published no less than three pieces on the supposedly hot topic — a news story, an opinion piece, and an editorial — even though the White House has already announced Biden will have a presser by the end of the month. The administration has also renewed all kinds of access points for journalists that were cut off under Trump.
The fact that Biden arrived in office having to deal with a pandemic, an insurrection, and an impeachment trial rarely gets mentioned in the hand wringing press conference coverage. Do journalists think Biden, who's been in public life for 50 years, isn't capable of answering questions?
Recall that just days into Biden's first week in office, the New York Times dinged him for being out of touch with voters because of the expensive watch he wears, and the exercise bicycle he uses. It was a dishonest pursuit that looked especially absurd following Trump's four years of gaudy, country club excess, which the Times ridiculously labeled, “populism.” Trump regularly wore a $36,000 watch while president, a fact the Times politely omitted in its optics article about Biden's $7,000 Rolex, which was "a far cry from the Everyman timepieces that every president not named Trump has worn conspicuously in recent decades," the Times stressed.
That urgent wristwatch update came three days after the Times reported on Biden's exercise bike of choice, Peloton, noting the high-end workout machine, "does not exactly comport with Mr. Biden’s “regular guy from Scranton” political persona."
Over this weekend, the Associated Press returned to a weird Biden gotcha storyline: He should avoid air travel during the pandemic. "The White House defends those [Delaware] visits at a time when the administration is urging the public to avoid unnecessary travel," the AP tweeted.
The wire service first pushed the Fox News-sponsored narrative last month, stressing that Biden's decision to fly on the weekend to his home in Delaware ran counter to CDC pandemic guidelines. The obvious hole in the gotcha story is that the CDC urges Americans not to travel because it wants people to avoid crowded airports and crowded planes, which is not something Biden has to encounter as the President of the United States. The idea that the Oval Office occupant cannot safely travel one year into a pandemic makes no sense.
Fact: Biden has deliberately unplugged Trump's outrage treadmill. The press needs to adjust and stop trying to concoct gotcha news.
(Photo Jim Watson/Getty Images)
💻 GOOD STUFF:
The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan has a good, important read on the increasingly toxic internet culture: “Online Harassment of Female Journalists is Real, and It’s Increasingly Hard to endure”:
The digital harassment is pervasive, and it is destructive to the lives and careers of female journalists. Much of it dates back to GamerGate, the Internet culture war that began in 2013, in which armies of misogynistic Internet trolls were sicced on female gamers and journalists. The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey called it “a proxy war for a greater cultural battle over space and visibility and inclusion, a battle over who belongs to the mainstream.”
🇨🇺 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Lucero, “Back in Ohio”
I love the beefy power chords here, the barrel house piano, and the hint of southern rock in a Midwestern shout-out song.
Here, the enduring Memphis rock band Lucero tells the historic tale of Toledo’s William Morgan who fought in the Cuban Revolution and was eventually executed by Castro. Most history lessons don’t sound this sturdy and bold, or make you want to boost the volume.
Looking down the barrels
Of twenty loaded guns
All the letters written
All the fighting's been done
A man without a country
Ain't getting out alive
They never collected the bounty
You're still left to pay the price