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Confirming what so many news consumers have suspected this year, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank revealed that President Joe Biden’s coverage since August has been more negative that Trump’s was twelve months ago. Using a data research firm that analyzed 200,000 articles and measured the tone of the coverage, Milbank’s piece blew up myth about how the Beltway press cozies up to Democrats and goes hard after Republican presidents.
In this case, not just any Republican, but Trump, a proud authoritarian who represents a direct threat to our democracy.
Despite the loud claims from journalists that news outlets were tough on Trump for four years, it’s not true. (See: Here, here, here, and here.) On the flip side, scribes reject the claim that they’ve been overly harsh covering Biden in recent months, but they have been. (See: Here, here, here, and here.)
Quick example: On the day that President Joe Biden triumphantly signed into law a bipartisan, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will help rebuild bridges, roads and broadband nationwide as well as transform public transportation in this country, the Washington Post ran a front-page gotcha piece about how he isn’t pessimistic enough.
Another: In October, the White House press corps demanded to know if Biden would personally guarantee that every gift being shipped out for Christmas would arrive on time and not get waylaid by the global supply chain backup, as if the president runs Amazon’s shipping and handling out of the West Wing.
That’s not normal newsroom behavior. That’s the D.C. press corps married to a Biden Doomsday storyline.
Milbank’s damning column didn’t go over well among defensive Beltway journalists, especially those at Politico, which Milbank singled out as being a relentlessly negative Biden outpost.
“No respectable model of salvaging democratic norms would include badgering journalists to write only positive stories about the most powerful person in the world,” tweeted Ryan Lizza in response to Milbank. Of course, nobody’s suggesting Biden only receive positive coverage. They are suggesting a traditional, center-left president should get better coverage than the madman who preceded him.
When other journalists responded to Milbank’s piece by saying, ‘Yeah, but Dems were in disarray over the infrastructure bill, we covered it, and that’s why Biden got bad press,’ it completely misses the larger, more pressing point — Democrats struggling to pass a spending bill is not the same as Republicans trying to destroy free and fair elections in this country.
The context of the findings is also key — Biden has been getting worse coverage in recent months compared to Trump in 2020. This was after he’d been in office for three years, had been impeached once, and his unhinged behavior was inescapable to every working journalist. That’s after he urged Americans to inject bleach into their veins.
Think about that. In 2020, Trump presided over a worst-in-world pandemic response that caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths; held a superspreader event at the White House and got covid-19 himself; praised QAnon adherents; embraced violent white supremacists; waged a racist campaign against Black Lives Matter demonstrators; attempted to discredit mail-in voting; and refused to accept his defeat in a free and fair election, leading eventually to the violence of Jan. 6 and causing tens of millions to accept the “big lie,” the worst of more than 30,000 he told in office.
Today, Trump and his followers are using lawsuits, legislation, and terroristic threats to curtail the right to vote. And Biden is getting worse treatment than Trump?
Too many news organizations view themselves primarily as witnesses in the unfolding drama today, paid to document the beating that democracy is taking at the hands of extremist Republicans. Journalists don’t see themselves as having a vested interest in America maintaining a functioning democracy.
It all goes back the cherished, safe model the D.C. press has used for at least 50 years in terms of covering politics in this country: Left-leaning Democrats square off against right-leaning Republicans, and all the key players fall within the broad definition of mainstream politics, and they’re all generally honest, decent people.
That blueprint no longer works because the Republican Party, including key leaders, have sprinted away from any traditional sense of fact or honor-based politics and now lie about everything. They lie about the economy, about Covid, about Trump, about the insurrection, about elections, about education, about 9/11. One side has become deeply radicalized while the other side is trying to save America from losing touch with the democratic foundations that have guided this country for more than 250 years.
Noted Dan Kennedy at Media Nation, “The media cling to both-sides-ism despite four years of a raging sociopath in the White House, an attempted insurrection by his supporters, and dangerous denialism about COVID-19.”
Yet Biden gets worse coverage than Trump.
(Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
For more on Milbank’s take on Biden press coverage, see media critic Dan Froomkin’s recent interview with the Post writer, “‘I think we need to rethink entirely how we do things,’ says Dana Milbank of the Washington Post”:
“I don’t think anything in our training or experience as journalists prepared us for a moment in which one of the two major political parties is no longer cooperating with the democratic process: promulgating the most outrageous lies, disenfranchising voters and giving state legislatures the ability to overturn unfavorable election results, openly embracing white nationalism,” Milbank said.
Not knowing any other way to write about politics, “they’re doing the normal thing,” he said.
But Milbank’s view is that “It can’t be said too many time that this is not normal… I think we need a rethink entirely how we do things.”
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Bahamas “Louisiana 1927” (featuring Madison Cunningham)
Canadian singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, who goes by the stage name Bahamas, has a new EP out, which includes this nifty cover of the Randy Newman classic.
Leave it to Newman to write about an historic Mississippi flood and turn it into an iconic American lament, all of which is perfectly captured here.
President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, "Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land."
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