White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addresses reporters during a news briefing at the White House, February 16, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
One might be able to overlook the political media's five-year abandonment of basic journalistic standards — the corrosive embrace of "Russian collusion" conspiracies, the slew of anonymously sourced "scoops" that failed to materialize, the refusal to properly correct those mistakes or be transparent about them, the concerted cover-up of left-wing riots, a sloppy and selective "fact-checking" scam — for starters — if their antagonism toward the Trump administration had been fueled by a duty to hold those in power accountable. But Joe Biden's first 100 days in office should have disabused everyone of that notion.
The press corps has shifted, instantaneously upon Inauguration Day, from playacting hero to assuming the duties of a state-run media. And it's nearly impossible to keep an accurate accounting of all the fabricated, skewed, and misleading coverage it spews. Whether proactively working with Democrats to convince voters that a Georgia election-integrity bill was worse than Jim Crow or minimizing the border crisis, most of the political media function as a communications shop for one party.
It took more than 60 days for Biden to hold a press conference, the longest of any president in modern history, and yet, no one put up much of a fuss. When the press finally had the chance to question the most powerful man in the nation, they put on perhaps the most obsequious display in presidential press-conference history. PBS's Yamiche Alcindor told Biden that it was his morality and decency that sparked the border problems. Not a single mainstream-media critic, as far as I can tell, objected to this puffery. Zeke Miller of the Associated Press wondered if Biden would support blowing up Senate norms to circumvent obstinate Republicans. CBS News reporter Nancy Cordes, too, wondered why Biden wouldn't blow up the filibuster to stop Republicans, who were allegedly restricting voting for the "young" and "minorities."
This matters. "The media" comprise well-funded outlets that set the agenda, narrative, tone, and focus of coverage. Most political reporters share the same objectives and set of values as Democrats, and so they constantly engage in discussions dictated and framed by one party.
In the past few days alone, we learned that editors at USA Today allowed Stacey Abrams, who has spent two years spinning fairy tales about voter suppression, retroactively rewrite her op-ed. CNN ran a news article — not a column — headlined, "How the US went from having one of the worst Covid responses to being a global leader in vaccinations under Biden." And CBS This Morning asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki to grade herself after Biden's first 100 days.
Then there is NBC News' Chuck Todd who explained that "the White House's strategy for the first 100 days does give us a pretty good window into how they plan to navigate these next political battles." What are they? "Pursuing popular programs." "Avoiding unnecessary fights." "Going big." "Flooding the zone."
What would we do without this kind of insight?
In actuality, we don't know how popular Biden's initiatives are as the media relay little more than facile caricatures of "infrastructure" and "voting rights" bills, often ignoring the most contentious aspects of the legislation. How many Americans understand what "going big" really means?
Does Todd believe exploring ways to pack the courts is a "necessary" fight? Does he believe backing state-funded late-term abortions is necessary? Are union bailouts necessary? "Necessary" is a subjective notion, though perhaps Todd is unable to comprehend that millions of Americans do not see the world through the same ideological prism. As it happens, Todd is one of those people "flooding the zone."
Many of the same journalists who treated every Trump misspelling, garbled word salad, and exaggeration as existential crises have become toadies who now, in a complete reversal, make excuses for Biden's habitual incoherence. It's unsurprising. After the 2020 election, the Washington Post's lead fact-checker Glenn Kessler said: "I assume the Biden presidency will be a lot like the Obama presidency, and that they will be responsive, and will be able to quickly back up what they're saying." CNN's "fact-checker," Daniel Dale, who excels at deceptive partisan clickbait, noted back in September that Biden, one of the most notorious fabulists in American political history, "makes some false and misleading claims" but his "assertions of fact have been largely factual." Who would ever trust such a person to offer dispassionate evaluations of political statements?
Which is surely one main reason that 56 percent of Americans agree with the statement: "Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations." And the reason that only 9 percent of Americans trust mass media "a great deal," according to Gallup.
Judging from the first 100 days of work during the Biden administration, the situation isn't going to improve anytime soon.