Commentary

Mainstream Media Have Attacked Biden. Here's Why That Will Stop

By Jeffrey M. McCall | September 27, 2021 | 1:11pm EDT
NBC host Chuck Todd attends South by Southwest. (Photo credit: Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)
NBC host Chuck Todd attends South by Southwest. (Photo credit: Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)

It might appear the establishment media has lost its enthusiasm for serving as public relations operatives for the Biden White House. Indeed, some left-leaning journalists have publicly criticized the Biden administration in recent days.

NBC’s Chuck Todd has declared that the president has a “credibility crisis,” and CBS’ Gayle King has remarked about the administration’s “very bad behavior” on recent issues. Politico has acknowledged that Hunter Biden’s computer laptop is a real story. Heck, even the Biden cheerleaders on "The View" are struggling to keep happy faces, with host Sunny Hostin saying she is “so disappointed” in Biden’s handling of immigration.

The left-of-center media at a certain point just had to acknowledge what is in plain sight. The mainstream media risks losing what little credibility it has left if it were to remain fully head-in-the-sand. American citizens, not to mention the rest of the world, clearly see the multiple severe problems in the Biden White House, including the president’s frailty and lack of focus, warning lights on inflation, the border disaster, the Afghanistan debacle, and the lack of movement on federal spending wish lists. Public sentiment as indicated in many polls has shifted against the Biden administration and the media would look ridiculous to overlook that reality.

The media might also finally be figuring out that the Biden White House is, after all, not truly friendly to the press. Biden, himself, is generally inaccessible to the media, as is Vice President Kamala Harris. When Biden does comment in public, he is generally evasive and prone to making bizarre comments that the sympathetic reporters are just supposed to ignore or gloss over. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s daily briefings are vacuous, taking spin to a whole new level. Clearly, the White House press strategy has relied on ducking and weaving, taking for granted that the press will run the proper interference.

The media gave Biden very favorable treatment during the 2020 general election campaign and in the early days of his presidency. That wasn’t so much, of course, because he deserved the exuberant coverage, but just that he wasn’t Trump. Now, Biden’s not-being-Trump is no longer enough for the left-of-center press, which has sorted out that the Biden administration might not be able to deliver on its wild promises to unite the country and usher in a new era of progressivism. The establishment media have surely picked up that a struggling White House now portends trouble in the midterm elections just a year away.

The unanticipated, and likely temporary, media disgruntlement with Biden maybe isn’t that hard to figure out, given that Biden was never the media darling during the lengthy Democrat presidential primaries in 2020. Biden’s media coverage was quite sparse during the early stages of the primary season, as news organizations devoted their agendas to other Democrat candidates as flavors-of-the-day. The media loved Bernie Sanders during the primaries, along with Elizabeth Warren and even no-chance candidates such as Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar. Only when it became clear that Biden had stumbled into primary front-runner status did the media start propping him up. Having the likes of Gayle King and Chuck Todd now wavering shouldn’t be that shocking since they never wanted Biden in the first place. But the media reasoned it was better at the time to get totally on board with a flawed Biden than risk another Trump term.

The mainstream press’ recent misgivings about the Biden White House, however, should just be viewed as a temporary spat. The establishment media will be fully back on board should centrist or right-leaning politicians or issues develop any traction in the public sphere. Comparing Biden against himself or against the wishes of the progressive agenda has sparked the recent mild criticism.

That will all disappear in the run-up to the midterm elections or when Republican presidential prospects such as Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo or Kristi Noem start making noise. The consciences of executives in big media are fully comfortable with providing big picture cover for Biden when crunch time arrives. Minor and grudging acknowledgement of Biden’s struggles will melt in service of the media’s broader alliances with the establishment.

Jeffrey M. McCall is a Professor of Communication at DePauw University.  He is a recognized authority on media and journalistic ethics and standards, having been interviewed and quoted by over 125 newspapers. He has made over a hundred appearances on radio and television shows.  He is a contributing op-ed columnist on contemporary media issues, and is the author of the book "Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences."

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