I really have a hard time understanding why so many news organizations have trouble covering the substance of politics rather than the game of it. The general reporting on Special Counsel Robert Hur's (R) exoneration of President Biden shows what I mean. I mentioned in passing Saturday that James Fallows called Hur's report "tendentious," but he had more to say:
After Biden finished his remarks last night, White House reporters bayed and yelled at him, more aggressively than I can ever recall. They exceeded the baseline I wrote about nearly 30 years ago in the book Breaking the News, about the macho-style code of the press room that equated being ill-mannered with being intellectually tough.
After this yelling session, most of the leading press ran stories like this one in the NYT, saying that the one word—Mexico—had "placed Mr. Biden’s advanced age, the singularly uncomfortable subject looming over his re-election bid, back at the center of America’s political conversation."
Note the agent-free verb “placed.” It’s actually the journalists who are placing it there—as they placed Hillary Clinton’s emails eight years ago, and as they have not placed Donald Trump’s Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley.
Greg Sargent goes further:
Indeed, that New York Times analysis claims those details were “quickly seized on by Republicans,” and could “set the stage” for “a fresh round of political attacks” on Biden.
But in this case, those findings in the report are both being manipulated dishonestly by Republicans and are largely tangential to the report’s most important finding. Republicans are claiming the special counsel opted against charges for Biden because of his “age related dementia,” with many jumping on that idea to declare that this showed him to be unfit for office.
Yet Hur also reached that conclusion for another reason. He explicitly declares that a jury would be unlikely to convict “in the absence of other, more direct evidence” that Biden willfully and improperly hoarded that classified information. Hur says investigators “searched” for such evidence, but “found it wanting,” adding that “no witness, photo, email, text message, or any other evidence” was discovered. That’s why a jury would be unlikely to convict.
Jennifer Rubin sums up the problem:
Special counsel Robert K. Hur had a single task: Determine if President Biden illegally retained sensitive documents after his vice presidency. The answer should not have taken nearly 13 months or a more than 300-page report.
The Biden-Harris campaign decried the media’s obsession with Biden’s age while virtually ignoring another rambling, incoherent Trump speech in which he insisted Pennsylvania would be renamed if he lost. (In South Carolina on Saturday, he was at it again, inviting Russia to invade NATO countries and insulting Nikki Haley’s deployed husband.) By habitually and artificially leveling the playing field, much of the media enables MAGA propaganda and neglects Trump’s obvious mental and emotional infirmities.
Still, facts matter. Biden acted responsibly and committed no crime. Trump faces multiple felony counts, including intentionally withholding top-secret documents and obstructing an investigation. Three years separate Biden and Trump in age, but the distance between their mental and emotional fitness remains incalculable — as is the chasm between the media we have and the media democracy requires.
We've got just under 9 months until the election. Someday, I hope the country can have an election based on policy. Clearly, this is not that day.