Biden's Troubles Aren't Bernie's Fault, or a Media Mirage
Another week, another round of editorials trying to explain away reality
A recent column by Colbert King in the Washington Post read as follows:
A president and Congress seen united and fighting for people will be a team that gets rewarded at the polls. Accomplishing that calls for less selfish and self-serving political behavior — from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — and more care toward making life better for Americans.
Entitled, “Where Will Democratic Infighting Lead? History’s Answer is Clear,” King’s piece essentially blames Bernie Sanders for the recent Supreme Court thinking on abortion. Intramural debate, which he calls “infighting,” lead in his mind to poor electoral results for mainstream Democrats, who for all their other faults are consistent on the abortion issue and therefore deserve the frictionless political existence Sanders denied them.
King’s piece is penned as a warning, that not only Republican opposition “inspired by Trump” but “left-wing complaints of ‘corporate Democrats’ beholden to corrupt businesses, Big Pharma and the ultra-wealthy” have left Joe Biden with “slumping poll numbers.” As a result, he says, “Joe Biden is on the path to a one-term presidency.”
On the same day, in the same paper, Dana Milbank wrote an editorial, apparently not intended as satire, entitled, “The media treats Biden as badly as — or worse than — Trump. Here’s proof.” After listing headlines like “Does the WH owe Larry Summers an apology?” and “No BIF bump for Biden” as anecdotal evidence of this savagery, Milbank turned to the hard “proof”: data from a company called “FiscalNote.” The firm did a “sentiment analysis” of 200,000 articles and apparently found that “Biden’s press for the past four months has been as bad as — and for a time worse than — the coverage Trump received for the same four months of 2020.”
I struggle to conceive of the brain that would believe such a thing to be true, but that’s a separate matter. Milbank believed it, and concluded, “My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.”
From there, I scrolled in search of the inevitable, “Freedom of the press is good, but” passage. It was three paragraphs down:
We need a skeptical, independent press. But how about being partisans for democracy? The country is in an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative…
Five years ago this month, media figures were struggling to process the evidence of limitations on their authority suggested by Donald Trump’s election. Instead of coming to terms with the fact that political moods rise from the ground up, and aren’t dictated by people writing and speaking from places like New York and Washington, colleagues convinced themselves that 2016 was their fault, for not “calling Trump out” enough. The people needed more of their wisdom, not less.
So they doubled and tripled down, soon congratulating themselves for substituting terms like “lie” for “untruth” and “white supremacist” for “racist” or “race-baiting,” and so on. The industry across the next four years then produced a spiraling, awesome mass of the most negative political writing ever penned in English, the op-ed equivalent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It had almost no effect on Trump’s fortunes. If anything, the evidence pointed the other way: if four years of relentless messaging about Trump’s racism had an effect, his gains among every ethnicity except white males in 2020 didn’t seem to show it.