Joe Biden is the most cosseted presidential candidate in memory.
He’s run a minimalist campaign that’s avoided the press as much as possible, while the press hasn’t been braying for more access and answers, but eager to avoid anything that could be discomfiting to the campaign.
Never before have the media been so openly fearful of asking or reporting something that might hurt a presidential candidate. What are supposed to be the animating values of our adversarial press — informing the public, getting answers, holding the powerful to account — have all been subordinated to the protection racket that is coverage of Joe Biden.
Even the lowest common denominator of news — simply being interesting — has been tossed aside. Boring and uneventful is the new newsworthy.
This presumably isn’t how they teach it in journalism school, but no one has had trouble adjusting.
The tendency reached a new level in the media’s handling of New York Post reports on emails obtained from a laptop that Hunter Biden reportedly left off at a Delaware computer-repair shop.
Here was a story with enough mysteries and plot lines to keep a couple of newsrooms busy. Are the emails, putting Hunter Biden’s sleazy overseas business dealings in a more sinister light, legitimate? Did Hunter really take the laptop to the shop and forget about it? And, more important, what do the emails say about what Joe Biden knows or should have known about Hunter’s work that depended so heavily on proximity to the vice president?
Instead, the press has been uninterested at best and hostile at worst. It’s the opposite of a feeding frenzy. The media have deployed their bomb-disposal units for fear that a potentially explosive story might detonate.
What Biden has to say about the emails is inherently of interest. Yet he wasn’t asked about it at his ABC News town hall last week. Never mind that his response would have made headlines afterward, and the clip would have been shown in every TV segment about the debate.
Subsequently, CBS reporter Bo Erickson betrayed his profession by asking Biden his response to the Post story on a tarmac. He got slammed by Biden: “I have no response, it’s another smear campaign, right up your alley, those are the questions you always ask.”
No one rallied to Erickson’s defense. Instead, respectable figures on the center-left shamed Erickson for having asked a politician an unwelcome question — which, the day before yesterday, would have been considered Journalism 101.
Much of the press has pronounced the Post story debunked without doing any work to debunk it, and believes as a matter of faith that it is Russian disinformation. Rather, the focus has been reporting on how the Post reported the story, as the press works to discredit media outlets that don’t toe the correct political line — you know, just like Woodward and Bernstein did during Watergate.
This tendency toward “anti-reporting” has long characterized Biden coverage. The New York Times took 19 days to cover Tara Reade’s sexual-assault allegation against him, not wanting to burden its readers with information about a newsworthy charge too quickly.
The media have dutifully pushed back against the idea that Biden wants to ban fracking, even though Biden himself has said at times that he wants to ban fracking. Any Biden misstep is quickly explained away. The press doesn’t seem to mind that the campaign is prone to declare “lids” — or the end of the candidate’s public day — early and often.
Why would the press want more access to a candidate it isn’t covering so much as carefully shielding from scrutiny with the finish line of November 3 in sight?
Usually, the media love candidates who make good copy, who provide drama and color. In their hatred and fear of President Donald Trump, though, they’ve thrown in their lot with the dull and meandering Joe Biden, bringing to the effort all the complacency and pointed incuriosity it can muster.
© 2020 by King Features Syndicate