July 7, 2024 / by emptywheel


The Self-Satisfied and Often Wrong Media Frenzy

Before I make fun of the frenzied mob calling themselves DC journalists, let me point to two of the more responsible reports on Joe Biden’s aging.

One, a WaPo piece with five bylines, describes that in recent months, the President has increasingly exhibited signs of aging — but never so bad as in the debate.

President Biden, who at 81 is the oldest person ever to hold the office, has displayed signs of accelerated aging in recent months, said numerous aides, foreign officials, members of Congress, donors and others who have interacted with Biden over the last 3½ years, noting that he moves more slowly, speaks more softly and has moments when he loses his train of thought more often than even just a year ago.

None of those who spoke to The Washington Post said they had seen Biden appear as lost and confused as he did at the presidential debate against Donald Trump on June 27, where his halting performance sent panic through the Democratic Party. They largely did not question his mental acuity, and several senior White House aides who interact with Biden regularly said that he continues to ask probing, detailed questions about complicated policy matters and can recall facts from previous briefings in minute detail.

It actually draws on fairly neutral sources (diplomatic reporter John Hudson is on the byline) — world leaders and their aides who interacted with him at the G-7, who have no partisan stake but do have a very great stake in the outcome of the election — to substantiate a decline even in the weeks between the G-7 and the debate.

During the Group of Seven nations summit in Italy last month, several European leaders came away stunned at how much older the president seemed from when they had last interacted with him only a year, or in some cases, mere months earlier, several officials familiar with their reactions said. “People were worried about it,” said one person familiar with leaders’ reactions.


[D]uring the Group of Seven nations summit in Italy last month, a number of European leaders were struck by Biden’s appearance and demeanor, according to four people who spoke directly with multiple leaders. The general impression among leaders, the people said, was that while Biden appeared capable of carrying out his duties today, they were concerned about how he would be able to serve another four-year term.


One person familiar with the conversations among leaders said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni observed that Biden was “mentally on top of his game” but physically weak, leaving her worried. The person said those concerns became more pronounced after the debate. A spokesman for the Italian Embassy did not provide a comment.

“What has changed the discourse here in Europe is not the G-7. It’s the debate,” the person said.

Note: I seem to be the only one who remembers that this timeline includes, in addition to the pressure and travel associated with the G-7 and the expanded campaign schedule, the prosecution of his son that would never have happened were he not Joe Biden’s son. I seem to be the only one considering how stress exacerbated an aging process already in process.

In any case, this is a story about Biden’s aging accelerating, whether from the stress of your candidacy leading to the felony prosecution of your kid or not.

The same is true of another credible story getting a lot of attention. It’s another multi-byline story (none from NYT’s big names) that includes on the record quotes. But most people have focused on this quote: Perhaps the most senior person, someone with years of direct access, stating that Biden cannot pull off this race.

One senior White House official, however, who has worked with Mr. Biden during his presidency, vice presidency and 2020 campaign, said in an interview on Saturday morning that Mr. Biden should not seek re-election.

After watching Mr. Biden in private, in public and while traveling with him, the official said they no longer believed the president had what it took to campaign in a vigorous way and defeat Donald J. Trump. The official, who insisted on anonymity in order to continue serving, said Mr. Biden had steadily showed more signs of his age in recent months, including speaking more slowly, haltingly and quietly, as well as appearing more fatigued in private.

Here again, though, the story is about a decline in recent months. The story is about stamina and speech, not some undiagnosed source of dementia (or perhaps a disease that people assume leads to dementia symptoms, but doesn’t necessarily).

With that as background, I want to lay out a number of problems with the story the members of the frenzied mob — people rushing to press with stories that are far less responsible than these two (see this must-read post from Jennifer Schulze on some of the worst examples) — are telling:

  1. Even in the face of non-stop coverage about Biden’s age, a core group of particularly nasty types are claiming there was some kind of conspiracy of silence about it, and only they were heroically chasing the topic. That’s objectively false.
  2. To get to that conspiracy, the same types are suggesting that while they never had evidence Biden was this bad in January, that must be because close allies were just covering it up. This more robust reporting of a recent decline at least undermines their claims of having provided the only evidence of a prior decline.
  3. Many participants in this frenzy don’t seem to understand that there are two questions at issue: Whether Biden has the stamina to win the race, whether his fatigue and speech issues put him at a severe disadvantage to Trump or other possible Democratic contenders, and whether he has the stamina to remain President.
  4. Many members of the mob have given little more than fantasy consideration of how Biden would be replaced. That’s unsurprising, given that they gave no more than fantasy consideration of why other solid contenders weren’t challenging Biden and Harris in the primary earlier in the year, when questions about Biden’s age first got louder.
  5. Very few of the mob seem to care whether Biden is doing the job of being President well. Indeed, this is a key source of tension between the mob and Biden. When asked about his age in January and February, he gave two answers: He believed he stood the best chance of beating Trump, a belief significantly undermined by his debate performance and ongoing stamina issues. And, he pointed to his success at being President as proof he could do the job. That was objectively true. Since the mob are little interested in the job of President — or policy generally — they simply ignored his factually correct rebuttal that he was doing a historically good job of being President.

The mob’s complete disinterest in measuring which former President, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, would do better as President makes their wails much easier to dismiss.

So do some of their past errors.

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos, Joe Biden pointed to past predictions of electoral failure.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That’s not unusual in some states. I carried an awful lotta Democrats last time I ran in 2020. Look, I remember them tellin’ me the same thing in 2020. “I can’t win. The polls show I can’t win.” Remember 2024– 2020, the red wave was coming.

Before the vote, I said, “That’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna win.” We did better in an off-year than almost any incumbent President ever has done. They said in 2023, (STATIC) all the tough (UNINTEL) we’re not gonna win. I went into all those areas and all those– all those districts, and we won.

Biden is right that many of the loudest members of the mob calling for him to drop have been just as loudly wrong in the recent past.

Biden also dismissed a challenge from Mark Warner by noting that Warner had tried to run before.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, if– I mean, on a more practical level, The Washington Post just reported in the last hour that Senator Mark Warner is– is assembling a group of Senators together to try and convince you to stand down, because they don’t think you can win.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, Mark is a good man. We’ve never had (UNINTEL). He also tried to get the nomination too. Mark’s not– Mark and I have a different perspective. I respect him.

Many many journalists attempted to debunk this claim, apparently unaware that Warner considered running in the 2008 election until I (if you believe Matt Bai, and you should not) singlehandedly chased him out of the race.

Biden’s has a point that the mob has proven badly wrong in the past.

But they’re not wrong that he may not have the stamina to both run for and be President.

Copyright © 2024 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2024/07/07/the-self-satisfied-and-often-wrong-media-frenzy/