The Media Needs to Stop Low-Balling Biden

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

The news media is going too easy on President-elect Joe Biden, a trend that’s only worsened since Election Day. Journalists have approached the incoming president with polite questions, limited scrutiny, and headlines singing his praises. 

After President Trump spent the campaign’s final days attacking the president-elect’s son, Hunter, over his business dealings abroad and connections to a corrupt Ukrainian company, Biden denied the allegations and closed himself off to questioning. When Tony Bobulinski, a former business associate of Hunter and James Biden (the president-elect’s brother), came forward with allegations of wrongdoing, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times produced lukewarm stories stressing the lack of evidence concerning Biden’s involvement. 

In October, NPR’s managing director of news explained that the outlet wasn’t covering the Hunter Biden story because it didn’t want to “waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.”

Leading up to the election, Biden imposed significant limits on press access. Questions asked by reporters on Biden’s press conferences like the Economic Recovery Plan were risk-averse, and the conversation remained surface level. Reporters need to be more confrontational for the sake of reporting useful information. 

Trump’s hostility towards the media has only escalated since 2016, prompting harsh coverage in return. Gabriel Kahn, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, told the financial news outlet Barron’s, “When you have a candidate that refers to the free press as the enemy and incites violence against members of the press, refuses to answer any straight questions and spills lie after lie about his record, to try to compare coverage of one candidate against the other in this situation is off-base.” 

However, the media is too quick to paint Biden as our savior from the Trump Administration. Last week, CNN published an article headlined “Biden’s media diet: Newspapers, magazines, books, and Apple News” that depicts Biden’s media consumption and restraint concerning unfavorable coverage as groundbreaking behavior. 

And earlier this month, Biden promised civil rights leaders that he will advance racial equality, a story that The Washington Post’s reporting supplemented with facts and quotes consistent with the president-elect’s official stance. However, Biden’s continued support for ‘tough-on-crime’ policies in the 1980s and 1990s, and the 1994 Crime Bill, which critics have assailed as a contributing factor to mass incarceration, are inconsistent with his pledge to address racial tensions. 

The Trump White House established itself as the most bigoted, divisive, and damaging administration that the United States has seen in decades. But this does not justify the press glorifying Biden as a return to normalcy or granting him a free pass because he ‘isn’t as bad.’ The Biden administration is making big promises to the American people in the wake of a massive public health crisis, a crippled economy, and unprecedented civil unrest. The media needs to cover Biden’s plans to address these monumental challenges with more skepticism than it has shown so far.

Yes, Biden will have radically different relationships with the press, his constituents, and his colleagues than Trump. But reporting on Biden and what he says as though he is the ultimate solution to America’s problems only serves to misinform the public and create a false sense of security at a time when being critical of our leaders and government is crucial.  

The media must hold all politicians accountable, regardless of their political affiliation. America needs the post-Trump era news media to focus on restoring accountability and transparency. A servile press that allows presidents to evade criticism isn’t equipped to carry out that task. 

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