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Media Boost Biden as 'Above the Fray'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Pardon me if I laugh when reporters tout that some politician they like is posing as being "above the fray." This fray is something reporters usually force politicians to confront. If politicians are effortlessly floating above it, reporters are allowing it.


The day House Democrats forced through a very rushed second impeachment of President Donald Trump, a New York Times front-page headline below the fold read, "Biden Stays Above the Fray To Focus on Mounting Crises."

Translation: "Biden Allowed to Pose as Bravely Focusing on the People's Business, With Our Help."

Reporters Michael Shear and Michael Crowley were mere Mike-rophones for the Biden message. Biden "has maintained a studied cool, staying largely removed from the searing debate that culminated on Wednesday with President Trump's impeachment and keeping his focus on battling a deadly pandemic, reviving a faltering economy and lowering the political temperature," they wrote.

He had a "studied cool" as he spent the last week "honing policy proposals and introducing new appointees while delivering a carefully calibrated, above-the-fray message."

That obviously includes The Times' own careful calibration into the Biden PR team.

Michael and Michael present Biden's "cautious, centrist approach to politics" in contrast with "the seething anger of many elected Democratic officials." Caution is "centrist." Avoiding the press is "centrist." With all the jokes about Biden having hidden in the basement during most of the campaign, perhaps the metaphor for his strategy ought to be "below the fray."

The Times pulls quotes from Biden statements, because who needs to ask a question? There's not a whisper of anonymous dissent, no hint of "senior Biden advisers shared opinions off the record so they could speak candidly." To evaluate Biden and his path forward, The Times also helpfully quotes Rep. James Clyburn (an early Biden endorser) and his Team Obama colleagues Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod.


Gibbs is there to acknowledge that Biden won't find it easy to be "above the fray" once he becomes president. Thanks, Captain Obvious.

But wait, someone might protest, is there a Republican quoted in there? There is! Stuart Stevens, one of Mitt Romney's top presidential campaign advisers in 2012 and an "outspoken" Trump critic, agreed with the dominant Biden-boosting spin. "I think he looks calm," he said. "Part of this whole moment is a return to normalcy." He added that the "Biden people" have "been very patient."

Really? Speaking of "calm" and "normalcy," Stevens responded in the hours after the horrid rioting on Capitol Hill by spouting on MSNBC that Trump was "calling on American terrorists to attack the Capitol, which they did more successfully than 9/11 terrorists." Stevens sounds exactly like one of those "seething" Democrats. He's not a cautious centrist.

A colleague of mine was amused by a paragraph that is solely published in the online version of the column. It mentions when, in 2009, then-President Barack Obama dared to circumnavigate the "seethers" on former President George W. Bush. "Mr. Obama approved the public release of Bush White House memos authorizing the use of torture against terrorist suspects," they wrote. "But in a long and Solomonic statement, Mr. Obama called for 'reflection, not retribution' on a subject that had some Democrats calling for war crimes prosecutions."


Obama apparently had all the wisdom of King Solomon. This neatly matches the time frame when then-Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked Obama during a nationally televised press conference, "During these first 100 days, what has ... Enchanted you the most from serving in this office?"

The Times is choosing Biden over the red-hot Democratic "seethers" as it seeks to "maintain his political viability within the system," to borrow from an old Bill Clinton mantra. In The Times' book, Trump is cooked and Biden needs to promote his own liberal agenda. "The president-elect tries to project calm," it writes, and it is the most cooperative projector.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog

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