Biden implores journalists to ‘rise up to the seriousness of the moment’. They should listen.

Biden toasts the free press.
Biden toasts the free press.

After making a little fun of himself and the media – and roasting Donald Trump – President Biden closed his speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday with “genuine thanks to the free press” for reporting “truth over lies,” which he called “my definition of patriotism and heroism.”

He said that “you, the free press, play a critical role in making sure the American people have the information they need to make an informed decision.”

And then he asked the people in the room to do a better job of it:

I’m sincerely not asking of you to take sides but asking you to rise up to the seriousness of the moment; move past the horserace numbers and the gotcha moments and the distractions, the sideshows that have come to dominate and sensationalize our politics; and focus on what’s actually at stake.  I think, in your hearts, you know what’s at stake.  The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Every single one of us has roles to play — a serious role to play in making sure democracy endures — American democracy.  I have my role, but, with all due respect, so do you.

In the age of disinformation, credible information that people can trust is more important than ever.  And that makes you — and I mean this from the bottom of my heart — it makes you more important than ever.

His remarks came a few days after a Politico story by Eli Stokols described the Biden White House’s frustrations with New York Times coverage in particular.

The story went viral on account of the one-anonymous-source assertion that publisher A.G. Sulzberger is demanding critical stories of Biden because he’s furious that Biden has not agreed to a sit-down interview with his reporters.

I actually think Sulzberger is a tad more subtle than that. But as I wrote last month, he definitely establishes the ground rules at the Times, and that includes two strong biases: toward criticism of Biden in order not to be seen as taking sides; and against being alarmist about the potential loss of democracy in order not to be seen as shrill.

Indeed, what I found most significant about the Politico story were its specific criticisms of Times political coverage.

Members of Biden’s press team “see the Times falling short in a make-or-break moment for American democracy, stubbornly refusing to adjust its coverage as it strives for the appearance of impartial neutrality, often blurring the asymmetries between former President Donald Trump and Biden when it comes to their perceived flaws and vastly different commitments to democratic principles,” Stokols wrote.

The Times’s “unrelenting focus on Biden’s advanced age and his low numbers in the NYT’s approval poll have frustrated the president and top aides to no end. Beyond that, they bemoan the newspaper’s penchant for sweepy comparisons, analytical reporter memos — referred to in the Biden press shop as ‘opinion pieces’ or ‘diary entries’ — and story frames that seem consistently skeptical.”

Staffers “viewed the matter as bigger than their or even Biden’s self-interest, expressing aggravation over the Times’ determination to maintain its neutral voice of God approach to an election that, in their view, is a matter of democracy’s survival,” Stokols wrote.

I am not normally a fan of presidents playing the role of media critics, and I take their critiques with a huge grain of salt.

But in this case, I have only one thing to say: Biden and his team have it exactly right.

It’s past time for a course correction at the Times and elsewhere. The stakes, as Biden said, couldn’t be higher.


  1. Dan, you’ve got it right. “The emperor has no clothes on!” The naked truth is no different than the plain truth. If either presidential candiates (et al) tell a lie, identify it and tell why. May have to be done over and over. May cost subscriptions. May diminish profits. May also convince fence-sitting member of the electorate that while age may be a detriment to leadership, demagoguery, deceit and dictatorship is the downfall of democracy. Journalists can’t walk softly, hold their breath, and genuflect to the masses. — A conservative Republican, former UPI/Houston reporter; a founding editor of three business publications, and former President of the Baylor,Texas Gulf Coast, Statewide (Texas) and Dallas Chapters of the Society of Pro. Journalists.

  2. The Washington Post clearly isn’t answering Biden’s call to rise up to the moment. Here is a headline from today, Sunday May 5:

    “RFK Jr.’s ticket mate takes unconventional approach to the trail
    Nicole Shanahan largely stays out of public eye, works behind the scenes”

    The WaPo made a conscious choice to normalize RFK the Nutty’s running mate, a woman who is a whack job. Shanahan tells women IVF is a lie and that all they need to fix infertility is more sunlight but the WaPo whitewashes her insanity by focusing on her “unconventional” approach to campaigning? You can bet there was a lot of debate among WaPo editors and headline writers about how to write a neutral headline about this threat to democracy.

    Meanwhile I am beyond outraged that the WaPo has had a fact-checker story up nitpicking Biden’s impressive high school football record. I would bet they are now going to investigate what he did in kindergarten. Surely Glen Kessler knows that it is perfectly normal for people’s memories about long past events to not be precise and getting details wrong is not the same as lying. Journalists went nuts about Clinton not serving in Vietnam because he got deferments, eventually decided to take his chances and lucked out with a high draft number in the lottery. That was portrayed as draft dodging. In contrast Cheney got multiple deferments and never risked getting drafted into a war he supported and we all know how Bush avoided risking his precious life in combat.
    Then there was Bush’s close allies pushing the Swift Boat Liars who attacked John Kerry’s actual, impressive war heroism. Most of the media gave Bush a pass but nitpicked Kerry and slammed him for not responding “appropriately”. This description by FAIR is applicable to the today’s media’s double standards when it comes to fact checking:

    “ The ad war, at least over John Kerry’s service in Vietnam, has for the moment effectively blocked out everything else,” explained MSNBC ‘s David Shuster (8/23/04)—as if the media are not the ones responsible for deciding which issues were being “blocked out.”
    The New York Times similarly noted (8/20/04) that the group “catapulted itself to the forefront of the presidential campaign,” while Fox News reporter Carl Cameron (8/23/04) suggested that “the controversy has completely knocked Kerry off message, and the political impasse suggests the story is not going away any time soon…..
    But when Kerry is the target of the attacks, many journalists seem content to monitor the flow of charges and counter-charges, passing no judgment on the merits of the accusations but merely reporting how they seem to affect the tone of the campaign.”
    That “impasse” is largely the result of the media’s failure to sufficiently compare the Swift Boat charges to the available military records and eyewitness accounts. Even a cursory examination of the available evidence reveals fatal flaws in the group’s charges, which fly in the face of all documentary evidence, and the testimony of almost every person present when Kerry earned his medals.”


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