Show me the happy faces of the Biden economy — and other urgent story assignments for the MSM

Help Wanted

It’s a great time to be an assignment editor on the national political desk.

There are so many issues the public is terribly misinformed about that solid reporting could clear up.

There are so many extreme ideas in Trump’s dark vision for a second term that need to be gamed out.

And there are still so many secrets about Trump’s past conduct to dig into.

So I really don’t get why assignment editors instead continue to focus so much on horserace and poll coverage. Those are boring and unenlightening compared to what the public really needs to know.

In fact, if I were an assignment editor on a national political desk, here are some of the stories I would assign.

Better Off Today Than Four Years Ago

Story Idea: Total job growth since Biden became president amounts to about 15 million jobs. Go find some of the people who have jobs today who didn’t under Trump and ask them how they’re feeling about the economy.

Polls keep on showing inexplicably negative public sentiment about the economy and Biden’s stewardship of it, despite pretty dazzling numbers when it come to job creation, GDP growth, and even inflation relative to other countries.

Maybe that’s because there are no good-news stories out there. In fact, I recently asked my followers in social media to find me one news story that mentioned a single person who’s gotten a job lately, and I got no takers.

Positive headlines aren’t as clicky as negative headlines, to be sure, but if all the public is hearing is bad news, they’re not getting an accurate picture.

There are other good-news stories out there besides job growth, of course.

Story Idea: President Biden has forgiven about $153 billion in debt for 4.3 million student borrowers, and is proposing rules that would provide relief for about 25 million more. (That would about 1 in 11 Americans in total.) Find some of them and ask them how they’re feeling compared to four years ago.

Story Idea: A new rule that takes effect in July makes 4 million lower-paid salary workers newly eligible for overtime pay. Find some of them and ask them how they feel about it.

Story Idea: Stock markets are at all-time highs. Find someone with a 401(K) and ask them how they feel about it.

Here’s a timely one:

Story Idea: AAA projects 43.8 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Memorial Day holiday travel period – a 4 percent increase over last year and close to matching the all-time record. Find some travelers and find out how they have all this disposable income despite inflation and high interest rates.

Meanwhile, polls show people seem to have forgotten just how bad things were under Trump.

Story Idea: Let’s go back and review Trump’s performance as president during the Covid pandemic. Let’s talk to experts and figure out how many deaths he was responsible for, and talk to some surviving family members.

Follow Up on the Time Magazine Interview

Media Matters notes that very few news outlets reported on the extreme comments Trump made in his recent Time Magazine interview.

For instance, Trump didn’t dismiss the possibility of political violence around the election. “If we don’t win, you know, it depends,” he told Time. “It always depends on the fairness of the election.”

Story Idea: Ask other candidates and elected officials if they reject political violence. If they refuse or dodge, explain that political violence undermines democracy and that rejecting political violence has historically been a basic requirement for running for office.

Story Idea: Talk to people in the MAGA movement – both rank-and-filers and extremists – and ask them under what circumstances they would consider political violence appropriate? Are they “standing by”? Explain how political violence undermines democracy.

Story Idea: Describe the way political violence undermines democracy. 

Story Idea: Ask people who have committed political violence whether they felt like they were responding to Trump’s call.

Trump said in the Time interview that he would use the military to round up millions of undocumented people and deport them, and would be willing to build migrant detention camps.

Story Idea: Talk to immigration experts and game out how this would work.

Story Idea: Talk to people who have lived most or all of their lives in the U.S. without documentation, and ask them how they feel about this.

Story Idea: Talk to people in communities with a lot of undocumented people, and ask them how they feel about this.

Trump said he would let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans.

Story Idea: Talk to some women and ask them how they feel about this.

In fact, almost everything he said in that Time interview requires a real-world follow up.

Follow Up on the Great Times Series Because the Times Won’t

The New York Times, in dribs and drabs, over the past year, has published a number of excellent news stories about Trump’s 2025 plans. Unfortunately, Times reporters haven’t  expanded on them, they haven’t followed up on them, and their daily coverage doesn’t reflect them.

So, for instance, here is a June 2023 story about how Trump wants to use the Justice Department to take vengeance on his political adversaries.

Story Idea: Who else would Trump likely go after besides the Biden family? Who is on his enemies list?

Story Idea: What would Trump have to do to the Justice Department to gut its independence?

Story Idea: How does this work in other countries? 

Here’s a July 2023 story on how Trump and his allies want to reshape the structure of the executive branch to concentrate far greater authority directly in his hands.

Story Idea: Very few people understand the role of the senior civil service – or what firing senior civil servants would mean. Find examples of what they do. Find examples of what they did to prevent certain Trump initiatives from going forward last time around. Find examples of things Trump political appointees screwed up because they routed around civil servants.

Story Idea: Revisit the history of independent federal agencies, including the Federal Reserve, and explain the advantages and disadvantages.

Here’s a December 2023 story about how Trump plans to go far beyond his first-term trade wars.

Story Idea: Talk to industries that would be negatively affected.

Story Idea: Talk to economists about the inflationary pressures this would cause.

Story Idea: Game out the ensuing trade wars.

Here’s a December 2023 story about how Trump might gut NATO.

Story Idea: What would Putin do if NATO fell apart?

Here’s a December 2023 story on Trump’s authoritarian impulses, including his apparent willingness to use the military on domestic soil.

Story Idea: Look at other countries where this happens.

Here are more suggestions based on that series from Michael Podhorzer, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, in his newsletter (my emphasis):

[I]f the Times stands by its reporting in its excellent November 2023 Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans, where are the follow-up stories about how those plans would play out in 2025 if Trump wins? 

As we know from other excellent Times reporting on Project 2025, Trump’s allies have detailed plans to give him enormous power to carry out his agenda. Where are the polls about how Americans would feel about bringing in the military to round up, place in detention camps, and deport millions of Latinos per year—which would be a multiple of the most infamous ethnic roundups and deportations in more than a century? (Remember too that 53 percent of Latinos report knowing someone undocumented, and more than half of Latino voters are already concerned they could be caught in the roundup.)

I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen Times (or other prominent mainstream) reporters insist Republican members of Congress answer whether they support those plans, or do follow-on reporting on what it would actually mean to undertake that kind of operation even if it fell short of Trump’s ambitions. Similarly, stories about eroding Latino support for Democrats are Topic A this election, but none of the stories include whether defecting Latinos are aware of that plan—or, more importantly, whether they believe that plan will be implemented if Trump wins.

Trump’s Corruption: Past, Present and Future

It was always an open secret that Trump continued to run his business while he was president, despite ostensibly turning over operations to his two sons. But now that testimony in his New York hush-money-cover-up trial has shown him actively conducting business in the Oval Office, “that thin layer of deniability seems to be gone,” Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me in an interview.

Story Idea: Let’s look closely at the decisions Trump made as president and how much they benefited him and his business, as well as the special interests who funded his campaign.

The stakes also changed dramatically in March, when shares of Trump’s social media company went public – effectively allowing anyone to invest in Trump almost directly.

“The potential conflicts of interest are immense,” Bookbinder said, “and I don’t know that I’ve read a single piece about what that might look like were he to be president.”

Story Idea: What conflicts of interest arise when a president controls a social media channel, and when literally anyone can effectively funnel money into his pocket by buying stock in his publicly traded company?

And second time around, Bookbinder said, “There’s every reason to think that he’s going to throw himself into his business without any regard to conflicts of interest or appearance of corruption – or actual  corruption.”

Story Idea: When Trump was president, the easiest way for people or foreign governments to declare loyalty to him – and pay tribute – was to spend money at his D.C. hotel, which he has since sold. So what would it be next time around? Buying his stock? Or visiting his other properties? Making business deals with him directly?

Dig Into the Stalled Criminal Cases Against Trump

I’m outsourcing this one to newsletter author Brian Beutler, in a conversation with New Republic staff writer Greg Sargent. Beutler noted that Trump has successfully managed to delay three of the four criminal cases against him, and argued that political journalists should be writing every day about what Trump is trying to hide by stalling them:

The fact that Trump is trying to engage in a cover-up of evidence in the January 6 trial before the election could generate the same kind of drumbeat coverage that the Times applied to the Clinton email scandal. Like: What is he hiding? What does the grand jury have that we don’t know? And get at that so that Trump can’t engage in the cover-up that he’s trying to engage in.

Clearly Establishing a Litmus Test for Democracy

Agreeing to abide by the will of the public and to respect the vote ought to be a non-negotiable pre-requisite for running for public office, and there’s no reason why the mainstream media shouldn’t be making that abundantly clear.

But too many journalists have been normalizing the refusal to accept the election results by reporting it without sufficient context, and as just another partisan act: namely, a pragmatic bid to curry favor with Trump.

Story Idea: Ask every candidate or elected official whether they will accept the results of the presidential election. If they dodge or say no, describe that as a failure to meet the most basic requirement for public service.

And That’s Not All

There are so many other policies Trump has indicated he will support as president in his second term that have not gotten nearly the attention they deserve, and are as a result not even vaguely on the radar of the electorate.

Those include (courtesy of Just Security’s excellent “American Autocracy Threat Tracker”) policies that would threaten LGBTQ+ Americans, attack the free press, embrace Christian nationalism, condone antisemitism, spread disinformation, quash dissent, marginalize vulnerable communities and corrupt elections.

An overweening question, to me, is how much does the public know about Trump’s plans? And so that is my final story idea:

Story Idea: Commission a poll in which respondents are presented with summaries of the various different Trump policy proposals, and ask them: Did they know about this? And do they support it?

Journalists need to find out how misinformed the public is, not to write some snarky story about it, but to fix it.


  1. Sorry, must vent;
    Joe Biden’s history on student debt starts with he, Joe Biden making it impossible discharge in bankruptcy. This was part of a savage act of war against the middle class on behalf of the credit industry known as Bankruptcy “Reform”.

    It picks up again for our purposes with series of articles in The American Prospect about the powers attached to the office of the President of the United States.

    Those series of articles were though necessary, because in the face or the direst economic crisis in 80 years, Barack Obama informed us that the actually, the presidency is powerless, ceremonial position.

    So, journalists and scholars went to work, to find out what actions a President could actually carry out, completely on his own authority. What power a President really has.

    It turns out that after nearly 90 years (starting with FDR) of imperial presidencies, the actual powers of the President of the United States are pretty awe-inspiring. It turns out the most powerful single individual on the planet, really can do stuff. Who woulda thunk it?

    One of those powers, bestowed by the Education Act of 1968, gives the President the power to suspend payment, or simply vaporize student debt. With a gesture.

    This was a power Barack Obama enjoyed, during the period he was helping the banks steal peoples homes instead.

    When Joe Biden was first elected, someone who had read that pesky ‘Prospect article pointed out that as President, Joe Biden had unlimited power to dispose of student debt.

    He first ignored that advice. Then he asserted that he had no such power. Then he had a “study” done, to prove that he had no such power. When that study was finished, he hid it.
    I don’t know if an unredacted version of that study was ever uncovered; but then, we wouldn’t want the Russians to know about that one, would we?

    That is how Joe Biden ran the clock out on student debt relief for the first year or so of his presidency.

    He then proposed a predictably tiny and heavily contingent debt relief program under a much weaker law.
    Instead of implementing that plan, Joe Biden sat on his hands and waited patiently for the Republicans to challenge it in the Republican-controlled courts, and knock it down.

    Only then did Joe Biden propose a plan based on the stronger 1968 law.

    That plan is again, predictably unambitious, compared to what the President can do.

    That is how Joe Biden ran out the second two years.

    Everything Joe Biden has done on student debt, he has done because citizen-activists made a full-time job of dragging him kicking and screaming every single inch of the way.
    With that, Joe Biden has, and is, doing the barest minimum that he can get possibly get away with.

    , and again, instead of simply implementing it, he is sitting on his hands, waiting for ou

    • There are clearly some limits on his power because the Supreme Court blocked a major cancellation of student debt.

      I was going to get my loan forgiven; I was approved. I have the email from the government saying it would be forgiven. Then I have the email from the government saying that my forgiveness was on hold because the Supreme Court was considering the case. Then I have the email saying I wasn’t getting forgiveness because the Supreme Court had blocked forgiveness.

      So it’s pretty clear Biden can’t forgive /my/ student loan right now. He tried, and was blocked by SCOTUS!

  2. I am absolutely going to vote for Joe Biden.

    If you need a reason other than fear, one is Lena Khan; Joe Biden appointed a fucking super-hero to run the FTC.

    She and other appointments are currently reforging the fundamental structure of the American economy back to what it was when it worked for everyone.

    Just now, the FTC banned non-compete agreements. Somebody pinch me.

    I am in my ’60s. There have been whole decades where nary a peep was heard from the FTC. For the last 45 years, there has been no such thing as an unfair trading practice.

    Crime is down. The economy is up. Joe Biden is entitled to the credit for that to the same degree that he would reap the consequences for the opposite.

    Joe Biden could be the best President since Lyndon Johnson.


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