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We knew media would coddle Biden — here's why it's much worse

The Hill logo The Hill 2/19/2021 Joe Concha, Opinion Contributor
a man wearing a hat: President Biden shows off new gear for President's Day © Twitter President Biden shows off new gear for President's Day

Before President Biden took office, I predicted in this space that traditional media would coddle him and his administration for the foreseeable future. Not a difficult prediction to make, given the road map provided during a scrutiny-free campaign. Title of that column: "The new marshmallow media in the Biden era."

But what we're witnessing in these first few weeks is even worse than the already-low expectations set going in. Here are a few painful exhibits from the past week alone of the fluffy "journalism" that had been on hiatus since the Obama-Biden era:

He "sometimes adds a log himself to keep it going." Yep - someone actually wrote this for a story in the news section. A Newsweek story was even puffier.

The details provided in the Newsweek piece are really something: "Biden sat on the right as Luigi, and Naomi is Princess Peach on the left ... Despite not being at the same gaming level as his granddaughter, the commander-in-chief came out victorious."

It adds this quote from Naomi Biden: "Secret service made an exception and let him drive himself!!!!"

Puff pieces like this are fine except, A.) they weren't extended to the previous administration in any capacity and, B.) they occur in the current backdrop of COVID-19 and a relief package that continues to be delayed, as noted by journalist David Sirota:

Then there's the situation regarding now-former deputy White House press secretary TJ Ducklo, who threatened to "destroy" Politico reporter Tara Palmeri for pursuing a story on his relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond. Ducklo accused Palmeri of being "jealous" of the relationship and promised to destroy her reputation if she went ahead and published the story.

The threat was in direct violation of President Biden's earlier decree about collegiality in the workplace. "I am not joking when I say this: If you are ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I will fire you on the spot ... on the spot. No ifs, ands or buts," he said on Jan. 20.

The Ducklo incident would seem to have been an easy one for the Biden team to handle, especially given that it involved a female reporter. But Ducklo got only a one-week suspension initially. As White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted last week, after the story broke: "TJ Ducklo has apologized to the reporter, with whom he had a heated conversation about his personal life. He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out by the President."

Then, after facing pressure around its decision to suspend Ducklo instead of firing him based on the president's unambiguous rule, Ducklo "resigned" over the weekend. And when Psaki was asked about it on Tuesday, the answer was a doozy. "I think the president leads by example, and I try to do the same," she explained to reporters. "On Saturday, when we announced that TJ Ducklo had resigned his position - something we all agreed was the right path forward - I made clear that every day, we're going to meet the standard set out by the president in treating others with dignity and respect."

Psaki concluded by saying Ducklo is "no longer employed here, and I think that speaks for itself."

But herein lies the rub: Psaki, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield and Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn were all made aware by Politico of the Ducklo-Palmeri conversation on Jan. 21. And if not for a Vanity Fair article on the incident, the three women apparently were prepared to let Ducklo skate without even a suspension - because, otherwise, they would have acted on the information at the time.

The media's outrage machine, which was in full force during Kayleigh McEnany's and Sarah Sanders's tenures as Trump White House press secretaries, whenever this kind of spinning occurred, apparently has been turned off when Psaki does the same thing. Those who made a show of past White House press briefings, with contrived confrontations to make themselves the story, aren't shouting from atop their Trump-era soapboxes.

But it was the following situation on Valentine's Day that sums up the whole performance of many - certainly not all - in the press at this moment.

Biden and the first lady took a stroll on the North Lawn on Friday, along with their two dogs. The press had an opportunity to ask about COVID-19 relief, the thousands of jobs lost as a result of Biden's executive order regarding the Keystone pipeline, his broken promise about reopening schools by redefining "reopening" as just one day a week of in-classroom teaching. In other words, plenty of questions to ask - but here's what we got:

"What inspired you to do this?" one reporter asked of Jill Biden, regarding large hearts placed on the lawn with messages of unity and healing.

"Next time bring us coffee too!" one journalist shouted.

"Which one is the old one?" another journalist asked of the president's dogs.

"I'll bring the donuts next time if you come back" someone else in the press gallery offered.

There was one semi-serious question, concerning Biden's thoughts about former President Trump's impeachment. The 46th president then proceeded to give his cup of coffee to a member of the press, who happily accepted it.

All this in the middle of a pandemic. And not one late-night host touched it.

The fun continued on Tuesday night during a CNN town hall that included the president claiming that the coronavirus vaccine hadn't been available when he took office, a claim CNN host Anderson Cooper didn't push back on. But the first doses were injected into Americans' arms five weeks before Biden took office, doses that included the president-elect himself receiving shots in December and January, respectively. And even if making the argument that he was speaking about vaccine inventory, it should be noted that the U.S. was approaching 1 million doses a day when the transition from Trump to Biden occurred on Jan. 20.

The honeymoon continues for the new president and his administration. It's a honeymoon that many in the not-so-objective Fourth Estate are likely to happily extend not just through Biden's first 100 days but through his entire first term.

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

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